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What's best to put under gravel?

I'm in the process of making my first garden from a blank canvas - it was just grass when we moved in. Most of the beds have been dug now and I've earmarked an area at the end of the garden for a gravel sitting area where the ground has been levelled and compacted. 

A lot of places say to use a weed membrane under gravel, but I've also heard that the plastic membranes are pretty bad for wildlife (earthworms suffering and birds taking the plastic shreds for their nests). I don't think cardboard would work particularly well, but have read a bit about burlap as a possible alternative. 

Has anyone here opted for either no membrane or an eco-friendly alternative? I'm not too bothered about the weeds really because they're going to come anyway, I'd just like to make sure the gravel is stable to walk on and doesn't get sucked into the soil. 


  • Pete.8Pete.8 Posts: 11,287
    I used ordinary weed membrane in several areas a long time ago.
    It was fine under gravel, the birds didn't touch it.
    Maybe there are more eco-friendly versions these days.
    Mine are still fine after 20+ years

    Billericay - Essex

    Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit.
    Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  • zugeniezugenie Posts: 834
    Gravel grids are a good option if you want a stable surface.

    I have mixed feelings on weed membrane under gravel, in my last garden I did it and the membrane ended up getting torn up by the gravel as it was walked over. I also find with gravel that it’s damp enough for most weeds to germinate just in the gravel!!

    I have some paths I want to do in gravel so I’m going to try getting  the proper stuff not the flimsy fabric and lay it under gravel grids, my parents did this in their last garden and it lasted really well, no weeds!
  • Busy-LizzieBusy-Lizzie Posts: 23,800
    I have membrane under gravel. It's tough, not the cheapest, and lets water through. No problems. Has to be enough gravel to cover it properly.
    Dordogne and Norfolk. Clay in Dordogne, sandy in Norfolk.
  • Slow-wormSlow-worm Posts: 1,576
    I took up the entire gravel 'garden' here, and shifted some of it to one end - I took up all the horrid membrane (worms got stuck in the fibres) and have a gravel layer about 4 inches thick where the feeders etc are. Nothing grows through it, and the compaction isn't quite as bad without a liner. 
    Weed roots grew in with the fibres too, and so bits broke off when we pulled them - any that could regrow from a bit of root just didn't go away.

  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 54,789
    Unless you can dig out a good few inches and then fill it with well compacted hardcore, or similar, before adding gravel, it'll tend to sink into the soil over time, regardless of whether the soil's heavy clay or sandy. That can happen quite quickly.
    A layer of good landscape fabric, and at least 3 inches of gravel will do the job no problem. Worms etc will just find another way up and out.
    You'll get weeds seeding in regardless of whether there's a physical barrier or not, and it'll need a top up now and then as well. I've never seen birds pecking at it either, but that's why you need good coverage    :)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • Busy-LizzieBusy-Lizzie Posts: 23,800
    Mine hasn't sunk. Maybe it depends on your soil and how wet your area is.
    Dordogne and Norfolk. Clay in Dordogne, sandy in Norfolk.
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 54,789
    It would sink here if there was nothing to prevent it, especially if it was an area that had plenty of foot traffic. The landscape fabric helps to prevent it mixing with the soil too   :)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • NollieNollie Posts: 7,511
    A good, sturdy edging is useful to contain a gravelled area, ideally on top of compacted hardcore plus sufficient depth of gravel for a stable surface, as others have said. 

    Interesting you mention burlap, because our local council has taken to using a strong, woven jute mesh to retain the new soil banks created by a road widening project. Different aim of course, it’s there to hold the soil in place until vegetation establishes to hold everything together.
    Mountainous Northern Catalunya, Spain. Hot summers, cold winters.
  • KeenOnGreenKeenOnGreen Posts: 1,831
    As others have alluded to, there are two different types of weed suppressing membrane. One if flimsy and fabric-like, and tears easily. I would avoid that. The other stuff is made of some kind of plastic, slightly shiny, and is very tough (although it frays easily, so you it's good to fold it over, to protect any frayed edges). We find this to be very long lasting, and good for suppressing weeds. It is not environmentally friendly, but the alternative is to have to do lots of regular weeding. 

    Whatever you use, soil will gradually build up in your gravel, and it will become a wonderful host for weeds, so very occasionally you might have to wash the gravel a bit to stop weeds finding it the perfect growing medium. We still think that's preferable to using no membrane at all, in which case your gravel will act as a lovely mulch for your weeds.
  • NollieNollie Posts: 7,511
    I believe you can get also resin bound gravel laid that is permeable and SUDS compliant to allow for drainage but I’ve no idea how environmentally friendly or otherwise the resin is. Anyone know?
    Mountainous Northern Catalunya, Spain. Hot summers, cold winters.
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