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Landscaping Your Yard with Walks, Walls and Patios

A new patio, walkway, drive, or retaining walls can add new life to your landscape. Whether you do it yourself or hire a professional, do a bit of research first to insure the best results.

Start with a sketch of your yard. Locate above and below ground utilities, existing structures and plants. Note drainage patterns, downspouts, eaves and other areas where water may impact your new addition.

You will need to plan an attractive way to manage the water so it moves away from the house without forming puddles and ice on your new paved surfaces. Patios and walks should slope away from the house at a grade of one inch for every 15 feet.

This is also the time to consider lighting and plumbing needs for the area. Incorporating them into the initial installation can save additional time, money, and mess spent adding them after the project is complete.

Avoid construction around mature trees whenever possible. Heavy equipment, excess digging, soil piles and stacks of pavers over the roots can kill the very tree you are counting on for shade. Consult a certified arborist if your construction will impact nearby trees.

Contact your local municipality and neighborhood association for any guidelines and regulations that must be considered and permits to file. Those building near lakes and waterways should also contact the Department of Natural Resources. Consult a qualified landscape professional for engineering analysis if you have soft or unstable soils, excessive water runoff, a waterfront and shoreline site, terraces, steep slopes (greater than 3 to 1) above or below the wall or when planning walls greater than four feet tall.  

Call 811 for help locating underground utilities and always before you start to dig. This free utility locating service can save you money and even your life. Contact them at least 3 business days before you start digging. They will locate any underground utilities to prevent damaging electric, gas, cable or phone lines.

With this in mind, determine the location of your project. Decks and patios should be easy to reach and comfortable areas to entertain, relax or escape to. If it’s a chore to get to the space, it won’t get used. And if you feel the area is too public or too secluded for your liking, it won’t provide maximum enjoyment. 

Make sure your patio will be big enough to accommodate furniture, people and movement. You will need space for grills, tables and about two square feet per chair. This allows room for people to maneuver around the table and chairs pulled out from the table.

Walkways should provide easy access from the drive or street to the entrance you and your guest use most often. A four foot width will accommodate two people walking side by side. Wider walks add more drama while narrow walks slow passage but may hinder easy movement. You may want to add an approach from drive or front walk. This provides a larger area for passengers to step into a hard surface when exiting the car.

Retaining walls are used to prevent erosion by creating manageable change of grades that often result in better use of space and an increase in accessible planting beds. The number and size of the walls will be determined by the slope you are trying to tame, soil type, product used, and use of the area behind and between the walls.

These features, like all parts of the landscape, should be in scale with the house. Oversized drives, walks, and walls can overwhelm the rest of the landscape and even your home. Use plantings to soften and anchor these hardscapes into your overall landscape. You will also want to make some slight size adjustments once you pick your stone block or paving material. Proper planning, design, and sizing can minimize the amount of stone and paver cuts needed in the construction process.

Next select a material that will complement your home and landscape design. This is where your stone and paver sales representative can help. They are most familiar with the wide variety of product on the market. Consider weight, installation requirements and preparation if you are installing the materials yourself. Work with your stone or paver sales representative and landscape professional to pick the product best suited to your landscape project. They can also help you select a design that is best suited to your landscape, the material you will be using and your skills.

Make sure your new patio, walk, drive or retaining wall will be easy to mow, weed or plant around. Consider curves for added appeal and easy mowing. Avoid narrow angles that are hard to reach with a mower or lack sufficient space for planting. You may want to include a mowing strip or planting bed next to hard surfaces for easy maintenance. I like planting beds that help soften the edges of walks, drives and patios and blend them into the surrounding landscape.

The installation process starts with the call to 811 to locate all utilities. Once the area is cleared for digging, the excavation can begin. Creating the proper base is critical to the longevity of the project. If hiring a contractor, make sure this is included in the bid. Skimping on the base will cost more in repairs or replacements in the future.

Walks and patios should have at least a 4 to 6 inch base. Retaining walls will need a leveling pad at least 24 inches wide and 8 inches deep. This allows enough room to accommodate the 6 inch base material and required placement depth of the first layer of wall.

Follow installation guidelines for the product being used. Make sure you and your contractor do not skimp on materials. Using the right product for the job will increase longevity. Evaluate and make needed adjustments throughout the installation. Make sure the slope is maintained, pavers and stone are squared, level and secured.

For more detailed installation guidelines, check with your stone and paver sales representative. If you are hiring a professional, make sure they have included all steps necessary for safe and long lasting installation. Eliminate or ask for clarification from those that don’t. This way you will be comparing bids on an equal basis. Beware of extremely low bidders that may be skimping on base preparation, water management or other issues critical to your project. They may also lack skilled staff, insurance and other better business practices. 

And that’s what I did. I opted to hire a professional to spruce up the front entrance of my home. We worked together to plan the project, select the materials, and protect my existing plants, but they did all the hard work. They had the tools, equipment and expertise to do the job properly and quickly. Had I undertaken this task, I think the pavers would still be on the pallets in my front yard. Instead I had a beautiful front entrance in short order and an opportunity to put my time and energy into adding new plants - what I am good at and truly enjoy.


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