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natural stone and brick patio

Photo: tyo

Every March, I get antsy about working in the yard. On a warm day, I go outside and take an inventory of existing gardens, plants and walkways. I draw a plan for each major area, then start writing down what I would like to do in each.

Here are a few of my ideas. Some of these I have executed, some have been started, some are still on paper, and some are ongoing, but they are all DIY – do it yourself.

  • flower beds around the foundation
  • patio out back
  • patio out front
  • raised bed vegetable garden
  • walkways
  • fencing
  • plant shade and fruit trees
  • shed/carport combo
  • enlarge the parking area

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with summer projects, since there is a short window of time to do them. My solution is to make a priority list. What do I really want most?

How to prioritize DIY patio and yard projects

Sometimes my wallet will determine this, but this year, I need to finish the back patio. It’s been on the list for a couple of years. So far, I have cleared the grass and sage and planted a few shrubs around what could be the perimeter. I know, it sounds backwards, but that definition helped me decide the placement, size and shape.

The purpose of this patio is to make a sunny, wind-free spot in spring. It is already a lovely shady spot in summer. It needs to be far enough out from the house to make it feel like another room and big enough to accommodate a walkway, a dining table and chairs and a chaise lounge.

So far, you can see my train of thought, and you can apply that yourself.

Map out patio and yard projects with running lists

Make a list of potential projects. This might change every year. If you are doing one in phases, it will show up on your annual list until it’s done.  Make lists and draw pictures. Sometimes working things out on paper answers questions you didn’t even ask. A drawing could help out the folks where you buy your materials, too.

Have a budget in mind

Figure out which patio and yard projects you want to take on, staying within your budget. If you need financing, see how much you qualify for. That will determine the scope of the project. Maybe you can get enough money to knock several out at once!

Know your needs

What are you trying to accomplish? Take all family members and activities into consideration, including pets.

Research patio and yard building materials

Once I had a rough size, I started researching surface materials. A patio surface should be durable, low maintenance, have good drainage properties and match the style of your home. Stone should be local so it is adapted to your climate. Common materials are:

concrete – easiest and least expensive, can be dressed up with a color tint, stamping, scoring or inlay; low maintenance
flagstone – local for me; darker shades absorb heat, so a buff color would be more appropriate; good drainage
tile – not so much a DIY project for beginners, better installed by a professional
stone pavers – low maintenance; good drainage
brick – warm, traditional look; aged brick for casual feel, new for a more formal yard
crusher fines – excellent drainage; inexpensive; works well on walkways, too

Crushed fines gravel path patio

Photo: gardengirly

Preparing your outdoor space for  DIY patio projects

No matter which surfaces you choose, the initial prep work is pretty much the same. You will have to:

  1. Determine where the patio will be. Stake it out.
  2. Remove sod and soil. Depth will depend on the surface material (see below*).
  3. If an edging is being used, put it in place. A wood edge is necessary to pour concrete. A border up against a flowerbed or lawn can be the surface material or something contrasting.
  4. Cover the area with landscape fabric as a weed barrier, and secure it with landscape pins.
  5. Lay the surface material from the high end to the low end. Research the specific material for details on cutting, laying and filling, since each has its own requirements. I don’t have the room to cover them all! Consider planting low ground covers between stones to cool them and soften the look. Leave small pockets for planting.
  6. Get some patio furniture, and enjoy!

Establishing a solid, drainage-friendly patio base (*)

The base will be 4” of compacted gravel, which will be covered by 3” of compacted sand for a covered patio. If your base will be exposed to the elements, skip the sand, and use 7” compacted gravel for better drainage. Good drainage = no freeze/thaw damage!

Level the base, creating a gentle slope away from the house to keep water moving out and away. A 1” drop for every 8’ is the minimum and is barely noticeable. Place the surface a bit above ground level, again for drainage. Rainwater must move away from the house and the patio! I can’t stress that enough! With these figures and knowing the thickness of your surface material, the depth of the area can be determined.

My Patio

I decided on crusher fines for my little patio. When these small particles of crushed rock are wet down and compacted, they create a concrete-like surface, yet water and air move through it to eliminate puddling, run-off and erosion. Crusher fines are inexpensive, durable, and definitely a DIY project. I can also create walkways around the house that will match the patio for continuity.

I will surround the patio on three sides with native shrubs and flowers. The fourth side will be the entry at the end of a walkway from the house. When I’m done, I’ll be going to yard sales for some ‘new’ outdoor furniture. I will cross this project off my DIY list and move on to the next one!

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.