Is a well-maintained lawn the signature of having obtained the American dream? Does meticulously groomed grass mean you’re a good neighbor? As Rachel and I contemplate ways to downsize our garden, the front lawn seems to be the natural place to start. Over the past several years, each summer has been hotter and drier than the one before. Something has to give. Is all of this grass really necessary?      

Lawns must be watered, mowed, fertilized, weeded and overseeded throughout the growing season. That’s a lot of time and effort. Our house faces north and parts of our front yard only receive three or four hours of direct sun each day. There are several places where grass just won’t grow. We’ve been fighting these bare spots for years and Rachel finally decided that enough is enough. She has always wanted to mimic the style of an English garden in our front yard. Pea gravel is a traditional hardscape material commonly used in England. It looks good, it’s easy and inexpensive to maintain and gives a pleasant crunch underfoot as you walk across it. Replacing grass for gravel isn’t as hard as you might think. 

The first step is to kill the grass in the area you want to place the gravel. You can use glyphosate, the active ingredient in products like Roundup, or simply harness the power of the sun. This process is called solarization. The easiest way to solarize is to lay black plastic trash bags weighed down with bricks over the designated area. The sun will bake the soil under the plastic, killing the grass and any weed seeds or pathogens in about two weeks. Excavate the dead grass to a depth of three inches using a tiller or flat-edged shovel. Any deeper than that and the walking surface will be too soft.

Use a durable landscape fabric to line your plot. Landscape fabric allows water to pass through, while suppressing weeds. Make sure the seams overlap by at least one foot. You don’t want weeds coming up in between them. You’ll need some sort of edging material to keep the gravel in place, such as bricks, wood or stone. Set the edging directly on the fabric. Slightly sunken edging gives a neater appearance.

Now you’re ready to fill in the gravel. You can purchase pea gravel in bulk or by the bag from most garden centers. Use a garden rake to smooth out the gravel. Maintain an attractive appearance by raking regularly.

Reconsider all or part of your lawn. Landscaping with gravel can be a satisfying alternative to grass.

Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at