9 Steps To Get Your Gravel Road Ready for The Winter

With the freeze-thaw cycle approaching, fall is a great time to do a little preventive maintenance.

By Oscar H. Will III | Photos By Jamie Cole

Gravel is a terrific material for roads and lanes on a rural property—it’s relatively inexpensive and aesthetically pleasing. It does, however, require regular maintenance, and fall is a great time to get it in shape to avoid ruts and potholes often caused by the winter/spring freeze-and-thaw cycle.

Tractors, from subcompacts to utility models, are ideal for such work, especially those with a loader attachment and a rear grader blade or box scraper. In general, you will use the tractor and attachment(s) to move material and shape the lane’s surface—filling holes and ruts in the process. Here’s all you need to do to keep your gravel lanes in tip-top shape.

Farm Lane Prep Steps

  1. First, assess your lane’s surface. If it is well-rutted with plenty of holes and there is very little crushed stone left, you will want to bring in some new material, but not yet. Estimate how far into the grass on either side of the lane the prior year’s crushed stone has migrated, and make a note of it. For our example, say you found a ridge of old material about 8 inches into the grass.
  2. Mount either the adjustable grader blade or the box scraper onto the 3-point hitch of your tractor. With the tractor parked on a flat surface, adjust the 3-point hitch’s top link so the attachment is forward-leaning, with the front edge in contact with the ground.
  3. Move your tractor/blade combination to the right side of the lane (so the tractor is tilted at roughly the same angle as that formed by the lane’s crown). Skip the next step if you are using a box scraper.
  4. Adjust the grader blade’s angle to position the right end of the blade closer to the rear of the tractor than the left. Once engaged with the ground, forward tractor motion will pull material from the side of the lane toward the center. Ideally, your blade still extends to the outer edge of the tractor’s right rear tire or beyond.
  5. Position the outer edge of the blade or scraper above the gravel ridge you found in the grass, and adjust the blade’s tilt to be slightly toward the edge. Tilt adjustment is most often made on the grader blade itself or with the adjustable right-hand lift arm on the 3-point hitch for the box scraper. The 3-point-hitch adjustment also works with grader blades that do not have adjustable tilt. If the outer edge does not make contact with the ground before the inner edge makes contact with the center of the lane, then increase the tilt.
  6. Now with light down pressure on the hitch, proceed forward with the tractor along one side of the lane and then the other (always travel on the right). If there is still material in the grass that could be pulled up onto the lane, make additional passes. Slow and steady is the name of the game here. Don’t worry about the blades of grass and roots you might pull to the center of the lane; they will disappear on their own in time. As you make additional passes, you can reduce the blade’s tilt to avoid gouging a ditch at the lane’s edge—unless this is your purpose.
  7. Once you’ve worked in all the old material, or the holes and ruts are filled and smoothed, make a pass with the 3-point hitch in the float mode, and be sure to raise it slowly and steadily as you near the end of the run. This should leave you with a nicely crowned lane with evenly sloped sides. Grading takes a little practice and coordination. Take it slow; you will get it.
  8. If you decided earlier that you needed more material applied to your lane, now is the time to have the local material company deliver sufficient unwashed ¾-inch screen-crushed rock to build it up. If you want to work on your loader skills, have the driver dump the rock in an accessible heap, and spread it evenly on both sides of the lane yourself. Alternatively, you can have the driver spread the gravel with the truck—but be sure the driver is comfortable with this approach or you could wind up with so uneven a layer that you would have been better off using the loader yourself.
  9. Finally, use your blade or box scraper to smooth your loader work (or the driver’s spreading effort) to create an even layer of new crushed rock on either side of your lane. Make a few final passes with the tractor (attachment raised) to pack it down, and you will be ready for winter.