10 Gravel Driveway Maintenance Tips that Won’t Drive YOU Crazy

Friday, February 08, 2013 8:48:00 AM

In this article, you'll learn

  • The usual problems that homeowners experience with gravel driveways.
  • Step by step instructions on how to properly care for a gravel driveway.
  • Reasons why you may want to consider a paved driveway in the future.


We live out in the country. Like all things, our choice of where to settle down has its pro’s and con’s. One of the annoying con’s is that we had to create our own driveway, which ended up being long and on a slope. When we checked into all the possible options, we realized that a gravel driveway was the cheapest, but we would have to maintain it more frequently than a paved drive.

DRIVEWAY OPTIONS COMPARISON CHART

Cost of Driveway Construction Driveway Maintenance
Paver drive - most expensive Gravel - most maintenance required
Concrete - next in cost Asphalt - second-most maintenance
Asphalt - a bit more costly than gravel Concrete - a bit less maintenance than asphalt
Gravel - most economical Paver drive - least maintenance required

No problem! We said happily to each other. We’re retired, we’ve got time, it’ll be fun!

It was not fun.  

Oh well, it was our first country home, it’s understandable. What did we know about shovels and rollers? Tractors? Aren’t they for farmers? We wanted to enjoy nature, not grow it.

Below are some tips we picked up along the way. If you have a gravel drive, then you know how often it needs attention. Hopefully, you’ll find some good ideas here.

Maintaining a Gravel Driveway: 10 Tips that Won’t Drive You Crazy

  1. Gravel for your drivewayGet the right mindset - Mother Earth News, a popular DIY magazine that’s been going strong since 1970, says that this is the first thing you need to do to maintain your gravel driveway. You want a good grasp on the idea that what you’re trying to produce is a smooth, level surface. And then you want to accept that a perfectly smooth surface is something you’ll never attain. The reality is that any undulations will cause a vehicle to bounce. Over time, this creates larger, deeper problem areas that will eventually be too big to ignore. There’s no way around it, but go for that table-top, smooth surface anyway, even though it’s impossible to achieve.

  2. Get the stats – Here are some of the stats from The Gravel Expert that you may or may not have come across when you first built your gravel driveway. Even if you didn’t have this information then, knowing it now may be a great help in maintaining your gravel drive.

    How to Calculate the Amount of Gravel in Cubic Yards
    Ideal thickness = 3”-8”
    1. Length x width x desired thickness
    2. Divide the resulting number by 27 to obtain the cubic yards
    3. Add 4% to the number of cubic yards to compensate for compaction.

    How to Calculate the Percentage of Grade
    Ideal  = 2% - 5%
    Divide the elevation by the horizontal length, then multiply by 100
  3. When buying gravel for fill – The best gravel for your driveway will be about as big as a pea, c. ¼”, and have sharp edges. Large or flat gravel pieces or smooth, roundish rocks cause problems such as pits. The pea-sized gravel tends to clump when pressed down by a tire, which is helpful.

  4. The “quick fix” approach to gravel driveway maintenance – Over time, your gravel drive will inevitably develop potholes. You can get a pick and shovel and even out the gravel, then tap it down, but this solution leaves a weak area that will only produce another pothole in the same place. And it won’t take long for it to reappear, either (hence the term “quick fix”).

  5. Long-term solutions to gravel driveway maintenance – Long-term repair solutions all have to do with big tools and heavy machinery. If you fix it yourself, these approaches require buying, renting, or borrowing machinery that can spread and compact gravel to form a smooth surface and reduce loose layers of rock.

    You can hire this project out, and spare yourself the trouble of collecting a tractor, chain harrow, grader blade, box scraper, and all sorts of other intimidating machinery and tools. This was our choice for the first several years of our gravel driveway maintenance, and it worked out well, but your decision will be based on your own expertise and experience.

  6. The proper care and feeding of a pothole –Potholes can be a pretty serious problem. Your best bet is to widen the pothole by taking out the entire section, then fill in the hole with layers of gravel, compacting each as you go.

  7. Water woes – Water can wreak havoc anywhere, especially with gravel driveways. If you’re seeing consistent problems with ruts, washouts, and birm, your driveway probably has drainage issues. The solution is either to add enough gravel to make your drive higher than the areas surrounding it, or to install a culvert or ditch to pull the water away from the place where it flows over the gravel and compromises it.

  8. Snow plow damage – Winter’s special, isn’t it? All that pretty snow on your drive. If you use a snow plow, though, you can expect your gravel driveway to be unrecognizable the next time the sun comes out. Make sure you take steps to move the gravel that has been pulled outward by the snow plow, back toward the middle section of your drive.

  9. Geotextile fabric, anyone? – When all else fails, and you’re still not ready to upgrade to an asphalt, concrete, or paver drive, you might consider installing a geotextile layer to the substrata. It corrects unstable, soggy soil. 

  10. Consider excavation – An extremely rutted gravel drive with weeds and a sub-grade that’s unstable should be redone completely. Trying to fix it at this point would simply be a waste of time.

When it’s time to rethink…

Gravel driveway with potholesTired of patching up and fiddling with your messy gravel driveway? Maybe it’s time to consider putting in a paved drive, one that will last a long time before you ever have to think about driveways again.

After many years of maintaining our long drive, made up of small rocks with minds of their own and a wanderlust to go with them, we finally decided to go for the asphalt. Now, no matter how many trucks or kids with ATVs turn around in our driveway, it stays where it was put in the first place, instead of flying off in all directions seeking, apparently, greener pastures.

Great Day Improvements can help you out if you’re ready to step it up. They’ll even come to your place to give you a professional appraisal, along with some expert advice. Though it may not seem like it to you, after dealing with a gravel drive, you do have an abundance of options that will require less maintenance, last longer, and do the job better.

Driveways are a Great Day Improvements specialty. Why not sign up for a free, no-obligation consultation today?