How To Prepare The Ground For a Gravel Driveway (Step-By-Step Guide) - The Clever Homeowner (2024)

Gravel driveways can create their own kind of laid-back curb appeal. They can also be easier of your budget than concrete or asphalt surfaces. They can certainly seem more doable for a dedicated do-it-yourselfer, but laying a gravel driveway is a labor-intensive endeavor, so plan carefully.

There are plenty of websites that offer step by step instructions. I recommend you read through several sites before beginning in order to get a better understanding of the whole project and not miss any special suggestions that are not found on every site.

How To Prepare The Ground For a Gravel Driveway (Step-By-Step Guide) - The Clever Homeowner (1)

Related: Do You Need To Remove Grass Before Laying Gravel?

No one website has everything. Sometimes the details make all the difference. There are also lists of mistakes to avoid that may prove helpful both in the planning and doing stages.

If you’re able to rent and operate large equipment such as a backhoe, the job will go quicker and easier. You will need, at the very least, some way of compacting both the soil and layers of gravel. The cost of renting equipment will be additional to the $2000-$5000 price tag of an average 10-24 foot driveway.

Materials You’ll Need

You’ll need both tools and the actual landscaping materials.
Tools for the job:

  • Measuring tape
  • Landscaping stakes
  • Twine
  • Work gloves
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Heavy garden rake
  • Hoe
  • Heavy Equipment rental such as a compactor, bulldozer, or tractor. You may consider hiring out the digging part. But you’ll still need a small compactor or roller.

Driveway materials

  • Border materials
  • Landscape fabric
  • Three sizes of gravel

Although you can get away with a single layer for a year or two, a durable driveway will generally consist of two to three layers of gravel. Each layer will be 4-6 inches deep for a total of 12-18 inches.

Some professionals recommend laying a layer of heavy landscape fabric between the soil and the first layer of rock. It’s really up to you. The fabric may slow the growth of some weeds, but eventually some soil and seeds will find their way into the mix. Well-compacted soil and rock will deter plant growth for a year or so. And fabric can prevent the bottom layer of rock from gripping the soil, making shifting and erosion easier.

Step 1: Mark and Measure

How To Prepare The Ground For a Gravel Driveway (Step-By-Step Guide) - The Clever Homeowner (2)

When you are deciding where you want a gravel driveway, make sure you consider slope and drainage.

If you have a sloping yard, you may want to skip the landscaping fabric, as it will hinder moisture from being absorbed into the underlying soil.

This can create a drainage issue and possible wash away some of your hard work.

Another consideration is the size and type of trees that may be near your driveway. I have seen huge trees fall a couple of years after a new driveway was put in, because too many roots were compromised when digging the bed. Some trees are more susceptible than others, so research before disrupting large surface root systems. Some trees may have to be removed.

Include the width of any border you’ll be using in your measurements. The average driveway is at least 10 feet wide, 12 feet for ease of getting in and our of vehicles.

Measure Length and Width.

You’ll need these measurements to determine how much border material, landscape fabric, and gravel to purchase. You’ll need to add depth to determine how much gravel to order. If you’re not a math whiz, you can get some help with exact amounts from the professionals when you order.

You might want to stagger the delivery of the different types of gravel so that each layer can have a day or two to settle.

Mark Your Driveway.

Place stakes every 6-10 feet and use twine to outline your driveway. This will show you exactly where to dig.

Step 2: Prepare the Bed

Plan ahead of time where you will put or how you will dispose of the soil you dig out. You’ll need to remove 4-6 inches of soil for each layer of gravel. You’ll also want your driveway to be as level as possible. This may mean digging deeper and adding some type of retaining wall to prevent erosion.

Dig out, Compact the soil.

You may want to further delineate the outline of your driveway with a hoe before you begin digging. If the drive is short, you may be able to dig it out by hand with a flat-ended shovel. If not, plan ahead of time to rent or hire a bulldozer for the job.

Make sure the soil base is packed hard. Soft, spongy soil can be disastrous for the future of a gravel driveway. The gravel may settle unevenly, creating holes or washing out gullies.

Add fabric and border.

Once your soil is well and evenly compacted, with any hindering rocks or roots removed, it’s time to lay your landscape fabric. You may want to stake it in place before adding stone.

Although a border is optional, it is recommended to minimize gravel loss and add stability. You may use a number of materials, from treated lumber to border stone.

Step 3: Lay the Gravel

Each layer has it’s own function for the stability and function of the driveway. In this article, we will consider three layers.

Layer 1: The first layer of gravel should be large, #3 size, about the size of a man’s fist. Some companies will actually offload the gravel along the driveway itself. Others will need a place to dump the stone in a big pile. The second way means a lot of manual labor with a wheelbarrow. Enlist as much help as you can. What are friends for, right?

Once the stone has been evenly distributed, use your manual compactor to tamp it down solidly. It would be another huge mistake to skip this part. Some have simply used their truck to run over the rock again and again. Make sure your tires are up to it before choosing this method.

Layer 2: The second layer is #57 size gravel, 2-3 inch stones. Spread evenly over first layer and use your compactor again to solidly tamp down the layer. You may need to go along the edges of each layer and make sure they are filled in evenly.

Layer 3: The third layer is usually #21 gravel, with fairly smooth stones no bigger than a golf ball.

Step 4: Grade the Top Layer

As you compact the top layer, grade it so that it is slightly higher in the center. This will assist with the proper drainage of rainwater. This is also a very important step that will cut down on maintenance and greatly extend the life of your driveway.

Step 5: Clean Up and Maintenance

After your driveway is completed, clean up any rock that may have landed to the side so that you don’t run over it with your mower. Remove the twine and stakes and enjoy your handiwork.

You will want to re-grade your driveway probably about once a year. If you use only one layer of gravel, it may be necessary to add more every 2-3 years. You also have the option of spraying the area with a herbicide to prevent plant growth.

How To Prepare The Ground For a Gravel Driveway (Step-By-Step Guide) - The Clever Homeowner (2024)


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