Types of Gravel for Driveways: Purpose Explained

When it comes to settling on a surface for your driveway, you may find yourself spoilt for choice. Concrete, asphalt, blocks, and pavers provide solid, long-lasting surfaces but aren't always conducive for those with large driveways and restrictive budgets.

Of all the driveway options, gravel will almost always be the least expensive. It is hard-wearing, durable, and if it is correctly maintained, should last for decades.

Types of Gravel

Any stone larger than a grain of sand and smaller than a cobble is classed as gravel. The small chips are usually between 0.1" - 2.5" in diameter.

The best gravel is typically a hybrid of rock, sand, and clay. Compared with pure rock, the processed product creates a more reliable surface. Although some water passes through freely, most cascades away as it would on a solid surface.

Crushed Stone

crushed stone

Made from a mixture of small rocks and sand and formed into angular shapes. Not only does this encourage good drainage, but it also creates a solid surface for heavy traffic.

It is popular gravel for driveways as it looks attractive, is durable, and affordable.

Stone Dust

Powdery crushed stone creates a stable surface when used alone or acts as an excellent bonding agent when combined with larger stones. It is an ideal top layer that prevents weeds from growing through.

Pea Gravel

Pea gravel creates an attractive top layer with its smooth, multi-colored stones. Sometimes known as pea shingle, it has shades of red, blue, brown, and gray.

Jersey Shore Gravel

Rounded pieces of gravel that are similar in size and shape to pea gravel. They differ in color; when laid, Jersey Shore Gravel has a beach-like effect. The yellow, tan, and gold stones, common in New England and Mid-Atlantic states.

River Rock

river rock gravel

As the name suggests, this type of gravel is dredged from river beds. The moving water smooths the edges of the rock. Over time they become decorative but too smooth for the top layer of a driveway. Instead, they make excellent edging stones.

Item #4

A rough compound of multiple elements. Crushed rock, sand, concrete, and limestone combine, resulting in randomly sized and textured gravel, best suited to the base layer.

Quarry Stone

It is a mixture of stone dust and 3/4" crushed stone creating a dense grade aggregate. Granite and limestone are used commonly as a superior strength base or mid-layer.

White Marble Chips

They are attractive, slightly more expensive, top layer.

Base Gravel

These are large, rough stones best suited as a base layer.

Washed Clean Stone

It is the pre-washed version of crushed stone. It has a slightly angular appearance that helps with drainage and keeps it in situ. It makes for a solid mid-layer or an attractive top-layer.

Fill With Gravel

A driveway should have three tiers of gravel to provide enough strength and stability. It has to be substantial enough to bear the weight of regular heavy traffic.

  • Base layer – 4-inches of large gravel, compacted into the soil
  • Mid-layer – A further 4-inches of medium-sized gravel, laid and compacted
  • Top layer – The smallest gravel to bond the structure and make it aesthetically pleasing

The center of the driveway should be the highest point. That way, the rainwater naturally rolls off the pitch to the outer edges.

Prepare the Site

A gravel driveway is only as strong as its foundation. Clear the area of dirt, debris, and any loose soil. Any small rocks or bricks can remain in situ; they add to stability. Compact the remaining soil until it is hard.

Lay a Membrane

A membrane is vital in the prevention of weeds and mold from growing through the driveway. A piece of breathable geotextile fabric is ideal; it reduces the amount of maintenance the driveway might require.

Good drainage is essential; without it, gravel separates and sinks into mud baths.

Edging Stones

Consider creating a border with edging stones on either side of the driveway. They hold everything in place; small gravel is rounded and moves. Without edging stones, the landowner would need to sweep and replenish the top layer regularly.

How to Maintain a Gravel Driveway

By its nature, gravel is loose and moves when underfoot or from vehicles.

  • Fill any potholes and dips before they enlarge and sprout weeds.
  • Add a fresh new top-layer of gravel each year. In areas of heavy traffic, gravel compacts to below the level of the edging stones. Any rainwater cannot flow away freely and becomes trapped in the gravel.
  • Consider regrading the driveway regularly. Again, this creates a natural, gentle pitch for water to run off.

The Cost of Gravel

Buying in bulk keeps the costs down; however, there are factors to consider.

Calculate enough of each gravel for the maximum thickness that you can afford.

Factor in delivery costs, particularly if you're a great distance from any stone merchants.

The least expensive gravel costs around $1 - $3 per ft².

Final Thoughts

Gravel driveways add charm and curb appeal to any home; without costing the earth.

With proper maintenance and annual replenishment, you will have a smooth and stable ride to your front door for 100-years or more.

Annette Marsh
For the past twenty years, Annette has allocated much of her free time towards gardening and landscaping related tasks; Planting flowers and trees, weeding, pruning, mulching, mowing, constructing ponds and various other structures, as well as growing and maintaining a vegetable garden.

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