This pea gravel patio with large pavers is a beautiful, DIY-friendly project! Learn all the details on how to lay pavers, how to install a pea gravel patio, and more!
Note: This post was originally published in June of 2019. It’s being re-published and updated in an effort to put a spotlight on some fun, older projects you may have missed the first time around!
Y’all, I built a patio.
I DID THIS! By myself! Can you believe it?!
This little corner of my yard used to be completely empty and boring, and now it’s functional and beautiful. I keep pinching myself over the whole thing because I still can’t believe I did it. This project is part of a larger backyard makeover – I had my audience vote on what kind of patio we should do in our backyard – The paver and pea gravel combo won by a landslide, and I ate, slept, and breathed all things patio until it was done!
I shed blood, sweat, and tears over this project, and I’m simultaneously incredibly proud of it and also don’t ever want to make another patio again.
I mean, until I forget how hard it was and decide it’s time. This post will detail every single step I took to build this DIY paver and pea gravel patio. If you’d like to see it styled, click here for that reveal! And, be sure to read all the way to the bottom for all of the other posts in this backyard makeover series – it’s a doozy! Let’s do this thing.
- TOOLS + MATERIALS
- Shovels Gloves Nylon string
- Grading stakes Line level Landscape fabric
- Staples Paver base (see my note below) Leveling sand Tamper 24X24 pavers Pea gravel Landscape border
STEP ONE: DETERMINE THE SIZE AND SHAPE OF YOUR PATIO
Your first step is to figure out where you want to place your patio and exactly how large you want it to be. We had this perfect area next to our shed where grass never grew, and we knew if we put a patio there it would make this corner of our yard usable again.
Because of the natural landscape of our yard, we had a pretty good outline already – we wanted our patio to run the length of the shed widthwise, and from the shed over to the tree. Of course, the sky’s the limit when you’re sizing out your patio – just remember the bigger it is, the more work you’ll have to do!
Once you’ve determined the sizing, use your stakes and string to frame out the area where you want the patio to be. You’ll use this to determine both the size and the depth of where you need to dig, so you want to take the time to ensure your lines are straight and level. You can use a straight line in your yard (like the fence) to measure off of to be sure the line is completely straight.
Place the stakes at each corner, then tie the string to the stakes to create an outline. Use the line level to make sure the strings are placed evenly.
Once you’ve framed out all four sides (or, in my case, just two since I was using the fence and shed as the other two sides), add a line of string going diagonally across both sets of corners. This will help you level out the middle of the patio (I’ll detail that in a second).
Once you have the space marked off, you’re ready for the hard part: digging.
STEP TWO: DIG OUT THE AREA OF THE PATIO To determine how deep you need to dig, take the height of your pavers (ours are 2″), and add 1-2 inches for sand PLUS about 3 inches of paver base.
Here’s a quick note: depending on the area you live in and how much use your patio will get, you may be able to skip the paver base. I absolutely do not recommend this if you’re doing a full paver patio, if you live in an area that gets hard freezes regularly, or if this will be the main patio in your yard and therefore see a ton of traffic. BUT, since our area almost never freezes, our soil drains really well, and this patio will only see light use, we felt good about doing the sand only. My dad has done a ton of landscaping projects like this over the years, and he gave me the advice to skip it, so I’ll just blame him if it falls apart.
I’m kidding. Mostly.
The digging is definitely the most back-breaking part of the entire process, and you’ll want to quit at least a hundred times. Just put on a good podcast, tune out the world, and keep on digging.
You may notice that we hadn’t placed the string yet in the above photo. We didn’t want to work around it (I’m clumsy and kept kicking it), so we dug out the main area, then laid it to get the edges and determine the spots where we needed to dig deeper. This is a perfectly fine order to work in too, if you find that easier!
Here’s a quick rundown of how you’ll use the string border you’ve put up:
- Use the string as a guideline for where you should dig the edges of the patio. If you follow along the straight line of the string, you’ll be sure to end up with perfect lines and square corners.
- You’ll also want to use the string to make sure the area you’re digging for the patio out is level. Grab your measuring tape and measure from the string down to the ground where you’ve dug. You’ll want that measurement to be consistent across the entire patio. Obviously, you can’t check every inch of the patio, but you can make sure that the majority of it is dug to the same depth, and once you’ve got all of the areas near the string, it’ll be easy to see where the high and low spots are.
STEP THREE: LAY LANDSCAPE FABRIC
Next up, I took some landscape fabric and laid it out across the entire patio area. This isn’t a totally necessary step (you’ve already dug up all of the grass at this point and are about to lay down tons of other things that will kill any remaining grass), but I figured it was a super quick step that might save me some weeding down the line.
It only takes a few minutes to roll out the fabric and push in the fabric staples. Honestly, this is the easiest step in the entire process and you probably want to do it just so that you can cross something off the list quickly and easily.
STEP FOUR: LAY PAVER BASE + SAND
Once the full patio area is dug out, install your landscape border. We went with a flexible plastic one, but they also sell nicer metal ones that are a bit more sturdy! We haven’t had any issues with rocks escaping the patio, so the plastic stuff seems to be working just fine! If you’re doing paver base, you’ll want to put down about 2-3 inches of that here. Like I noted earlier, we didn’t use it for our project, so I don’t have photos of that. Please be sure to do your research before deciding to skip this, though – we feel confident that our patio will hold up just fine without it, but make sure to talk to someone in your area with experience before making any decisions. Our next step was to lay the sand. You should use concrete sand (I’ve also seen it called leveling sand) for this step – I highly recommend you find a local landscaping supply company to get it from. For us, it was about 1/3 of the cost of just buying bags of sand at the hardware store! We had them deliver it directly to our house – they just dumped it in the driveway for us and I used a wheelbarrow to bring it back to the yard.
After you’ve laid about 1″ of sand, use your tamper to compact all of the sand around the patio. This is where things can get tricky – you aren’t supposed to step on the sand at all once it’s been compacted, so you may have to re-tamp it as you work.
The goal is that by the time you’re done tamping down the sand, it’s all compacted and level. If this sand is still loose, it won’t act as a good base for your pea gravel patio. So, take your time here! One step that we chose to skip that I really regret is screeding the sand before moving on to laying pavers. I thought it would be easy to adjust as we went, but I really wish I had taken the time to do this (especially because it’s not that hard!). Read below for the details on that!
Here’s a quick rundown of how to screed your patio:
Lay lengths of PVC pipe (I’ve seen it done with 2X4s too) about every five feet across the patio (this is supposed to be done on top of your paver base, before laying sand). Be sure they’re level! Whatever material you choose, make sure it’s about the same height as you want your sand to be (so, if you want 1″ of sand, choose a material about 1″ thick!). Fill the patio area with your sand and spread it all out. Grab a 2X4 and run it along the top of the pipes to pull off any excess sand. Be sure to look as you work to be sure there aren’t any areas so low that the 2X4 isn’t touching. You should be able to pull out the pipes once you’re done, and use a small trowel to fill in the spots where they were. With this step, you don’t need to also tamp down the sand, as the screeding does a good job of compacting it. You will, however, want to make sure you’ve compacted your base layer if you’re using that! Instead of doing this, we just added more sand to low spots and dug out high spots as we worked (re-tamping each time). It was more work than it should have been, so I definitely wish we’d taken the time to screed! I make these mistakes so you don’t have to.
STEP FIVE: LAY PAVERS Now, you’re ready to start laying your pavers! If you’ve done everything properly and your ground is totally level, this will be pretty quick! Just be sure to measure the distance between each paver (we did 4″), and make sure that you’re laying in a straight line. Another string can help if you want to use that to guide your lines!
STEP SIX: ADD PEA GRAVEL
Once all of your pavers have been placed, it’s time for the pea gravel!
We also got our pea gravel from the local landscape store. It was about $50 for a cubic yard of pea gravel, which was enough to do all of the (12×15) patio, turn Jackson’s old sandbox into a rock box, and add a thin layer of gravel around the side and back of the shed. For contrast, purchasing that much in just bags from the hardware store would have cost about $215. We picked it up in our truck, but even if we had chosen to have the rock delivered (which is about a $50 fee), we would have saved a ton of money!
This part of the project was satisfying, surprisingly fast, and incredibly back-breaking and exhausting (I literally popped a rib out of place while working). I did it all by myself in about 2.5 hours – I just loaded the wheelbarrow up, brought it to the backyard, dumped it onto the patio, and used a combination of a large broom and my rake to spread it around until it was level.
You’ll find that the pea gravel doesn’t always stay where it’s supposed to (you’re shocked, aren’t you?!), so just accept the fact that you’ll have to sweep the patio regularly if you want it to stay looking nice and neat. It only takes a few minutes, so it doesn’t bother us at all but if you think that constantly having rocks creep up onto your pavers will make you twitchy, this might not be the project for you. I will note that while we’ve had rocks hop up on the pavers pretty regularly, we’ve had almost no issues with the pea gravel escaping the actual perimeter of the patio. It’s stayed in place and out of our grass very well! After your pea gravel is in place, you’re DONE! You can immediately load up your patio with your furniture, or you can do as I did and take a moment to commemorate the monumental accomplishment of building a pea gravel patio all by yourself.
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