Rough materials, such as crushed granite chips or lava rock, gradually compact and form a relatively solid surface. They may be hard on bare feet, however. Smooth stones, such as river rock or pea gravel, settle into a somewhat inconsistent base but they tend to migrate and are more resilient.
You'll find many types, sizes, and colors of loose stone. Crushed quartz and quartz pebbles range from white to light pink. Crushed granite and lava rock are red. Dolomite and limestones are white or blue-gray. Pea gravel and river rock display a variety of colors. Larger river rock isn't as comfortable to walk on as smaller stones, but it works well as an ornamental border for a path. For walking comfort, choose 1/4- to 3/8-inch aggregates.Designing with loose stone
Perhaps no other paving material offers as many colors and textures as loose stone -- certainly not at such a low cost. Stone textures vary considerably, depending both on size and whether the stone is crushed or rounded mechanically or naturally.
All kinds of stones suit formal and informal design schemes. But overall, loose stone lends a more casual character to a path or patio section and is better suited to informal themes. If you're looking for a product to define and separate flower beds and shrub plantings from surrounding lawn areas, any of these materials will do.
Loose stone is one of the least expensive landscape materials and is easy to install. It does, however, require a subbase of gravel and sand for proper drainage and stability, and most loose stone needs a border to contain it. Stone conforms well to even severe variations in terrain, provides a flexible bed underfoot, drains quickly, and is not subject to heaving in freeze-thaw cycles.
Smooth stones wider than 3/8 inch may prove difficult to walk on, and moving wheeled equipment over a loose-stone path is even harder. Small, smooth stone, such as pea gravel, displaces easily, making walking on it, especially on slopes, difficult.
Although stone is a hard material, its durability and maintenance requirements largely are determined by its size. Heavy traffic creates worn spots that require additional aggregate.
When considering loose stone for a path, you may be tempted to choose larger stone because it will cover the area more quickly. Larger stone will prove more difficult to spread, however.Design tips
First determine the route of the path, then decide what color and texture you'd like. Next choose the material you want to install as a border. If you want a borderless path (effective in woodland settings), path material will gradually spill out of the confines of the path, creating a natural-looking effect.
Decide if you want the color of the path to offset the predominant color scheme of your flower beds or complement it with a subtle change in hue.
Choose colors carefully. Bluestone may look enticing in the bag, but it might be too vivid when installed. White rock stands out in most landscapes and reflects moonlight, but wide white walks may overwhelm a nearby flower bed and glare harshly during the day. White rock also turns a dirty-looking gray over time.Pro Tip: Buying loose stone
For small projects, you can buy loose stone by the bag at home centers, patio supply stores, or garden centers. Browse the Yellow Pages for "Building Materials," "Landscaping," "Quarries," or "Stone." It's also sold by the cubic foot or in bulk (truckload) by the cubic yard or ton.
Determine the volume of your path or patio section (multiply the length times the width times the depth) and order quantities to cover it. As a general rule, you can figure that a ton of loose stone spread 1-1/2 inches deep will cover approximately 17 square yards.
Buying stone materials in bulk from a local quarry or sand and gravel yard will save money on a large project.