Because of water conservation efforts, there’s been a lot of focus in the last few years on “hardscaping” rather than landscaping—but that might not be the best thing for you if you’ve just moved into a house where you plan on raising a family and you want a yard with grass for the kids to play. If you’re looking at a backyard full of gravel that you’d like to see turned into a place that kids can play, here are some suggestions that should make it easier to accomplish.

1.) Create a raised border out of some of the gravel in order to make use of the materials on hand.

You can still use some of that hardscaping to your benefit by creating a border area. If you buy edging stones or erect concrete borders, you can essentially create a permanent edge around the outer area of your yard that can be used to add depth and color to the yard. If you aren’t sure you want to keep the border, consider railroad ties or wooden slats instead. 

You can essentially scoop a good bit of the gravel into the border areas and create a raised edge. Cover the gravel over with a layer of topsoil thick enough that none of the gravel can be seen. This doesn’t create the ideal environment for a lot of plants—you’ll have great drainage but relatively little nutrients—so you have to pick the type of plants to add to the borders carefully if you want success. Consider sticking with a few hardy varieties that deal well with shallow, rocky ground. Perennial ground covers like Chinese juniper, creeping juniper and red cedar will give you all-year color, Mix in several annual plants like common sage, stonecrop, and English lavender, and you’ll have beautiful summer colors as well.

2. Cover the remaining gravel with topsoil and plant your grass.

Don’t listen to the nay-sayers who tell you that you can’t get a yard full of healthy grass once gravel’s been put down. You just need the right amount of topsoil to do it. Essentially, while you can get away with a minimum of 6″ of good, rich topsoil to start your grass growing, you’ll do better if you plan on starting with 12″ minimum layer of topsoil. That gives the dirt plenty of space to settle without compromising the needs of the grassroots. Experts also recommend that you incorporate about 1–2″ of organic compost into the topsoil by mixing it into the upper layers before you plant your grass seed.

3. Consider hydroseeding as an additional option to get the best start.

While you can simply lay down your grass seed at this point using a standard spreader, you may want to consider hydroseeding with a slurry. Talk to your landscape material provider to see what they recommend, but the slurry combines fertilizer, mulch, grass seed, and additives like lime, vitamins, and other materials that are designed to give you the quickest, thickest grass possible. 

For more advice, talk to your landscaping supplier about your options. They’ll be happy to help you pick out the right products that will take your gravel yard into a family play area as quickly as possible. Click here for info about landscaping.