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Concrete Stepping Stones as Paths

Path of Least Resistance: Concrete Stepping Stones in the Lawn

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Picture of stepping stone path through a lawn area.

Picture of stepping stone path through a lawn area.

David Beaulieu

On Page 1 I mentioned 3 different areas in which such concrete stepping stones could be useful:

  1. In unmulched planting beds: concrete stepping stones reduce the amount of dirt tracked into the house (photo on Page 1).
  2. In mulched planting beds: to reduce the amount of mulch particles tracked into the house in wet weather (photo on Page 2).
  3. In the lawn: concrete stepping stones absorb the pounding of foot traffic, saving grass from compaction problems.

Concrete stepping stones will also aid you in your efforts at attracting butterflies. Butterflies are cold-blooded, and they'll be able to warm themselves on any hardscape elements that absorb heat.

On the present page I focus on the use of concrete stepping stones in lawn areas (see photo at right). In garden areas, laying concrete stepping stones is a rather straightforward project. Wherever you wish to have a garden path, simply sink the concrete stepping stones into the soil or into the mulch. True, the concrete stepping stones will shift over time; however, the necessary adjustment will be simple enough in such areas, where the medium (loam or mulch) is loose and where access is easy.

There's a bit more to consider when using concrete stepping stones in lawn areas. Still, it's worth the extra effort. If you have children who are active outdoors, perhaps a "beaten path" already mars your lawn's appearance. So take the "path of least resistance" and install a concrete stepping stone path!

Concrete Stepping Stone Paths: Location, Layout and Style

Where such beaten paths already exist, the question of path location has already been answered for you. Otherwise, you'll have to decide what the most convenient location would be. E.g., depending upon the lay of the land and how it's used, people may want walkways leading from driveways or streets to front door entrances.

Next you'll have to answer the question, Do I want my concrete stepping stone path to be straight or winding? Where aesthetic concerns play an important role, most people choose the winding-path style (this holds true in garden areas, too). The exception would be for paths following the more formal, balanced design typical of paths leading from the street to the front door. To lay out a winding path, use old garden hoses to define the sides; guided by the hoses, spray-paint the lines in. For the straight-path style, use stakes and string for layout.

Concrete Stepping Stone Paths: Formal vs. Informal Design

The next question you have to tackle is, Do I want my concrete stepping stone path to have an informal or formal design? How you answer this question may depend on whether you prefer informal or formal landscape design, in general.

Essentially, there are two basic approaches to laying such paths in lawns. One approach (the "informal") is to excavate only those spots where the concrete stepping stones will rest, allowing the grass to continue to grow between them. The other, more "formal" approach involves excavating the whole path. In the present article, I treat only the informal approach; for a more formal approach, please see "How to Build a Stone Walkway."

Concrete Stepping Stone Paths: Installation

With the preliminary considerations out of the way, we can begin to implement our informal path design. How many concrete stepping stones will be needed? Well, this question will be answered by figuring...

  1. the length of your path, and
  2. the spacing you desire.

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

Begin by placing a few of the concrete stepping stones on top of, say, one quarter of the projected path. Then try them out! See if you can walk over them comfortably, using a normal gait. Adjust as necessary. If five concrete stepping stones were required to fill one quarter of the path, then you know you'll need to make about twenty in all.

So if you want to have all your concrete stepping stones formed first, before installation, go back to your molds and get busy! Others may prefer to take it one piece at a time.

Once a concrete stepping stone is laid out where you want it, you need to mark that spot. Simply jab a knife or a spade through the grass, all along the perimeter. Remove the concrete stepping stone and excavate. For a two-inch thick concrete stepping stone, dig down 2".

At the bottom of your hole, add a 1/2" layer of sand. The sand provides some drainage. Sand is also easier to work with than soil as a base, should you have to make height adjustments over time. Such adjustments are often necessary, as the level of concrete stepping stones will change over time as a result of foot traffic and (in cold climates) the freeze-thaw cycle. At some point, you may have to add more sand, as the old sand works its way into the surrounding soil.

Note that the 1/2" layer of sand pushes the concrete stepping stones up 1/2" above ground level. This level is high enough to keep them from becoming "lost," but low enough that you can run the lawn mower right over them. For the sake of low-maintenance landscaping, you want to make sure your concrete stepping stones don't become obstacles when you have to mow!

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