There are innumerable reasons people get into gardening. Perhaps they have a passion for growing and nurturing something by hand. Others enjoy the opportunity it affords them to commune with nature without having to leave their property. And some just enjoy the fresh air it provides the area.
Whatever your reason for loving to garden, one way that you may not have tried is adding pebbles to your garden. It seems counterintuitive – why would you want rocks cluttering up the very place you designated for plants, but there are benefits to having pebbles around your plants for which you likely haven’t accounted.
Laying pebbles over soil reduces the likelihood of erosion during heavy rain. They also protect your soil from overexposure to sunlight. Gardening pebbles are also significantly easier to manage than the constant care and attention required for grass.
However, as great as they can be for your garden, both pebbles and pea gravel are highly susceptible to some of the peskiest weeds around, but fortunately, there are ways to deal with them.
Tips on how to stop weeds from growing through pebbles
- Weed Killer
Traditional weed killers work well on weeds growing through pebbles, particularly glyphosate-based products like Roundup. Glyphosate kills the weed’s membrane and washes it out of the soil quickly, but it’s vital that you avoid spraying it on any desirable plants near the weeds.
Many homeowners prefer to keep their pebble gardens free of any plants. For this, Roundup 365 is recommended. Not only will this destroy the weeds there, but it’ll also prevent any new ones from sprouting for up to a year.
Pre-emergents such as Roundup are ideally applied in spring or fall for the best results. If, for some reason, your weed problem continues despite liberal application, using a pre-emergent, post-emergent combination such as Atrazine is your best option.
As long, of course, as you use these products with careful, responsible aim. Don’t forget, these are non-selective weed killers, and they’ll harm the plants you want as well.
A natural alternative to commercial weed killers that some may fear harmful to the environment, salt is a natural dehydrator. So when it comes into contact with the soil, it draws the water from the weeds, dehydrating them and making it more difficult for them to germinate later.
But unlike bare soil, you can’t just drop a spoonful above the weed. Instead, try:
1 cup of salt
3 cups of boiling water.
Once the salt has dissolved in the water, pour the mixture on the infected area. Mixing it also keeps the salt from blowing away should wind pick up.
For larger areas, however, boiling saltwater may not be all that realistic. For areas like this, spread the salt by hand over the pebbled area, then pour water immediately. As with most natural methods, salt isn’t choosy about what kind of plants it harms.
Be sure to avoid exposing any plants you wish to encourage, and never let any saltwater spill. It’s always better to be precise in your treatment.
- Boiling Water
Boiling water hasn’t been used as a torture method since medieval times, but it’s one of the fastest and cheapest ways to kill weeds growing through pebbles. It’s a fairly self-explanatory process, just boil some in a kettle or pot, then carry it to the area you want to clear and pour.
This method isn’t particularly useful for larger areas, but it works well for fast, easy clean-up. Keep in mind, however, that you’re dealing with scalding temperatures that could cause permanent damage to your skin, so it’s essential never to pour with open-toed shoes or shorts and always wear oven mitts.
A quality flame weeder or weed torch can be found for the cost of a weed killer, and it works just as well. This is ideal for large pebbled areas. You don’t need to char the weed, simply get it to wilt. This is ideal, as you don’t want to damage the rocks by holding the flame over them for long periods of time.
Fire causes the weed’s cell to explode, killing it permanently. Flame weeders are especially good at avoiding any desirable plants, but during dry seasons, it’s important to use them with caution. The last thing you want is some kind of small brush fire on your property. Never use a flame weeder around any dry mulch or wood chips.
After getting rid of weeds, there’s an overwhelming desire to never have to deal with them again. One way to help this become a reality is to form some kind of barrier. Permeable landscape fabric is one of the best defenses against weed growth. It allows water to reach the soil while still stopping weeds from taking root.
Apply a landscape fabric by first raking the pebbles to one side, then laying the fabric down in sections. Or you can remove the pebbles entirely and then lay the fabric. This creates a barrier that prevents weeds from growing.
The thicker the fabric, the less likely weeds will grow through. It’s also important to note that foot and vehicle traffic may damage the fabric, allowing long-rooted weeds like dandelions to find their way to the top.
Most weeds are also airborne, which means they can also land above the fabric and seed anyway. For these, you can rely on some of the solutions listed above.
Installing a metal border of 3.5 inches high is a great solution to weed growth that provides some unexpected benefits. With a border, you get:
- Stops weeds from taking root underneath your pebbles.
- Keeps pebbles contained. Apart from being more aesthetically pleasing, a thick, contained covering of pebbles will be less likely to sprout weeds.
- Keeps dirt away, making it more difficult for weeds to grow.
It helps to think of an edging border like any other wall – it’s there to protect and defend from weed invasion.
Top Off Pebbles
For effective ground cover, you realistically want 3.5 inches of pebbles, gravel, or crushed stone to prevent weeds from growing through them. Thinner coverings will be penetrable by weeds.
If your pebble covering has grown thin due to erosion, foot and vehicle traffic, high wind or just being spread beyond their boundaries, it stands less of a chance against weeds. It’s a good idea when you notice your pebble layer growing thin to top off the area with new pebbles. This will help prevent weed growth.
If you’re trying to reclaim an area once infested with weeds or are starting a new garden, one method in weed prevention starts before you even lay any pebbles. It takes a little more work but preparing soil where you want pebbles before you spread them will help fight weeds. Simply,
- Remove existing pebbles from area
- Treat the soil with a pre-emergent of your choice, be it a product or homemade.
- Lay 3-inch layer of sand or mulch
- Apply your pebbles 3.5 inches thick
This dual-layer of protection, with the added mulch or sand, will do a lot in your fight against weeds. Even if the landscape fabric gets punctured, the added layer will do a lot in stopping weeds from sprouting.
Consider Replacing Pebbles
If you’ve had several outbreaks of weeds in your pebbles, then there’s clearly an underlying cause for the issue. When nothing else seems to work, it might be time to think about replacing the pebbles with brand new material.
After you’ve purchased new pebbles, you might want to treat the soil for that added protection, just to be on the safe side. If the area allows for it, consider other replacements as well, such as a patio or a pool deck.
Weeds are a nuisance, particularly in a pebble garden. They can ruin what otherwise would be a beautiful, serene retreat, ideal for those looking to commune with nature in peace. As you can see, there are plenty of options for dealing with even the most resilient weeds. Glyphosate-based weed killers are especially handy in cases such as these.
But it’s understandable why some may not want to commit to a corporate weed killer. One doesn’t have to go far online to read horror stories about them. That’s why so many homeowners opt for a homemade solution such as saltwater or boiling water.
Still, it may not be enough. You may have to commit to some much more serious treatments, including soil preparation and landscape fabric, to permanently take care of your problem. But over time, whether by foot traffic or otherwise, even those solutions can be damaged, allowing long-rooted weeds like dandelions to penetrate the surface.
Don’t let this discourage you, as with dual treatments and extensive care, you can sustain a beautiful pebble garden.
However you decide to treat them, you’re not at risk of running out of solutions for weeds. After all, it’s your garden, and how you commit to making it beautiful is as personal an expression as the rest of it.