How to Build a Loose-Material Patio

Updated on September 13, 2018
sharonbellis profile image

Sharon is a human resources manager with a passion for reading and research and hanging out in her own backyard.

A cozy place to sit.
A cozy place to sit. | Source

What Is Loose Material?

Basically, it's a portable, flexible material, such as crushed stone, rocks, or mulch. It's possible to buy a bag full of one of these materials and just pour it into an area of your yard, quickly producing a functional surface for hanging out or entertaining.

Sounds easy, right? However, if you want a loose-material patio that will really last, there are a few more steps to the process.

Nothing beats having an area in your own backyard for escape and enjoyment. A beautiful backyard is a place to sit and read, or just to relax in the sunshine. As a society, we spend too much time indoors, and really need to get outside more often. The best way to encourage this is to create an inviting outdoor room in your own backyard.

The steps to creating this simple patio type—along with all the equipment you'll need to get started—are outlined below. Loose material can be installed in as little as one day with some help from your friends and, of course, your friendly neighborhood home and garden center!

Natural in nature.
Natural in nature. | Source

Types of Material

The most common loose materials used for patio installations are:

  • Crushed stone. This is the smoothest and hardest type of surface.
  • Wood chips. These will create a soft, spongy surface.
  • River rocks. These are the most difficult to walk on, and least functional, so they're best for decorative purposes.

Which Material Is Best for Your Patio?

Ask yourself these questions:

1. Is it going to be used for lots of social gatherings? (In that case, crushed stone, which is hardy and smooth, might be a good bet.)

2. Is it just a place for yourself and your family to sit? (Wood chips will work well for everyday use.)

3. Is it more of a focal point than a functional space? (River rock is a beautiful decorative material.)

Browse the images below for some inspiration! It might also be a good idea to visit some garden centers and look at all the materials in person, so you can see what appeals most to you.

What You'll Need

  • Hammer or mallet
  • String
  • Tape Measure
  • Level
  • Shovel
  • Hand Tamper
  • Stakes
  • Rake
  • Gravel
  • Landscape Fabric
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Drum Roller (optional)
  • Loose Material
  • Edging Material
  • Hose and water

Check for underground cables before you begin digging.
Check for underground cables before you begin digging. | Source

Check Before You Start

Remember to check before you dig: there may be underground cables where you want to place your patio. Be safe!

Edging Your Loose Material

Before you begin assembling your patio, gather your edging material. This will keep your loose material from spilling out all over your yard, and will give it some stability and definition.

A common edging is paver stones, available in a variety of sizes and colors, they create a decorative as well as functional finish. Another popular edging is pressurized wood posts. Cut it to the lengths you need and remember to miter your corners!

Common rubber flower bed edging is another choice, although it is more functional than decorative. It doesn't call attention to itself and is great if you don't want a noticeably defined edge.

Stone edging.
Stone edging. | Source

Creating Your Patio

  1. First, determine the layout and dimensions of your patio. Outline with stakes and strings to define the area before you dig.
  2. Dig out the entire area to a depth of four inches.
  3. While you're digging, remember to grade the patio away from your house about one-eighth of an inch per foot, to allow for water runoff. You can use a two-by-four with a level on top to ensure that the area is even.
  4. Cover the area with landscape fabric that you've cut to fit. If more than one strip of fabric is necessary, overlap the pieces by six inches.
  5. Fill with gravel that can be compacted.
  6. Compact the gravel with a hand tamper or power tamper to a depth of two inches.
  7. Install edging such as pavers, pressurized wood, or rubber flowerbed edging around the perimeter. The edging should rise about one-half inch higher than the area you've dug out.
  8. Fill with your loose material! Add two inches or more of the river rock or wood chips. For the crushed stone, add between one and two inches.
  9. Tamp it down with your tamper or drumroll it.
  10. Spray your new patio down with the hose to clean and settle the material. Now stand back and admire your work!

Need Some Inspiration?

Scroll down for some ideas for loose material patios. A picture is worth a thousand words!

River Rock Patio

Rock patios, such as this one, are pleasing to the eye and highly decorative. Walking on river rock can be challenging, so consider using it as an accent around more stable entertaining surfaces.

Rock patio.
Rock patio. | Source

Loose Rock and Flagstone

Rock patios create a very natural looking backyard escape made entirely with stones, rocks and boulders placed randomly around the yard. Included is a tranquil water feature that is also created using some stacked rock. Flagstone is used to create one sturdy area for seating. You can do so much with loose material—get creative!

Flagstone and loose rock.
Flagstone and loose rock. | Source

Mulch Corner Patio

Mulch can be used in any corner easily. With the addition of some well-placed boulders, you have instant seating. This would be perfect around a fire pit.

Mulch corner patio.
Mulch corner patio. | Source

Mulch Foundation Patio

Mulch area with a boulder "edging" providing a place to sit. This is so natural and blends well into the environment. Let's all sit around the fire! Marshmallows, anyone?

Mulch is soft underfoot.
Mulch is soft underfoot. | Source

Combining a Hard and Soft Surface

Flagstone is very pretty and natural-looking hard-surface stone. By blending flagstone with mulch, as in the two examples below, you create a hard walking surface, but with the soft appearance of mulch.

Flagstone and mulch pathway.
Flagstone and mulch pathway. | Source
Flagstone and woodchips.
Flagstone and woodchips. | Source

All-Mulch Patio

Stop cutting the grass and turn your entire yard into a loose-material patio. A wooden porch addition creates a solid place for the table and chairs. There is loads of room here to entertain, and the mulch is very soft under foot!

Large soft mulch yard.
Large soft mulch yard. | Source

Mulch, Rocks and Stairs

This is an attractive layout that combines mulch with some randomly-placed rocks for interest. This backyard slopes upward and incorporates stairs to make it all tie in together. The main patio is composed of flagstone with loose stones in between.

Mulch, rocks and stairs.
Mulch, rocks and stairs. | Source

Easy Crushed Stone

This is a super-simple crushed stone corner patio with a flowerbed edging. It would be perfect for a small yard where space is at a premium. Situated in a tiny corner, it leaves just enough room for a couple of chairs and a small table. Very cozy.

Crushed stone with edging.
Crushed stone with edging. | Source

Crushed Stone Patio Among the Trees

Crushed stone is laid down and tamped into a perfect square within the grass. You can create little corner areas by just adding a few patio stones for a hard surface.

Crushed stone.
Crushed stone. | Source

Little Wooden Bridge

This patio area is mostly mulch with some strategically placed rocks. A little wooden bridge creates a focal point. I can envision the beauty of this patio area when the shrubs and flowering plants start to grow and fill in the gaps.

Mulch with stones and a little wooden bridge.
Mulch with stones and a little wooden bridge. | Source

Natural Pathway

A lovely soft material pathway made with mulch and stepping stones that leads to a grassy backyard. This blends with nature and is an easy DIY project.

Stone path.
Stone path. | Source

Walk the Labyrinth

Now for something completely different! A labyrinth. If you have kids, this might just keep them busy in imaginary play. This is so easy to put together with loose materials such as mulch or pea gravel and bordered by large stones. The labyrinth is a spiritual path. When you feel the need for contemplation, nothing could be better than walking the labyrinth in your own backyard.


Crushed Limestone

Here is another easy material to work with—crushed limestone! Limestone is readily available, as it has many uses in construction; one being it is an ingredient in cement. It is very tough, durable and can withstand any weather conditions, so this makes it a perfect base for a loose material patio. Crushed limestome is also used for driveways as an alternative to gravel. Limestone is relatively inexpensive too! The seating area below was created using crushed limestone.

Seating area crushed limestone.
Seating area crushed limestone. | Source

The Lush Garden

This is one of my favorites! A beautiful area right in your own backyard that is so natural and lush it has a peaceful, calming affect. We spend so much time either in our houses or in our offices, it is nice to have a natural area to escape to. There is no real construction here, so it is a DIY project. Start with the base of loose material, it can either be a mulch (like the picture) or a crushed stone; then surround it with lush plantings that will flourish in your area. The pergola adds a nice center point and these are available pre-made at your local home and garden center.

Lush garden surrounding a soft surface
Lush garden surrounding a soft surface | Source

For more Examples of Loose-Material Patios; watch the video below!

What's Your Favourite Patio Material?

See results

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Sharon Bellissimo

    Have Your Say!

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      • profile image


        2 years ago

        Great article. I am in the process of creating an extension from our current concrete patio and wanted to use a surface that is functional and affordable. I am planning to use marble chips and concrete pavers, but had not found the right step by step directions. This article is very helpful. Thank you!

      • Kelsey Farrell profile image

        Kelsey Elise Farrell 

        3 years ago from Orange County, CA

        Great suggestions, will definitely be passing along to my parents who just moved to a home with way too much room to create a cement or wood patio. Voting up for usefulness, thank you!

      • paulahite profile image

        Paula Hite 

        4 years ago from Virginia

        I like this a lot. Great ideas! I shared it on our G+ page today, come and check it out!

      • Cynthia Haltom profile image

        Cynthia Haltom 

        5 years ago from Diamondhead

        You have some beautiful idea for a do it yourself patio creation, I have been trying to figure out what to do with a section of my yard this could work.

      • Scarlettohairy profile image

        Peggy Hazelwood 

        5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

        Great options for an easy to "lay" patio surface!

      • profile image


        5 years ago

        I really love the homey feel of the lens, nice to stop by again. :)

      • BestRatedStuff profile image


        5 years ago

        So detailed, some of these options would not have occurred to me. Like the descriptive info and photos too, gives me a good idea what I would try out.

      • Gypzeerose profile image

        Rose Jones 

        6 years ago

        Very helpful - blessed - pinned to my home beautification board for when I can get to it.

      • profile image


        6 years ago

        Great information .

      • sharonbellis profile imageAUTHOR

        Sharon Bellissimo 

        6 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

        @Lee Hansen: Your patio sounds wonderful, thanks for visiting and your informative comments!

      • sharonbellis profile imageAUTHOR

        Sharon Bellissimo 

        6 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

        @Snowsprite: Thank you, hope it helps!

      • sharonbellis profile imageAUTHOR

        Sharon Bellissimo 

        6 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

        @anonymous: Thank you Tipi for visiting and your comments!

      • profile image


        6 years ago

        This is new to me. Very interesting.

      • profile image


        6 years ago

        I love your loose and natural look and am especially attracted to your fire pit area, that's where you'd find me! Now its time for that backyard party, congratulations on a very well done front page feature.

      • profile image


        6 years ago

        nice and informatife

      • LynetteBell profile image


        6 years ago from Christchurch, New Zealand

        Lovely lens. I like stones for design impact and love your small areas shown here.

      • OliviaDaughter LM profile image

        OliviaDaughter LM 

        6 years ago

        Thanks for sharing such a wonderul lens.

      • alaiamax lm profile image

        alaiamax lm 

        6 years ago

        Wow this lens is really nice!

      • verymary profile image


        6 years ago from Chicago area

        this could solve our patio problem -- if I could talk my better half into letting me use part of the yard

      • Snowsprite profile image


        6 years ago from Cornwall, UK

        Very useful lens I have popped it on Facebook as my sister is currently in the middle of deciding on Patios and I think it will help her. Thanks.

      • profile image


        6 years ago

        Thanks for the great ideas!

      • Keith J Winter profile image

        Keith Winter 

        6 years ago from Spain

        Great lens and instructions. You have given me some ideas for my garden. Crushed stone looks good when combined with flagstones.

      • intermarks profile image


        6 years ago

        This is so beautiful, I would like to have a stone patio.

      • ItayaLightbourne profile image

        Itaya Lightbourne 

        6 years ago from Topeka, KS

        Wonderful article! I love the combo of flagstone and wood chips the best I think. Angel Blessings for this very well done article. :)

      • ThePerfectPresent profile image


        6 years ago

        I love the step by step instruction and the photos. Great job!

      • Lee Hansen profile image

        Lee Hansen 

        6 years ago from Vermont

        I love using loose materials like stone and mulch to make pervious pavement surfaces. They're much better for the environment than hard pavements; they help recharge the ground water and filter storm water, plus they're just more natural looking. We just created a mulch surface area for our back yard patio with natural boulders for seating surfaces and garden borders. Love this lens!

      • shellys-space profile image

        Shelly Sellers 

        6 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

        Great instructions and photos!

      • JodiFromFlorida profile image


        6 years ago

        I wish that I had a yard so that I could make a patio.

      • sharonbellis profile imageAUTHOR

        Sharon Bellissimo 

        6 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

        @FantasticVoyages: Yes, me too, my favourite is wood chips!

      • FantasticVoyages profile image

        Fantastic Voyages 

        6 years ago from Texas

        I have always wanted to do this. I like the look of loose material.


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