How to Build a Loose-Material Patio
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!
Common Types of Loose 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:
- 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.)
- Is it just a place for yourself and your family to sit? (Wood chips will work well for everyday use.)
- 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.
Tools You'll Need
- Hammer or mallet
- Tape Measure
- Hand Tamper
- Landscape Fabric
- Drum Roller (optional)
- Loose Material
- Edging Material
- Hose and water
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.
How to Create Your Patio Using Loose Material
- First, determine the layout and dimensions of your patio. Outline with stakes and strings to define the area before you dig.
- Dig out the entire area to a depth of four inches.
- 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.
- 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.
- Fill with gravel that can be compacted.
- Compact the gravel with a hand tamper or power tamper to a depth of two inches.
- 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.
- 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.
- Tamp it down with your tamper or drumroll it.
- 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!
Patio With Rocks
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.
Patio With Rocks 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!
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 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?
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.
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!
Mulched Patio With 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Front Path Interest
This beautiful front yard has a mix of materials which come together to create maximum curb appeal. The use of the wood fence, and creatively placed stones with a patio stone path complement the soft loose mulch and greenery.
The Backyard Pit
Here is a unique idea, create a loose material area for your fire pit and set up chairs on the grass. It's like you have center stage. This is a great focal point to sit around and who doesn't like the feel of the soft grass underfoot.
This is a super easy DIY project. Dig out a small area, fill with pea stone or other loose material and put an edging around it - you're done.
For more Examples of Loose-Material Patios; watch the video below!
What's Your Favourite Patio Material?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
I am excited about the spring so that I can create an outdoor oasis for my friends and family. I have reviewed your instructions and initially thought that mulch would work best. However, after reviewing all the ideas, crushed limestone may be an option. Would I have to replace a crushed limestone patio each winter? What is the maintenance process for crushed limestone?
Crushed limestone is very low maintenance and may only need a good raking up after the winter. It will settle over time and become more solid. You should not have to replace it each winter but I guess that depends on how severe the winter is! It might be a good idea to cover it with a tarp over the winter months.Helpful 2
© 2012 Sharon Bellissimo