How to Build a Garden Path (2022)

Updated: Sep. 21, 2017

This easy-to-build natural stone path will last a lifetime

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How to Build a Garden Path (1)Family Handyman

Plan and build dry-laid natural stone steps and path, using flat flagstones for the treads and thicker blocks of matching stone for the risers.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Multiple Days

Step 1: Overview

Stonework doesn’t have to be complex or require special masonry skills. In most regions, you can buy flat flagstones that you can easily lay for paths and stack for solid stairs. We’ll show you how to plan, lay out and build a set of natural stone steps using flat flagstones for the treads and solid blocks of stone, called wallstone, for the risers.

Our steps are built on a gradual slope, but by changing the riser and tread sizes you can build them on slopes as steep as about 40 degrees. Rustic steps like these are well suited for informal garden paths like ours, but we wouldn’t recommend them for entry or other steps that get heavy daily use.

In addition to the basic gardening tools, leather gloves and carpenter’s level, you’ll need a few special tools for breaking and moving stone. Buy a 4-lb. maul (Photo 7) to chip and break stone. If you have to cut a few stones, buy a dry-cut diamond blade, available at home centers. To move the stone, rent or buy a two-wheeled dolly with large wheels.

Step 2: Stone steps don’t have to be exact

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Photo 1: Lay out the steps

Outline the steps with spray paint and drive stakes at the top and bottom. Tie a level string line to the stakes. Measure the total run between the stakes and the total rise from the ground to the level line. Calculate the length of each tread (see Fig. A and text) and mark them with spray paint.

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Figure A: Steep slope

For a steep slope, make the rise higher and the treads narrower.

Note: You can download and print a larger version of Figure B from Additional Information below.

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Figure B: Gentle slope

Use a lower rise and wider treads for a gentle slope.

Note: You can download and print a larger version of Figure A from Additional Information below.

(Video) How to Create a STUNNING Garden Path | GARDEN | Great Home Ideas

Make a rough sketch of the plans for your steps, including the approximate number of risers and any retaining walls you might have to build.

Begin by measuring the total horizontal distance the stair will travel along a level line (Photo 1). This is called the “run” of the stair. Then measure down from this level line to determine the total vertical distance, or “rise.” Your goal is to arrive at a set of comfortable steps with rises of 6 to 8 in. and treads at least 12 in. deep.

First figure out how many step risers you’ll need. Gentle slopes like ours require short risers and long treads, while steep slopes require taller risers (up to a maximum of 8 in. and short treads). If your hill has both steep and gentle slopes, break it up into sections and calculate the step layout separately for each area (Fig. A). Divide the total rise by about 6 in. for shallow slopes, up to a maximum of 8 in. for steep slopes, to arrive at the approximate number of risers. In our case, the total rise was 29 in. Dividing by 6 yielded 4.83, which we rounded up to 5 risers.

Subtract 1 from the number of risers to determine the number of treads. Then divide the total run by this number to arrive at the depth of each tread. We divided the total run of 145 in. by 4 treads to arrive at a tread depth of a little more than 36 in. Using this information, mark the location of each stair riser on the ground with spray paint.

There’s no margin for error when you’re building wood steps, but luckily you can cheat a little on these rustic stone steps. You’ll still have to calculate the height of each riser and the depth of the treads, but if you’re off by an inch when you reach the top, it’s not difficult to adjust the level or slope of the landing to make up for it. If your route includes a space where the grade levels out, make this spot a small seating area (lead photo).

Step 3: Buying stone

A visit to your local stone supplier is the quickest way to find out what types, sizes and shapes of stone are available in your area. Look for flat stones called flagstones that range in thickness from 2 to 3 in. to use for your treads. Ours are limestone, but you may find that another type of stone is more readily available. You’ll need some 6- to 8-in. thick blocks of stone, called wallstone, for the risers (Photo 2). Follow our instructions for figuring your riser height (Photo 1). Then pick out wallstones of this height to use for your risers. Try to find flagstones of consistent thickness. It will make it easier to keep the stone steps all the same height.

Since stone is usually sold by the ton, and the number of square feet a ton will cover depends on the thickness of the stone, figuring quantities is best left to someone with experience selling natural stone. Note the dimensions on the sketch and take it with you to order the stone. Order about 15 percent extra to provide more shapes to choose from and avoid having to pay for a second delivery. You’ll have no trouble finding uses for the extra stone.

Our project required about 3 tons of stone for the treads and landing and another 2-1/2 tons for the risers and wall. In addition to the stone, order 1 ton of crushed gravel with aggregate 3/4 in. and smaller for leveling the treads and risers (Photos 3 and 4).

Step 4: Start with level risers

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Photo 2: Set the first stone riser deeper

Dig a trench for the first stone riser. Plan to leave enough of the riser stone exposed so the step will be at the correct height when you set the stone tread on top.

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Photo 3: Level the riser

Level the riser stones by removing soil or adding gravel as needed. Set the distance from the ground (or future path) to the top of the first riser stone equal to the riser dimension less the thickness of the tread.

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Photo 4: Excavate the first tread and second riser

Dig straight back, level with the top of the first riser stone, to 10 in. beyond the mark for the second riser. Set the next riser stone so the distance from the dug-out ground to the top of the stone is equal to your riser height. Adjust the height of the riser by burying a bit of the stone or adding gravel under it. Level the top.

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Photo 5: Use a dolly for heavy stones

Move heavy flagstones by tipping them up on end and rocking them onto a two-wheeled dolly. Keep your back straight and lift with your legs.

(Video) How to lay a path with Wickes

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Photo 6: Place the tread

Arrange large flagstones to overhang the lower riser about 2 in. Remove soil or tamp gravel into low areas to level the tops of the stones. Leave gaps between stones up to 2 in. wide.

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Photo 7: Trim corners

Trim stones for a better fit by chipping away at protruding pieces with a heavy maul. Wear safety glasses.

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Photo 8: Shim the treads

Shim unstable flagstone treads with stone chips. Tip the tread stone out of the way and glue the stone shims to the risers with polyurethane construction adhesive.

With the tricky planning out of the way, you’re ready to dig in and start building steps. Spread out some of the stone so you’ll have many shapes to choose from. Then build one step at a time, starting at the bottom and working your way up. Photos 2 – 11 show how.

The first step is the trickiest to build. After that you just repeat the process until you reach the top. Set the first riser in place (Photos 2 and 3). Remember to bury it a few inches so the first riser won’t be too tall. Now use the top surface of this riser stone to guide your shovel as you dig straight back into the hill to make a level spot for the first tread and the second riser. Be sure to dig out all of the sod. When the first two risers are in place, you’re ready to set stones for the first tread. Pick larger stones to overhang the riser (Photo 9). The extra weight will keep them from tipping. Then fill in behind them with smaller stones.

For a safe set of steps, it’s important to keep all the risers the same height. Compensate for variations in flagstone thickness by adjusting the height of the riser. If the stone you pick for the tread is extra thick—say, 3 in. rather than 2 in.—bury the riser an extra inch so the total rise will be consistent. The same goes for keeping the top surface of the treads even. Put a little gravel under thin stones to raise them, or excavate under stones that are too thick. If a stone tips or rocks when you step on it, shim it with stone chips (Photo 8). Take your time adding gravel and removing soil until your step is just right. Then move on to the next one.

To avoid moving stones more than necessary, we found it helpful to arrange the stones into the shape of the treads near the stone pile, and then move the pieces to their permanent location on the steps.

Step 5: Blend the steps into the landscape

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Photo 9: Blend the yard into the steps

Cut 16-in. squares of sod from alongside the steps with a flat-blade shovel and lift them out. Remove enough soil to slope and blend the surrounding yard into the new steps. Replace the sod and water it.

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Photo 10: Add a retaining wall

Build a small retaining wall by stacking smaller stones and filling behind them with dirt. Stagger the joints and step each layer back a couple of inches from the one below.

(Video) DIY How To Install A Paver Walkway For Beginners!

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Photo 11: Fill the gaps between stones

Fill cracks with a 50/50 mix of soil and compost, and plant creeping groundcover such as thyme in the larger spaces.

Notching into the hill will leave bare ledges of soil along the edge of each tread. You can either remove soil to slope the surrounding landscape down to the steps or add stones along the edge to retain the soil. Photo 9 shows how to cut out the sod and regrade the soil. On the three steps leading from the landing to the top of the hill, we buried wallstone along the edge to hold back the dirt (Photo 10 and lead photo).

Filling the cracks between stones is the final step in the project. Experts we talked to had varying opinions on the best material to use. Sand is easy but it will wash out. Pea gravel looks good but tends to fall out and get under your feet, and it’s like walking on ball bearings. We settled on a 50/50 mix of compost and soil. It packs easily into the cracks and looks natural. And if you want, you can plant a durable creeping groundcover, like creeping thyme, in the large spaces. Besides looking great, it will fill in the spaces to keep out weeds and hold the soil in place.

Cutting Stone

You’ll probably get through the project without having to cut any stone. But if you need an exact fit or just can’t find the right shape, cutting is an option. Buy a diamond blade to fit your circular saw.

Mark the stone with a crayon. Set the abrasive blade to cut about 1/2 in. deep and saw along the line. Increase the depth in 1/2-in. increments and make repeated cuts until you’ve sawed at least halfway through the stone. Direct a stream of water from a garden sprayer onto the blade as you saw to reduce dust and cool the blade. Turn over the stone and gently tap along the cutting line with a heavy hammer until it breaks.

Caution: Plug the saw into a GFCI-protected outlet or into a special portable GFCI plug.

Additional Information

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Circular saw
  • Dust mask
  • Level
  • Line level
  • Safety glasses
  • Spade
  • Tape measure
  • Wheelbarrow

You’ll also need a 4 lb. maul, a diamond blade for the circular saw, a dolly for moving stones, and a shovel.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • 2-in. – 3-in.-thick flagstone
  • 50/50 mix of soil and compost
  • 6-in. – 8-in.-thick wallstone
  • Polyurethane adhesive

Originally Published: June 20, 2017

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What is the cheapest way to lay a garden path? ›

Mulch and gravel are the cheapest pathway materials you can buy for rock walkways, and they make construction simple, too, making them two of our favorite walkway ideas. All you have to do is remove the sod, roll out landscape fabric and spread the mulch or gravel.

How deep should a garden path be? ›

Aim for a depth of around 4 inches and use a square edge spade to ensure the sides of the trench are straight and even. When finished, you should then smooth the bottom of your trench with a rake and compact it using a tamper or other flattening tool.

What is the best material for a walkway? ›

Concrete – Poured concrete is perfect should you want an even and smooth surface. Patterns can be stamped in the material should the homeowner be interested. Concrete pavers are an inexpensive tile substitute as they do not need mortar or grout and can come in various shapes and sizes.

What can I use instead of slabs? ›

Gravel is one of the cheapest and easiest alternatives to paving slabs. Most often used for footpaths and driveways, aggregates used for gravel are available in a wide variety of sizes and colours for a range of different finishes. Whilst cost-effective, gravel is by no means a low maintenance option.

Can I lay gravel on top of soil? ›

Laying gravel on soil isn't difficult because it essentially involves clearing out the garden space, digging over the ground to stimulate the soil, adding coarse sand when necessary, digging an outside border, and laying a weed membrane over the area.

How do you get pea gravel to stay in place? ›

The two most effective methods for stabilizing pea gravel are cement and permeable pavers. If you're stabilizing pea gravel with cement, it will hold for a while until it's eventually damaged by traffic and water exposure.

Should a garden path be straight or curved? ›

A straight garden path v.

The shape of the path depends on your taste and the space available. A meandering or curved garden path will generally make your garden look more interesting or bigger, but may not be practical if your family are likely to head for the bike shed or workshop by the shortest possible route.

What do you put at the end of a garden path? ›

Greenery spilling over the walkway edge give the garden an established, lush feel. Tall-growing plants gradually give way to a cascade of low-growing blooms and groundcovers. Stone pavers act as edging to keep loose gravel inside path boundaries.

How wide should a path be? ›

The size of a path should relate to its use. A primary path should be at least 48 in. wide so two people can walk side by side. Hayward also suggests that the width correspond to the dimensions of an architectural element of your house—the combined width of the front door and its trim, for instance.

Does a garden path need edging? ›

'Not all paths need an edge, as the paving itself can form its own solid boundary,' says Joanne Willcocks. 'But if you have gravel or grass, an edge can help to define the route.

Can I put sand under gravel? ›

The gravel will work into the sand, but this is not bad at all (concrete is sand, gravel and a cement, 2 out of the 3). Two factors on how long it lasts before the sand does appear on top again will depend on water content, how much gravel is laid, how thick the sand is and compaction.

How do you edge a garden path? ›

How To Make Great Garden Edging | Gardening | Great Home Ideas

Is it cheaper to do pavers or concrete? ›

Standard concrete slabs are generally lower in cost per square foot than the alternative. Typically, you will pay 10%-15% more if you choose paving stones over standard concrete slabs. If you decide to upgrade to stamped concrete, paving stones will most likely cost you the same or even less in most cases.

What is the difference between pathway and walkway? ›

Walkways are utilitarian paved surfaces used to facilitate foot traffic practically. They are often straight routes, usually made from hard paving materials. A pathway, on the other hand, can be considered a more recreational feature of a landscape, a meandering route, often made from casual, rustic materials.

What can I use instead of pavers? ›

5 Compelling Alternatives to Paving a Patio
  • Poured Concrete. Most concrete patios are made from either concrete slabs or individual concrete pavers. ...
  • Mosaic Tile. One of the most unique and stylish ways to pave a patio is to use wet concrete and mosaic tiling. ...
  • Dirt. ...
  • Loose Gravel. ...
  • Permeable Pavers.

What is the cheapest form of paving? ›

Indian Limestone. As one of the cheapest paving options on the market, Limestone is a great choice if you are looking to create a bold finish to your patio without breaking the bank!

What is cheaper than paving? ›

Poured concrete is also a good choice instead of paving because it comes at better rates than asphalt, provides a smoother surface than gravel and is much cheaper than paving.

What is the cheapest form of patio? ›

Poured or stamped concrete ($$)

Concrete is one of the most popular patio materials and the cheapest material you can use to build a hard-surface patio. Concrete is made of aggregates and paste—concrete aggregates can be crushed stone, sand, gravel, or even shells; the paste is made up of water and cement.

Should I put anything under gravel? ›

A good landscape fabric beneath a layer of pebbles or gravel goes a long way in preventing weed seed germination. Even the best landscape fabric won't stop 100% of the weeds. Some seeds will inevitably germinate and sprout, however having a weed block barrier will keep the roots from getting a foothold in the soil.

What size gravel is best for walkway? ›

Opt for gravel that is 1/4 inch or smaller in diameter for the most comfortable walking surface. You'll want to choose gravel that has a smooth texture, too, because rounded edges are less likely than sharp ones to hurt underfoot.

Do I need a subbase for gravel path? ›

A gravel pathway will need to be dug to a depth of around 125mm (5 inches) to allow for a minimum 75mm of sub base and 30-40mm of finished surface. A path built of paving slabs will need to be dug a little deeper to a depth of 150mm plus the depth of the paving slab itself.

What to put between stepping stones? ›

What to put between stepping stones? If you are installing individual stones for each step, the area between steps can be made up of decomposed granite, rock, or even filled in with groundcover plants or sod.

How do you build a garden path with pavers? ›

How to Design and Install a Paver Walkway - YouTube

How do you build a wooden walkway on the ground? ›

How to Build a Boardwalk - YouTube

Should you tamp down pea gravel? ›

Packing your gravel down will result in a smooth texture and help keep the gravel in place. Use a tamper or heavy lawn roller to compact gravel to keep in place. Packed pea gravel is far less likely to spread out.

How do you harden a gravel walkway? ›

Gravel-Lok Installation: Mix Method - YouTube

How do you compact a gravel path? ›

How to lay a path with Wickes - YouTube

Do I need edging for gravel path? ›

The gravel, being so movable, needs an edge to contain it. Galvanized steel is a durable and traditional choice and also malleable enough for curves. But you can also use pressure-treated wood, cedar, bricks, cobblestones, or even plastic edging.

How wide should front garden path be? ›

Practical considerations

– A functional path that takes a lot of wear needs to be level, safe, durable and easily maintained. – Paths should be built to a minimum width of 80cm (2ft 7in) to allow easy access.

How far apart should stepping stones be? ›

You'll want to space your concrete stepping stones in such a way as to accommodate the average human's stride. Spacing them 24 inches on the center is just about right for most people.

How do you lay slabs on a garden path? ›

Use wooden stakes and string to mark out an outline of the path. Measure the thickness of your paving slab, then add 150mm. Dig a channel that is this depth. Fill the channel with 50mm of MOT type 1 sub-base, rake it so that it's level and then compact with the tamper.

How do you soften a straight garden path? ›

Soften a garden with lots of straight lines: a simple bend in a path or an arrangement of containers can achieve this. You can also soften the lines of paths with spillover plants, or trimmed low hedging.

What is the minimum required width of a walkway? ›

Minimum Width of Sidewalks

Walking is a social activity. For any two people to walk together, 5.0 feet of space is the bare minimum. In some areas, such as near schools, sporting complexes, some parks, and many shopping districts, the minimum width for a sidewalk is 8.0 feet.

How much does a garden path cost UK? ›

A 6 x 1-metre path will cost in the region of £600 to £700 and take only a day. Building a pond of around 1.5 metres in diameter should take a couple of days, and will cost between £400 to £800 including digging, lining, and filling. Labour costs are estimated to be between £100 to £200 per day.

How much does a path cost? ›

PATH SingleRide Ticket costs $2.75 and may be purchased with cash, debit/credit card, or transit benefits prepaid card from large vending machines in any PATH station.

What is the best material for vegetable garden paths? ›

The best mulch materials for vegetable garden pathways I have found (so far), are a double layer of commercial grade, woven landscaping fabric covered with wood chips or sawdust.

How do you lay slabs on a garden path? ›

How to lay a path with Wickes - YouTube

What's cheaper slabs or decking? ›

Decking is more affordable, quicker to install but doesn't last very long. Paving slabs can be pricier, take longer to install but require little-to-no maintenance and will last for a long time.

How much does it cost to make a garden path? ›

On average, the cost range to install a garden path is between $1,700 and $4,600.

Can I pave over my front garden? ›

Under the new regulations, homeowners wishing to pave a front garden with a hardstanding of more than five square metres will require planning permission if they will not be using a permeable material.

How much does it cost to put in a brick walkway? ›

Furthermore, costs vary from state to state and contractor to contractor. The best way to get an accurate and fair price for your walkway is to get at least three professional estimates.
Walkway Cost.
MaterialPrice Per Square Foot
Natural stone$18-30
1 more row

How much does it cost to put in a front walkway? ›

Most U.S. homeowners pay between $6 and $12 per square foot for installation of a new concrete walkway. Prices can go beyond this if significant grading is required or a complex decorative finish is requested. Get estimates for your concrete walkway from contractors near you.

How much does a stone walkway cost? ›

Stone Walkway Cost

A stone walkway costs the same as a patio, or $15 to $30 per square foot on average to install. Though you might spend as little as $8 and up to $50 per square foot.

How wide should vegetable garden paths be? ›

At an absolute minimum, 12-inch paths will be needed between raised beds. This width works if the space is tight and there won?t be a lot of gardeners working at the same time, but to allow more comfortable access, 18- to 24-inch paths are ideal.

Should landscape fabric go under gravel? ›

Should landscape fabric go under gravel? Yes. Putting landscape fabric under gravel isn't a requirement, but it is recommended. When used under gravel, it provides all the positives of weed control and added stability, without any of the negatives.

Are wood chips good for garden paths? ›

Wood chips are a good choice for paths and where you have a lot of ground to cover, but don't use them close to your house, because termites and other destructive insects may be living in them.

Can you put paving slabs on soil? ›

While it is possible to lay paving slabs on soil, it is not generally advised. The durability of any paving with a soil base can depend on many factors, including: Type of soil: Heavy clay soil will be far more durable and less likely to be compromised by British weather conditions.

Do I need sub base for PATH? ›

The Sub Base - remember a sub base is essential to any pathway. The first thing to do is to dig down and remove all roots and debris. As a general rule, gravel will need an overall depth of around 100mm whereas block paving and paving slabs will need a base of up to 150mm, plus the depth of the paving you are using.

Can I lay gravel on top of soil? ›

Laying gravel on soil isn't difficult because it essentially involves clearing out the garden space, digging over the ground to stimulate the soil, adding coarse sand when necessary, digging an outside border, and laying a weed membrane over the area.


1. Building steps into a hill.
(Brantley Blended)
2. DIY Pathway with Drainage | Walkway with Pavers
3. How to Design and Install a Paver Walkway
(Lowe's Home Improvement)
4. Building an Unconventional Garden Path - Part 1: Digging & Laying
(DIY Dick)
5. Easy DIY Wooden Walkway | Path To My Outdoor Kitchen | Part 10
(April Wilkerson)
6. Building a Garden Path with Natural Stone Setts
(The Restoration Couple)

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