You are probably finding this blog b/c you are considering going DIY on a gravel & stone patio and want to know if it’s doable/affordable. The short answer is YES and I hope our experience can help make yours easier! Click HERE if you want to skip to the quick & dirty instructions!
This labor day weekend, I had the brilliant idea to do something about our crappy, terrible, no good, ignored back yard.
We live in a townhome with a postage stamp sized (~200 sq ft) back yard. We’ve been “managing” the grass back there with a weed wacker b/c it hardly seemed worth getting a real lawnmower. In general, we neglect and forget about that space b/c we don’t enter from that side, and sometimes it gets way overgrown or just dead & brown.
Unfortunately, it’s also the first things guests see when they come to our place. Colin laughs that people who visit our house for the first time are often like “Oh, wow, this is much nicer than I expected” after having driven through the industrial area we are in and walking through our terrible, no good back yard. I joked that it’s good deterrent for robbers b/c it looks like we don’t have anything in the house we care about.
So we finally decided to do something about it this weekend. After reading a few DIY blogs online that made it seem like a pretty easy thing, we headed off to Home Depot with all sorts of confidence.
Which was quickly crushed a few hours later as we were nearly passing out wrestling grandaddy deeply rooted weeds and shoveling tons of clay/dirt under blazing Texas sun at over 100 degrees.
WTF were we thinking??
But we pushed through and got it done. Now I can’t stop peeking out back and basking in the pride of our first big DIY project in our home. My blistered hands and aching muscles are already healing, thank you.
When our guests enter, it is a pleasing scene of repeating geometric shapes instead of a place where Gorillas in the Mist could have been shot. For mini gorillas.
The whole process took us around 8 hours total and cost under $1/sq ft. Follow on for some pictures of what we did!
Step 1: Dig out the grass/dirt/weeds/clay/whatever in the top 2 inches or so to create a levelish surface.
Lesson learned: This was MUCH harder work than we expected. Especially in the blazing summer sun at around 104 that day with hard clay dirt. We were shocked at how many times we had to go empty the wheelbarrow for such a seemingly small amount of ground.
The yellow twisty fork thing you see is the manual tiller we used to loosen up the top layer and rip out the mass network of weeds coating over everything. Probably would have been easier had we rented a mechanical tiller, but we didn’t know! This whole process took us around 4 hours straight of sweating with some breaks in between. We broke for the day at this point and went for well earned BBQ at Lockhart’s. It was so worth it!
Here is the ground all done and rained on the next morning. Totally didn’t plan for that rain, but it was still ok.
Step 2: Lay the landscape fabric. I bought the stuff that was listed for hardscapes and rolled it out. Took about 200 sq ft of material.
Step 3: Lay down the paver stones. This pattern was Colin’s idea and it worked out very nicely withe 1′x1′ stones we picked. Took us 80 stones.
Step 4: Stabilize the stones with leveling sand. Because we created the dirt surface manually, it was very difficult to make everything perfectly level. We opted to just stabilize the stones with the sand. We did this by standing on each stone and seeing where it was unstable and adding sand under until it didn’t rock anymore. Rather imprecise, but it worked!
Step 5: Pour the pea gravel in between the stones.We had bought the 1/2 ton giant bag of gravel b/c it was much more economical than buying the small bags. At this point, we split up and I sat inside the bag and filled up buckets which Colin took and poured out. It was sort of like playing in a sandbox. Only more painful.
For our 200 sq ft X 2 inch depth = ~33 cubic feet of space, we needed 1/2 ton + 3 more 20 lb bags of pea gravel.
Step 6: Clean up and bask in your glorious patio!
Here is the cost breakdown:
- 80 stones X $1.30 each
- .5 ton pea gravel @ $40
- 3 additional 40 lb bags of pea gravel X $3.39 each
- 200 ft landscaping fabric @ $26.97
- 3 bags of leveling sand X $3.48 each
Total = $191.58 or 95 cents/square foot + plenty of Blood, Sweat & Tears!
(note, we also had to buy a shovel and tiller b/c we didn’t have one, and rented a truck/wheelbarrow as well.)
Following are the quick no-pic instructions.
- Work gloves
- Utility knife
The basic steps to create a gravel & stone patio in a fenced area are:
- Call your local hardware store to find out what size paving stones are available and decide what you want to use.
- Measure and plan out how many stones, how much landscaping fabric, and how much gravel you will need.
- Go to the store and buy the materials (plus extra b/c you probably STILL miscalculated.)
- Break your back digging out the top 2-3 inches of grass/weeds/dirt/bugs til it is sort of level ish.
- Take a break to nurse your wounds with BBQ or other delicious meats & beer. High Five each other.
- Reconvene the next day with laying down the landscape fabric
- Lay out your paving stones.
- Use leveling sand to stabilize the stones. (Note, “stabilize” not “level”, b/c it is likely your ground is not anywhere near to level.)
- Pour the gravel in the spaces between stones.
- Rinse everything off with a hose and sweep the stones clean.
- Bask in the glory of your new patio!!