Incorporate aggregates in new ways to enhance your design/build projects

August 24, 2023 -  By
Photo: DonNichols/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

(Photo: DonNichols/iStock / Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

Stone aggregates have been part of the landscaper’s toolkit for decades. As design trends evolve, however, contractors say they find new and creative ways to introduce aggregates into the landscape.

LM spoke to Chuck Degarmo, partner at Sperber Landscape Co., and Ryan Empey, owner of Tropical Gardens Landscape in Sarasota, Fla., to learn how they deploy aggregates in new and classic applications for design/build projects.

Think about native stone

Contractors are increasingly aware of the value of using plants native to their regions and climate zones. The phrase “right plant, right place” is nearly synonymous with native plant use. As for aggregates, contractors say it’s the “right stone, right place.”

Stone aggregates quarried and used locally help a design maintain a native feeling and keep costs down, some contractors say.

“One benefit of sourcing aggregates locally is that you can add native stones to your landscapes with material that may not be accessible in all parts of the country,” says Degarmo. “Sandstone and granite in the Southwest, granite in Texas — you should use materials that are quarried locally.”

Operations managers that crisscross a city looking for the best price on mulch or plants understand the importance of cost-savings in sourcing materials. Adding the cost of freight to move tons of stone across great distances for a job and the benefits of native quarrying come into focus. More importantly, native stones blend seamlessly into a landscape design.

“(Sourcing locally) allows for a native flavor, and is more efficient, with a lower carbon footprint, than imported materials,” says Degarmo.

Lawn replacement

Empey says aggregates can be an excellent solution for removing water-hungry parts of the landscape without sacrificing beauty.

“Everything runs in cycles,” he says. “In the early ’90s, we saw a lot of demand for brown river rock as a lawn replacement. Limestone is being used much more often now.”

And again, Empey says locale is key in selecting the right aggregates.

“(Limestone) is a porous stone that doesn’t get as hot or deplete water like some other aggregates,” says Empey. “It’s popular in Florida due to temperatures and its availability.”

Sperber works in multiple locations, including parts of the West and Southwest where water restrictions are common. Degarmo says aggregates are an effective tool for designing landscapes with these conditions in mind.

“There are many creative ways to use aggregates to replace traditional landscaping,” says Degarmo. “They’re great as low-water, low-maintenance and low-input alternatives to common landscapes.”

Empey says it’s important to use aggregates as a supplement to planting beds and not to their detriment.

“We don’t like to use aggregates as a ground cover instead of mulch,” says Empey. “It doesn’t retain moisture or prevent weeds. Many companies will do whatever a customer wants, but long term, fertilizers and watering are doubled if (stone is) used to replace mulch entirely.”

“We often use it as a border if clients want it in their planting beds, and then cover the root zones of plants with beneficial wood mulch,” says Empey. “The key is to educate customers on what works best.”

Classic applications

Base and backfill are classic applications for crushed aggregates as the building blocks for patios, retaining walls and other hardscapes.

While contractors follow standard procedures for setting base and backfill, not every project is the same. Once again, it comes down to the location.

“Below your finished paving material, you need to consider native soils,” says Degarmo. “Clays retain a lot of moisture, where sandier soils are more stable. The stability of the native soils is the key to choosing the right base material.”

When choosing materials to support a design/build project, the function is key. As a finished product, Empey says contractors have more leeway to choose aggregates for style over their construction substance. Contractors can pair crushed aggregates with locally-quarried border blocks for a genuinely native patio, walkway or lawn replacement.

“Many hardscape blocks can be selected to match or pair with open-aggregate installations,” says Empey. “We always like to use Florida natives — oolite, caprock and so on. Anything is good if it’s appropriate for the conditions.”

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