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10 Best Stone & Gravel Types for Landscaping (Pros & Cons)

Landscaping Stone

Landscaping Stone

Choosing the right stone or gravel for your landscaping can be challenging. You will need to take several different things into account, including the rock or material’s functionality for the task, its ability to create an aesthetically pleasing space, and any negative effect that it may have on your soil or plants.

It is also important to consider whether you need more than one type of rock. For example, you may find that the crushed marble that you want to use may be perfect for your walkway yet totally inappropriate for use in a flower bed to suppress weeds, as it will change the pH levels of your soil.

So, before racing out and ordering the cheapest or most abundant stone or gravel, it is worth spending a little time to research the pros and cons of the various products. To help get you started, here’s an alphabetical list of the best stone and gravel typesdrain for landscaping, as well as a quick breakdown of how they are usually used and the pros and cons of each.

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10 Best Stones & Gravel Types for Landscaping

1. Beach Pebbles

beach pebble
Image Credit By: Francesco Ognibene, unsplash

Beach pebbles are round and smooth like river rocks and are typically black or dark gray. They are most often used as a decorative stone in container plantings, around flowers in a garden bed, and between larger rocks or boulders.

While commonly found in garden supply shops, they are expensive. For that reason, they are usually sold in quite small bags and are not often used to cover large areas. Of course, there are exceptions to this, and if you have the money to spare, you can go right ahead and use them.

Pros
  • Bold black colored stone
  • Excellent feature stone
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Usually sold in small quantities

2. Boulders

Boulders
Image Credit By: Brian Wangenheim, unsplash

Boulders and other large rocks are often used as feature rocks in landscaped gardens. They can be quite striking when used in the right space, but there are a couple of important things to remember.

Firstly, if you are building a natural-looking garden, it may be a good idea to get rocks that are native to the area. It is also important to set the rock into the earth; in nature, boulders don’t usually just sit on top of the ground. You may also want to consider placing boulders of different sizes in groups, as one boulder sitting alone often stands out and looks out of place.

While boulders can be a great addition to your landscaping, they won’t work in every garden, so you need to have a plan. Remember that boulders are often expensive, and they’re also large, heavy objects that can be tricky to install, something that can add even further to their cost.

Pros
  • Great feature rocks
  • Can enhance a natural-looking garden
Cons
  • Expensive to buy and install
  • Placement needs to be well planned

3. Brick Chips

While not technically a form of rock, brick chips, which are essentially small pieces of crushed housing bricks, can be used as a paving material in much the same way that you might use stones and gravel.

There are two main advantages that brick chips have over other rock materials: price and availability of colors. Old broken bricks are cheaper than many natural stones. In fact, people are often quite desperate to give them away as heavy, used construction materials are expensive to dispose of. So, if you are looking to save money on your landscaping project and you’re willing to put in a bit of hard work with a sledgehammer, brick chips might be something to consider.

Likewise, bricks come in a range of colors that you don’t find in many naturally occurring stones, and if you want a 1960s redbrick-colored driveway and a ‘70s yellow brick path, using actual brick chips is one way to ensure that you get the color right.

Be aware, though, that brick chips are not suitable for every landscaping job, and when used in the wrong place, they can be more trouble than they are worth. Thus, this is one material that you should consider carefully, and most professional landscapers would suggest avoiding it if you can afford natural stone gravel.

Brick chips, unlike natural gravel, often have extremely sharp edges. If used on paths and driveways, they can make walking down your path in bare feet somewhat hazardous, an issue that might also be a problem if you have pets. The other significant disadvantage of brick chips over natural gravel is that in the future, if you want to update your landscaping, removing your brick chips will come with a hefty price tag. This is opposed to many other natural products, which you can often on-sell or at least find somebody willing to take them away to reuse at no cost to yourself.

Pros
  • Inexpensive to purchase
  • Available in bold colors
Cons
  • Sharp edges can cause injury
  • Waste brick material is expensive to dump
  • Unlikely to be able to on-sell later

4. Crushed Granite Gravel

Whether you are looking to line a pathway, improve the look and drainage of your driveway, or define a garden bed, crushed granite gravel is an attractive, inexpensive, and hard-wearing material that is well worth considering.

Consisting of larger particles than the decomposed granite, crushed granite gravel drains particularly well. It is also an ideal paving material for projects that need to cover a large area or areas where puddling needs to be avoided. With a soft, natural look, it usually comes in a light grey color but can also be found in earthy brown or tan shades that blend well with a garden that needs a natural look.

Reasonable inexpensive and easy to install and maintain, crushed granite gravel is a great material for experienced and novice landscapers of any budget.

As with many stone materials, you need to keep in mind a couple of drawbacks. Most notably, as it consists of hundreds of small rocks, it will wear quite quickly, particularly in heavy use areas, and if placed in areas near the entrance to your house, you will likely carry some of it inside on the soles of your shoes.

Pros
  • Cheaper than commercial pavers or concrete
  • Natural, aesthetically pleasing look
  • Can be used for paths and hard surfaces
  • Can be used in garden beds as a rock mulch.
  • Suitable for use in dry creek beds
Cons
  • Easily walked into your house
  • Heavy-use areas will compact down and require maintenance
  • Can wash away or spread onto other areas in heavy runoff areas

5. Decomposed Granite

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Decomposed granite is a little like gravel but is much finer and almost sandy in texture. It is formed by the natural weathering and erosion of solid granite rocks and has been a staple in landscape design for years.

Decomposed granite is usually used to cover paths, driveways, and other open surfaces, such as patios, and can be placed around trees and garden beds in the same way that you might use a wood mulch. As with crushed granite gravel, it is commonly gray but can also be found in a range of reddish tan to brown colors.

Decomposed granite is generally available in three different forms: loose (natural), stabilized, and resin coated.

  • Loose decomposed granite has nothing added to the aggregate mix and is in its natural form. It is typically used around garden beds and trees in much the same way that a timber mulch is used, and it is often placed around children’s play areas. It is not ideal in places where there is significant water runoff during rain, as the small granite particles can be easily washed away.
  • Stabilized decomposed granite has a stabilizing product mixed in with the granite aggregate to help hold it together and make it less susceptible to erosion. It is typically more expensive than loose decomposed granite but is still considerably cheaper than other paving methods, and it has the advantage of looking and feeling like loose decomposed granite.
  • Resin coated decomposed granite is the most expensive form of decomposed granite. As its name suggests, resin-coated decomposed granite has a resin mixed into the granite aggregate. When installed, it hardens to form a hard-wearing asphalt-like surface that is sometimes called poly pavement. In this form, the decomposed granite is no longer loose but will be extremely long-lasting and not at all susceptible to short-term erosion.
Pros
  • Naturally occurring material
  • Inexpensive
  • Aesthetically pleasing
  • Can be used on paths and gardens
  • Available in three different forms
Cons
  • Non-resin coated material can wash away easily
  • Requires regular maintenance
  • Not suitable for heavy-use areas

6. Flagstone

Flagstone makes for a fantastic alternative to concrete or commercially manufactured pavers. It can be used to create many different hard-surfaced areas, including driveways, patios, and garden paths, and has traditionally been used to make roof tiles, walls, fences, and even headstones.

Flagstone will be particularly appealing to people who want a natural, earthy look in their landscaping. While flagstone is itself a specific type of sedimentary rock, many other types of large stone materials can be used the same way, including slate, limestone, travertine, sandstone, and bluestone.

While there is no doubt that flagstone is an attractive paving material, it is also quite expensive. It can also be difficult to install without the added expense of hiring a stonemason or an experienced landscaper, as piecing together naturally occurring rocks of different sizes and thicknesses can be extremely challenging.

Pros
  • Hard-wearing / long-lasting
  • Aesthetically pleasing
  • Natural material
  • Cheaper than commercial pavers (depending on the stone type)
Cons
  • Installation can be tricky
  • More expensive than gravel materials

7. Lava Rock

Lava Rock
Image Credit By: Timon Studler, unsplash

Lava rock is quite literally small pieces of solidified lava from a volcano and is often used as a decorative rock alternative to wood mulch. Being quite brittle, it is not suitable for use on driveways, paths, or patios apart from being added for color and definition of a pathway around large concrete or rock steppingstones.

Lava rock, which generally comes in either red or black tones, is also useful as low-maintenance ground cover for large open spaces that might otherwise be grassed. If used in this way, it is important to use a good-quality landscape fabric and edging that can help keep the lava rock in place.

One important thing to remember about using lava rock and any other type of small rock is that these rocks can pose a choking hazard for both pets and young children.

Pros
  • Lightweight
  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to install
Cons
  • Not suitable for driveways
  • Not suitable for heavily traffic paths
  • Can be a choking hazard to pets and children

8. Marble Chips

Marble isn’t just a product for your kitchen and bathroom countertops — it is also a unique and useful product in the garden. Marble chips are useful as a stone mulch around plants and gardens but can be used as crushed gravel for garden paths.

One of the main advantages of marble is the large variety of colors in which it can be found. It is also an aesthetically pleasing product.

Care should be taken when using marble as a mulch, as it is highly reflective of both light and heat, particularly in hot areas, and this can be too much for many plants to handle. Marble is also an alkaline stone and can affect soil pH levels, making a garden unsuitable for plants that thrive in acidic soil.

Pros
  • Available in a range of colors
  • Aesthetically pleasing
  • Can be used as a mulch or gravel
Cons
  • Expensive
  • An alkaline stone that may alter soil PH levels
  • Highly reflective or heat and light

9. Pea Gravel

Pea Gravel
Image Credit By: Robin Louw, unsplash

Pea gravel is, as its name suggests, gravel that has been crushed to pea-size. It is generally available in several different colors and stone types. Pea gravel is also often used as a stone mulch in gardens, on driveways, and to fill spaces between pavers and stepping stones.

One of the main advantages of pea gravel is that it is generally quite cheap compared to other rock products. It is also quite hard-wearing and doesn’t compress down as quickly in high-traffic areas as finer gravel.

The main drawback of pea gravel is that it will need constant raking as it will be moved and displaced every time somebody walks or drives on it. It also has an uncanny ability to get into your shoes every time you walk over it, and this can become both annoying and uncomfortable. Like other small stone products, pea gravel can also be a choking hazard, and for that reason, it may not be the best choice of products for a home with young children and/or pets.

Pros
  • Inexpensive
  • Easy installation
  • Available in a range of natural colors
Cons
  • Easy and constantly displaced
  • Choking hazard

10. River Rocks

River Rocks
Image Credit By: CC0 Public Domain, pxhere

These smooth rounded edge rocks have been a landscaping staple for as long as people have been building gardens and for a good reason. River rocks come in various sizes and can be used as large accent rocks in ponds and dry creeks, while smaller river stones can fill spaces left between steppingstones or as stone mulch in gardens.

These rocks typically come in a mix of earthy brown and grey colors, and their use can enhance the natural feel of any landscaped area. River rocks are also an excellent product to use in areas where drainage is important, as they don’t impede any runoff or water build-up from draining away.

Like other small stones, care should be taken using river rocks in households with dogs and/or young children, as the smallest of these can be choking hazards.

Pros
  • Available in a range of sizes
  • Available in a range of colors
  • Can be used as decorative feature rocks
  • Excellent for drainage
Cons
  • Can be expensive
  • Small rocks can be a choking hazard

Featured Image Credit By: Mitchell Luo, unsplash

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