Why Gravel Sucks

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Don't Do This!

There is a common trend here in Southern California, away from water-thirsty lawns, toward more drought tolerant gardens, and in theory, that’s fine.  Unfortunately, the response from low-end landscape operations, usually trying to get your hard-earned money from the LADWP “grass for cash” program, is to cover your property in gravel or “DG” (decomposed
granite), and plant a few non-native succulents.


The problems with this are many, and critical:

1. Gravel Makes Our City Hotter and Drier.

Instead of cooling the planet, gravel heats it up by worsening the “heat island effect” created by asphalt and concrete. This is a huge issue in cities in general, and major one here in Southern California. Planting native plants, along with using smart methods to hold moisture such using mulch, reduce temperatures, sequester carbon, and retain moisture in the ground.

2. Gravel Does Not Stop Weeds.

Mulch, laid down 3-4 inches, does.

3. Succulents Alone are Not Beneficial.

Though we love some succulents- especially the few native ones here in SoCal- they are best used in combination with more beneficial, pollinator friendly plants. Why? Because succulents have very little ability to sequester carbon, they provide little to no food for the thousands of birds, bees, butterflies and other creatures that we share this incredible but strained ecosystem we live in. In a sense, they are a sterile, sculptural element, and that’s about it.

4. DG Suffocates The Ground, and Destroys The Soil.

Don’t get us wrong, a little DG to provide walkways and shape is fine in your garden. But entire yards covered in DG destroy the rich micro-dynamics of the soil beneath it. Yes, it lets water through, but it doesn’t allow enough nutrients to sustain the complex micro-biology necessary to making healthy soil, killing all the worms and other critters vital to soil health

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Do This Instead!

This is a properly mulched yard, with a first-planting (4 months later) of native plants. No, you DO NOT need to plant this many plants as a realtor, but laying a deep bed of mulch, with a few native grasses, perennials and privacy trees will set your new owner up for doing any landscape he/she desires. At the same time, you’ll be doing the world a huge favor by:

1. Creating a rich bed for any native/landscape design your client desires.

2. Cooling the planet, not heating it up.

3. Keeping water in the ground via the insulating properties of mulch.

4. Providing vital microbes for creating rich, healthy soil.

5. Keeping weeds at bay.

journalJames Prochnik