Landscaping Stones: Beach Pebbles, Pea Gravel, or Crushed Aggregate?

Sometimes it can be difficult to select the best landscape stone among the vast array sold at rock yards, nurseries, and home improvement stores.  One area of great confusion is the smallest size landscape pebbles that are typically used as ground covering, mulch replacement, or walkway cover. The three most popular stone types in this category are crushed aggregates, pea gravel, and beach pebbles (also known as pool pebbles or Mexican river rock).  This article provides a quick overview of the benefits and downsides of each landscaping stone.

Mexican Beach Pebbles (Pool Pebbles)

The smallest size Mexican beach pebbles (Mexican river rock) are also known as pool  pebbles or criva.  They are the same beach pebbles that are naturally found on the beaches, but they are sifted through special nets to select only the tiniest pebbles.  The sizing can be as small as 1-2mm, all the way up to 1/2” stones.  While the mm-sized beach pebbles are available only as a color mix, the larger pool pebbles can be sorted by color, with black and brown mix being the most popular. In addition, pool pebbles can be polished for additional shine.

The main benefits of Mexican pool pebbles are threefold.  First, they are completely smooth, so they are comfortable to walk on even barefoot and hence are often installed in and around pools.  Second, they are round and oval-shaped. Third, they are semi-shiny. When dry, these pebbles are not completely matte (unlike crushed aggregates) but show off their multi-colored features.  When wet, criva beach pebbles become shiny (like polished pebbles). Like all landscaping pebbles, Mexican pool pebbles can last indefinitely.

The main downside of Mexican pool pebbles is that the initial installation is costlier than pea gravel and crushed aggregates. This is because pool pebble stone is a high-end product when compared to the other two materials.  However, this also means that pool pebbles add to the value of the property and greatly enhance its curb-appeal.

Pea Gravel

Pea gravel is an inexpensive stone that, similarly to beach pebbles, can also be purchased in less-than-one-inch sizes.  Pea gravel is available in several colors, with brown, black, beige, and red being the most popular ones. Pea gravel is often used as mulch replacement, to create pathways and walkways, and to add colorful accent areas to large gardens.  Pea gravel is very popular in hot climates where it is often used to create water-less desert landscapes with cacti and succulents.

The main benefits of pea gravel are its cheap price and fast installation.  The main drawbacks are irregular shapes and rugged edges.  Because the individual stones of pea gravel have not been smoothed by the ocean waves, they are a combination of shapes: squares, triangles, irregular ovals, pentagons, hexagons, and everything in between.  In addition, depending on the source of pea gravel, the edges can be quite uneven, which means that these stones are usually not appropriate to be installed nearby pools and other areas where people might walk barefoot.  While it is usually ok to drive on these stones, walking barefoot is a different matter.

Crushed Aggregates

Crushed aggregate (crushed stone) is the cheapest way to cover large areas. These stones are exactly what the name implies – crushed pieces of much larger stones.  As a result, they have sharp edges and definitely should not be walked on barefoot.  Aggregates are available in a variety of colors, depending on the type of stone they were cut from.  Crushed aggregates can be used as mulch replacement, ground cover for drought-tolerant landscapes, driveway cover, filler for potholes and sunk-in areas, accent stone, and stabilizer stone.  Because of its low price, crushed aggregate is often used to create a base layer underneath more expensive decorative stone, such as Mexican beach pebbles.

The main benefits of crushed aggregates are their cheap price and availability.  The main drawbacks are the very sharp edges, the completely matte color, and the generally lower-end look that many people do not find very desirable.

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about your particular landscaping project, please let us know and we will be happy to assist you.

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