The Sensible Gardener

The right plant in the right location with the right conditions

Gravel base patios

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A rough slate gravel base patio

A rough slate gravel base patio

A gravel base patio is simply a patio build on a bed of gravel. Although it is not as resistant as a concrete base patio, it may be resistant enough for you. A well built patio will resist being walked on and keep its initial shape for years and years, granted that you used solid, quality patio building materials.

If your patio is to endure heavy duty activity, though, it may be a good idea to consider building a concrete base patio. If you drive a car through a gravel base patio or park a car on it, your eventually start to loose its initial shape and look a bit shabby.

A gravel base patio consists of three layers of material: gravel, sand (or stone dust) and the patio material, be it stepping stones, cobblestones, cement blocks or bricks. I remind you that this is no easy job and that a well done job takes a lot of time and patience. If you intend to cut the material you are using to finish the edges of your patio, you should have the necessary tools. In the case of bricks, consider patterns, such as the herringbone pattern. Finally, consider the fact that your patio landscaping project may not be complete until you have added a few plants around it.

Building a gravel base patio

With all this being said, let’s start building our gravel base patio:

  1. Begin by figuring out the shape and size of your patio. This will help you determine exactly how much material you will need (see Patio building materials). Once you have decided what your patio will be made of, you will also be able to calculate your patio’s exact size. Don’t hesitate to ask for help on such matters. Employees at your nursery, stone retail store, or hardware store may be able to give you detailed information on how your specific material should be laid. If they can’t, you should consider shopping around.
  2. Dig a hole in the ground roughly the size and shape of your patio. The hole should have a depth equal to five inches plus your patio material. If you plan to use three inch thick bricks, then your hole should be about eight (5+3) inches deep. For five inch thick cobblestones, the hole should be ten (5+5) inches deep.
  3. To ensure that nothing will grow through your new patio, line the bottom of the hole with a geotextile membrane.
  4. If you plan to have electricity on your patio, for lighting for instance, now is the time to install the waterproof wiring.
  5. Fill the hole with about four inches of medium size gravel and rake it and walk on it to make it as compacted and flat as possible.
  6. Add at least one inch of sand or stone dust over the gravel and make the surface perfectly even. Note that sand drains better, while stone dust sets and becomes more stable. If drainage is an issue, you should choose sand.
  7. If you want your patio to have a clearly defined shape, use spikes and some rope to delimit the shape. For angular shapes (squares, rectangles, triangles), drive the spikes into the ground and tie the rope to the spikes. For round shapes, drive a spike at the center of the shape, tie the rope to the spike, and then rotate the rope around the spike while marking the shape on the ground.
  8. If you want your stones or pavers to stay together as tightly as possible (especially around the edges), an enclosure made of sturdy, good quality paver restraints is a must. You can buy metal or PVC restraints, but PVC restraints tend to be easier to work with, especially if you have curves in your design. Make sure you follow the instructions provided with your restraints and use enough spikes to ensure nothing will move.
  9. You can add whatever material you chose, be it stepping stones, bricks, cobblestones, etc. Use a rubber hammer to set each piece in its place and to make the surface even. For big jobs, you may consider renting a stomper.
  10. Finally, throw sand over the whole of the patio. Be careful not to move the stones or rocks you just installed. When the sand stops falling in the cracks and starts accumulating on top of the stones, use a broom to force the sand in every little crack. You may water down the patio to compact the sand even more. Note that polymeric sand can be used (follow the instructions carefully and ensure that no water gets on the sand before everything is perfectly in place).

And there you have your new patio. Now, how about working on the patio landscaping? Bring in trees, bushes and flowers. Now that’s a “WOW” patio!

For general information on patios, visit our Patio landscaping page.

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3 Comments

  1. We are wanting to put a patio in our backyard but we didn’t want to use concrete. We wanted to use something a bit more creative and I think this will be a perfect alternative. I would love to get this installed with all the tips you posted.

    • Hi James,
      You know what the best thing is? Gravel base patios may actually be more durable than concrete patios, especially if you live in a place where the ground freezes in winter. Freezing and thawing cycles can crack concrete and thus shorten the life of a concrete patio. If you build it right, your gravel base patio won’t suffer any weather damage and it will last a long time. The fact that they are permeable to rain water is another important plus. So, good luck with your project.
      Nicolas

  2. Harper Campbell

    August 23, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    It’s good to know that when it comes to installing a gravel base patio that is consists of three lawyer that we need to remember to make sure get put in. One thing that you mentioned that I didn’t think about is needing to lay sand over it, which makes sense to fill in the empty spaces between the rock. As my husband and I get ready to install our new back patio this is something that we will keep in mind.

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