Pea Gravel Alternatives (Pros and Cons)

Pea Gravel Alternatives - Pros and Cons

While pea gravel is quite versatile and inexpensive, several alternatives can be used in its place. There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong material for many DIY landscaping projects. You’ll often just have to consider the pros and cons of each material, then decide which is best for your specific application and situation.

In this article, we’ll go over all of the alternatives to pea gravel and compare their pros and cons so you can easily select the right material for your next project.

 

Pros and Cons of Pea Gravel

Before we start comparing pea gravel to alternative stone types, here’s a quick list of the pros and cons of using pea gravel. These are the characteristics of pea gravel we will use to make comparisons in this article.

Some of the cons can be eliminated depending on how you install your pea gravel. For instance, using weed cloth underneath prevents weeds, and a resin binder will help prevent pea gravel from being messy.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to work with and install
  • Available in a wide variety of colors
  • Long lasting, doesn’t deteriorate
  • Drains water easily
  • Comfortable to walk on
  • Uniform size and shape
  • Looks natural, and has nice smooth edges

Cons

  • Heavier than some other landscaping materials
  • Requires cleaning to keep leaves and lawn debris out
  • Weeds can grow up through it
  • Can be messy, hard to keep in place
  • Unstable and doesn’t pack down
  • Only available in 3/8″ size

 

Pea Gravel vs River Rock (Gravel)

Pea gravel is composed of specific-sized (3/8″) river rocks. It’s kind of like how all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares. There are many things that river rocks are better suited for than pea gravel and vice versa.

River rock can also be called gravel. Both names refer to rocks that have been naturally weathered and broken down over time by water. This weathering process is what gives river rock its smooth edges.

Larger river rocks work great for decorative purposes but aren’t as comfortable to walk on as pea gravel. It also tends to work better in drainage areas since it won’t be easily moved by water runoff during heavy rains. Another con is that river rock tends to be more expensive than pea gravel.

Pros

  • Stays in place better since it’s heavier
  • Available in a variety of sizes

Cons

  • More expensive
  • Not as comfortable to walk on

 

Pea Gravel vs Beach Pebbles

Beach pebbles are the same, structurally, as river rocks. The only difference is the location where they’re produced. As the names suggest, river rock comes from rivers while beach pebbles are mined from beaches. You can find both river rock and beach pebbles in 3/8″ sizes to use as pea gravel.

Mexican beach pebbles are the most common beach pebbles you can find and they are usually more expensive than both pea gravel and river rock. The reason for the price tag is that Mexican beach pebbles can only be harvested by hand. There are laws in place to prevent beach erosion by the use of heavy mining equipment when collecting beach pebbles.

Pros

  • Stays in place better since it’s heavier
  • Available in a variety of sizes

Cons

  • More expensive
  • Not as comfortable to walk on

 

Pea Gravel vs Crushed Stone

Crushed stone is created by putting larger rocks through a rock crusher and then separating the various sizes to sell. Crushed stone that is 3/8″ in size is often sold as pea gravel. It has more angular, flat edges when compared to pea gravel due to the crushing process.

The flat, angular edges of crushed stone allow it to be tamped down and compacted better than pea gravel. The edges can actually lock together and hold in place which doesn’t happen with the rounded edges of pea gravel. For this reason, crushed stone typically works better as an aggregate for projects like creating foundations or lining a French drain.

Any time you need a stable surface that won’t shift or move after being packed down, you should use crushed stone. One pro for using crushed stone is that it is often cheaper than pea gravel. Almost any rock type (limestone, granite, marble, slate, flagstone) can be turned into crushed stone. Therefore, you can find crushed stone in a variety of colors depending on the parent material it was made from.

Pros

  • Stable, can be packed down
  • Available in a variety of sizes
  • Some types are cheaper

Cons

  • Uncomfortable to walk on
  • Doesn’t look as natural

 

Pea Gravel vs Stone Dust

Stone dust is a byproduct of crushed stone production. It is most commonly used when laying stone pavers. It makes a great base layer for your stonework since it can be tamped down and compacted easily. When applied on top of a crushed stone layer, it will fill in any remaining gaps and can be smoothed to make a perfectly flat surface for the pavers to lay on.

However, one con to stone dust is that it does not allow water to flow as freely as pea gravel. It should not be used in areas where water may pool on top of it. Stone dust can also turn soggy or muddy after it gets wet so it isn’t ideal for walkways or patios that lead to indoor spaces. It comes in a variety of colors depending on the type of crushed stone it comes from.

Pros

  • Cheaper than sand
  • Stable, can be tamped down

Cons

  • Doesn’t drain water well
  • Can become muddy

 

Pea Gravel vs Clean Stone

Photo Credit: Ridgewood Soils

Clean stone is a type of crushed stone that has gone through an extra sieving process to remove most, but not all, of the stone dust. It works well as the top layer for gravel driveways or patios when some compaction is desired. The dust acts somewhat like a natural binder that helps hold the stone in place. A con is that it doesn’t drain as well as pea gravel due to the compaction created by the stone dust.

Pros

  • Stable, can be packed down
  • Available in a variety of sizes
  • Remaining stone dust helps bind stones together

Cons

  • Doesn’t drain water as well as pea gravel
  • Uncomfortable to walk on

 

Pea Gravel vs Washed Clean Stone

Washed clean stone is crushed stone that has been washed to remove every bit of the stone dust from it. It is generally used for drainage ditches where you don’t want water flow to be impeded by the dust. When you purchase crushed stone being sold as landscaping rock, it is typically washed clean stone.

Most pea gravel is also washed and cleaned before being sold. This type of crushed stone is the most similar to pea gravel but is easier to compact and keep in place than pea gravel. One con is that it is typically more expensive than pea gravel because it has to be crushed, sieved, and washed before being sold.

Pros

  • Stable, can be packed down
  • Available in a variety of sizes
  • Some types are cheaper

Cons

  • Uncomfortable to walk on
  • Doesn’t look as natural

 

Pea Gravel vs Decomposed Granite

Decomposed granite is a more weathered form of crushed stone that has multiple rock sizes and even some silt mixed in. Due to its composition, it can be tamped down and compacted making it more stable than pea gravel. However, due to the amount of silt mixed in, it can become somewhat muddy during rain events and be tracked into your home more easily.

You can purchase decomposed granite with a stabilizer mixed in that will help hold the finer dust particles in place after water is added and dries. Decomposed gravel comes in a variety of colors just like pea gravel depending on where the rock is mined from.

Pros

  • Stable, can be packed down
  • Some types are cheaper

Cons

  • Uncomfortable to walk on
  • Can become muddy

 

Pea Gravel vs Lava Rocks

Lava rock has a unique texture to it that can add interest to the landscape. It can be difficult to find in 3/8″ sizes but has most of the same qualities as pea gravel. However, it is much lighter than pea gravel, making it easier to install. While it is lighter, it isn’t as messy and doesn’t move around as much because the individual pieces tend to be larger.

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Available in a variety of sizes
  • Unique surface texture

Cons

  • Not available in as many colors
  • Uncomfortable to walk on

 

Pea Gravel vs Mulch

Mulch is much more commonly used in landscaping than pea gravel. It is often easier to find in large quantities and is much lighter, making it easier to work with. Mulch is also cheaper than pea gravel, at least up front. Pea gravel has a more uniform size to it than mulch.

I prefer pea gravel because it doesn’t have to be replaced every year as mulch does. While the initial cost and labor are a bit higher when you use pea gravel, the fact that you won’t have to replace it makes working with stones worth it.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Lightweight
  • Keeps soil moist and cool in flowerbeds

Cons

  • Not available in as many colors
  • Deteriorates and loses color quickly
  • Not as comfortable to walk on
  • May attract termites

 

Pea Gravel vs Sand

Sand has similar properties to stone dust in that it can be great for creating a flat surface to lay pavers on. However, many landscapers disagree about whether it is better to use stone dust or sand under pavers.

When sand is properly tamped down, it still allows water to flow through but won’t shift or settle under pavers. It also doesn’t become muddy when wet as stone dust does. It is more expensive than stone dust. Sand wouldn’t be a good alternative to pea gravel in flowerbeds or as a driveway without pavers on top because of its texture and mobility when wet.

Pros

  • Can be compacted, tamped down under pavers

Cons

  • Not heavy enough as an alternative to pea gravel in many applications
  • Not available in many colors
About Dakota Crawford 44 Articles
Dakota Crawford is a freelance science writer who covers gardening, forestry, wildlife, and entomology. She earned three degrees from The University of Georgia: Bachelor of Science in Wildlife, Master of Science in Forest Resources, and Master of Science in Entomology.