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Here’s what to do with all that sand and gravel left behind now that the snow has melted

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: May 3
  • Published May 3

I love a new question. After 40-plus years, there just are not that many gardening and yardening questions which I have not been asked. So I was pleasantly surprised, if not actually thrilled, when someone asked if it was OK to simply sweep the sand and gravel that has accumulated in the driveway onto the adjacent lawn: Will it do harm?

Ah, a great, new question. Unless you have already tackled the chore, removal of last winter's driveway sand and gravel is a must, not for any gardening reason, but because the stuff eats into the pavement and reduces the life of the driveway. What to do with the stuff you collect?

The short answer is you can put all that sand and gravel on your lawn, at least in most cases. The big exception would be if you have accumulated too much on the lawn over the years, though this shouldn't be a problem in most cases. Best of all, the practice might even help your lawn.

The truth be told, I have been sweeping our winter driveway leavings onto the lawn for years. I started the practice because the mechanical sweeper I hired one year to do the job sucked up all the asphalt coating I had put down, at great expense, the previous fall. So, after I collected what I needed to build a scree garden (gravel based, for alpine plants), I simply decided to sweep all of the stuff off the driveway, as far as I could get it out into the lawn.

It was shortly thereafter that I was visiting one of the country's great nurseries, Joy Creek (joycreek.com, and do take a look as they ship here) and happened to see that they were selling small quantities of what looked like the same stuff I had removed from our driveway — i.e., pea gravel. Why?

Well, it is so gardeners in that area of Oregon can put it into their perennial beds and lawns, where it works its way in and provides mineral nutrients while also ensuring necessary drainage. Hey, why not the lawns here?

A couple of years later, I got the lawnmower out, made sure there was no one in the vicinity and that I was wearing long pants and safety goggles, and used it to blow that winter's sand and gravel from the driveway even farther out into the lawn than when I simply swept it up. It was then that I realized the mower works on the driveway, a suggestion I pass on to you. A leaf blower works as well. Just be safe.

This practice begs the question: would gravel make sense in some of the areas off the path of the driveway? And, as the Joy Creek folks have shown, it does. A few handfuls sprinkled around your perennial beds is a great idea. In that case, it might make sense to use the broom and a bucket to gather the stuff off the driveway as you will have to take it to the beds.

The only real caveat is that physical safety one. Running a lawn mower over pebbles can turn them into veritable missiles. You must keep others away while running the mower and you must wear protective eye gear. This stuff will work its way into the lawn over the course of a month or so as grass clippings start to accumulate.

Reusing that sand and gravel all makes a lot of sense. It will provide drainage, nutrients and, almost as important, a bit of regenerative activity, and it is sustainable, as you recycle and reuse those winter droppings.

Jeff's Alaska garden calendar

The wildflower class: Dr. Marilyn Barker's hands-on botany class is 6:30-9:30 p.m. May 10-24. Class fee is $145 for members and $160 for non-members (not including field trip transportation or optional books and supplies). For more information, please call ABG at 907-770-3692. Great opportunity with a great teacher!

Alaska Botanic Garden: Join now and get great gardening discounts. If you read this column, you should be a member! alaskabg.org.

Plants: It is time to start buying them. There are only two or three more weeks left before you can plant some in the ground. Give a week for hardening off and you can see it is time to start buying.

Flower seeds to plant outdoors: Sweet peas

Vegetable seeds to start indoors: Soy bean, summer squash, cucumbers (for greenhouse growing) and pumpkins.

Vegetable seeds to start outdoors: Peas, spinach, onion sets, kale, chard and mustard

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