Keep Weeds at Bay, Beautifully, With a Gravel Border

Gravel is great in so many ways: solid, attractive and versatile. Here, in a DIY project that only takes one day, gravel is used to make a border that is both decorative and functional.

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Contain Gravel Surface with Solid EdgeEnlarge Photo+Shrink Photo-DK - Garden Design © 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Gravel isn't just for driveways and paths — as a decorative border mulch it contrasts nicely with plants. If you spread a thick layer of gravel on top of a landscape fabric, it will also suppress weeds and help retain moisture in the soil. A gravel surface works best when it's contained by a solid edge. If the gravel border is next to a lawn, consider laying a brick mowing strip.

Laying a gravel border should take you about one day.

Materials Needed:

  • scissors or sharp knife
  • landscape fabric
  • metal pins
  • pea gravel
  • tape measure

Laying the Fabric

Cut a piece of landscape fabric to fit your bed or border. For large areas, you may need to join several strips together — in which case, leave a wide overlap along each edge and pin in place (image 1).

Presoak container-grown plants in a bucket of water for about half an hour. Position plants, still in their pots, on top of the fabric (image 2). Check the labels to make sure that each plant has enough room to spread — once the gravel is down, moving them isn't easy.

Use scissors or a sharp knife to cut a large cross in the fabric under each plant (image 3). Fold back the flaps. Make the opening big enough to allow you to dig a good-sized planting hole.

Planting Up the Border

Remove the plants from their pots and lower each one into its allocated planting hole (image 1). Plants should sit at the same level as when in the pot. Fill in around the root ball with soil.

Pat the root ball with your hands until firmly in place, then tuck the flaps back around the base of the plant. If necessary, trim the landscape fabric to fit neatly around the plant's stems. Water thoroughly (image 2).

Cover the fabric with a thick, even layer of gravel (image 3). A depth of 2–3 inches should prevent any bald patches from appearing. Should you need to move plants in the future, pin a piece of fabric over the top of the cut area to stop weeds popping up through the cut.

Path Options

The main advantage of using permeable surfacing in a garden is that it allows rain water to drain through to the soil. But when you discover that the materials are durable, easy to lay and cost-effective, they’re definitely an attractive alternative to paving.

Loose Gravel: Look carefully and you’ll see that this gravel has been poured into a honeycomb grid (image 1). This cleverly designed plastic matting, which you lay like a carpet, prevents gravel migrating all over the garden or driveway.

Self-Binding Gravel: Gravels are usually washed clean of soil and stones, but self-binding gravels, such as pea gravel, are not. When compacted, these fine particles bind the material together to form a strong, weed-free, permeable surface (image 2).

Shredded Bark: Bark is pleasantly springy underfoot. Lay it over landscape fabric, or straight onto compacted soil (image 3). Whichever you decide to do, the bark will start to break down after a couple of years and will need replacing.

Aggregate Options: You can lay most aggregates over landscape fabric in the same way as gravel. Other decorative options for a planting area include slate chips (image 4), small pebbles, ground recycled glass, crushed shells and colored gravels.

Excerpted from Garden Design

©Dorling Kindersley Limited 2009

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