Build Flagstone Steps To Improve The Look And Accessibility Of Your Garden

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If you have a bank or small hillside in you garden that you would like to make a little easier to negotiate, flagstone steps may be the solution that you are looking for. Flagstone steps can easily be cut into an existing bank, and will quickly blend in with your landscape.

The first thing that you need to consider is how many steps you will need to get from point A to point B in your garden. This can be determined by using a line level, which is a small level that can be attached to a string.

Attach the line level to your string and secure one end of the string to the point where you want the top step to be. While standing where the bottom step would be, pull the string tight and adjust it up or down until it is level. Hold the string level and measure the distance from the ground to the string, to determine how far your steps need to climb.

Now that you have the overall height of the steps, you can determine how many large flat pieces of flagstone you need--keeping in mind that individual steps feel comfortable when they are between 5" and 7" high.

You will need to purchase large flat pieces of flagstone--for the step stones--try to choose stones that are about 2" thick, give or take a 1/2" (this thickness will give you good strength without too much weight). You will also need an assortment of smaller pieces (for adjusting the height of your steps). If you are not sure where to purchase flagstone, check with a local landscaping company--if they don't have it, they will likely know where to get it.

You will also need crushed rock (1/4" minus)--this is finely crushed rock that is no larger than 1/4" and also includes much finer material that compacts well and makes a solid base for each step. The amount of crushed rock you will need, depends on how many steps you are installing--you will only need a couple of 2 gallon pails worth for each step. Again, you can check with your local landscaping company to find this product.

Once you have all your materials and tools assembled, choose the stone that you want for your first step, and dig a hole straight back into the base of the bank--just big enough to accommodate the stone. Chose one or two small pieces of flagstone and build a "dam" all the way across the front of the hole--this helps to contain your crushed rock.

The "dam" should be high enough to make your step the desired height, after you place your large flat stone on top. For example, if you want 6" high steps and your large flat stone is 2" thick, your "dam" should be approximately 4" high. If your "dam" is two or more layers of stone use a bit of landscape block cement between layers to secure them.

With your "dam" now in place, fill the hole behind it with crushed rock. Using a short piece of 2"x4" lumber (about 12'' long), pack the crushed rock by holding the wood flat on the surface of the crushed rock and hitting it firmly with the 3lb hammer--wear your work gloves and watch your fingers. Go back and forth over the whole surface of the crushed rock several times, in this manner, until it is well compacted--add more crushed rock and repeat until the level is about 1" below the top of the "dam".

Now, add enough crushed rock to fill the hole to the top of the "dam" and using your carpenter's level, make sure the surface is close to level. Place your large flat stone on top and check it for fit and level--remember to wear your steel-toed shoes.

You can make minor adjustments to the front of the step by inserting slivers of flagstone between the step stone and the top of the "dam". If you can't find the thickness of sliver that you need, you can flake slivers off a larger stone using a masonry chisel--remember to wear safety glasses and gloves. These adjustment slivers can be secured by applying a bit of landscape block cement to them before inserting. You can also make adjustments by placing the 2"x4" on the step and pounding it down, or by lifting the stone and putting small amounts of crushed rock in low spots.

Now that your first step in place, dig straight back into the bank from the top of your first step and repeat the process until all steps are in place.

Materials, Equipment and Tools Needed: flagstones of assorted sizes, crushed rock (1/4" minus), landscaping block cement, short piece of 2"x4", carpenter's level, measuring tape, masonry chisel, safety glasses, garden shovel, work gloves, 3lb hammer, line level, string, steel-toed shoes.

Work Safe: Always wear work gloves and/or safety glasses when you should. When handling heavy materials, lift with your legs, not your back, and remember to wear steel-toed shoes.

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Author: Jeff Galbraith
For more great gardening tips and tutorials visit the Shades of Green website at:

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