Wood Chip vs. Gravel Landscaping

Strips of grass, gravel, and wood chips.

Selecting the right kind of landscaping material is harder than you may think. It's difficult to beat the functionality and price of gravel, yet wood chips are great for the environment and supply nutrients to surrounding plants. From cost to environmental concerns, here is a quick guide to help you understand the main differences between gravel and wood chip landscaping.


Wood chips naturally decay and will need to be replaced more often than gravel. Also, if they are not properly packed down, bad weather can wipe them away and spread them across your property. Gravel has great longevity and tends to stand up better to the elements, especially strong winds.


There are significant cost differences between gravel and wood chips. Gravel is less expensive because of its longevity. Wood chips will dig into your budget a little more, especially when you consider the yearly upkeep.


Raking gravel.

Whether you choose gravel or wood chips, there will come a time when you need to fill in a low spot or two. When it comes to yearly maintenance, it's easier to install additional wood chips than it is shoveling out heavy gravel.

Gravel tends to stand up better to the weather and requires less maintenance over the long run. In fact, you will probably need to replace wood chips once every four years while gravel will need only a few touch-ups over its lifespan.

Weed Control

Wood chips do a great job of controlling unwanted weeds around trees and plants. Gravel is pretty much the opposite. Not only does the wind blow soil and seeds between the rock layers, but it's harder to eradicate the weeds at their source. Given how much time it can take to manage weeds, this should weigh heavy in your consideration of landscaping material. A strong weed barrier is important in both instances.


Gravel is much easier to clean than wood chips, though frequent cleaning is recommended to avoid excess weed growth. The easiest way to clean a gravel bed is to use a leaf blower. However, this tactic does not work on wood chips because they are too light and will blow away under excessive force.

Moisture Levels

Wood chips surrounding a yellow leafy plant.

When used around plants and trees, wood chips do a better job containing moisture than gravel beds. The chips create a strong mesh bond that helps keep water under the surface. In fact, installing wood chips around your plants can reduce watering requirements by as much as 50%.

Soil Nutrition

Because wood chips are natural, they contribute a lot of nutrients to the surrounding soil. Wood chips decompose over time, sending nutrients to the ground while strengthening soil structure and improving aeration. These organic chips also attract earthworms and tend to create healthy fungi and bacterial growth.

When it comes to aesthetics, wood chips and gravel have their own selling points. On the one hand, gravel comes in many different shapes and sizes and looks great around trees and shrubs. You can also find the perfect color match for your home. Wood chips, on the other hand, tend to blend in better with the surrounding environment and have more of a natural look.

Fire Control

Gravel is obviously a more fireproof material than wood chips. If your home is in a location that is constantly threatened by wildfires, then you should consider installing gravel in your landscape.


A landscaped area overlooking a mountainside.

Although you might suspect that wood chips are too loose for walkways, they actually pack down pretty well. Wood chips are great for pathways and are easy to walk on. Conversely, gravel is rough on the feet and tends to get hot in the summer heat. However, gravel is better for driveways because it handles heavy loads.