When planning anything regarding landscaping in around our home - the name of the game for us is low-maintenance. One of the regular duties we dreaded, was pulling the grass and weeds out of the mulch around the trees in our yard. We clearly needed some sort of border to provide a barrier between the grass and the mulch.
We were familiar with plastic and metal border options, and borders created out of manufactured landscaping stone/bricks. Our preference was natural stone. Around our patio, we had already used natural stone on the landscaping beds and we wanted to do something similar around the trees.
|DIY Stone Border around Patio|
SUPPLIES I USED. . .
Landscaping Stone - flat pieces work best with this layout. I used a random combination of stones with different colors to provide some interest. Some of them looked like slate and at least one was a sandstone. You can purchase these from places that sell palettes of stone - typically they will sell it to you in smaller batches by the pound or by the piece.
Landscaping Brick - to provide a base for the natural stones. This was necessary to go deep enough to prevent the grass from growing underneath the border. It also provides and even base to start with when placing the stones. I purchased these from Lowe's. The style or color is irrelevant because they will be a base that is buried under ground.
Sand - I used this to set in the landscaping brick after digging a small trench. It provides a solid base or foundation and will help minimize the settling of the structure. (I purchased this "paver base" sand since it was all that Lowe's had at the time, but any old sand will do).
Mortar/Adhesive - The one I used is called "Masonry Mix" and it was purchased from Lowe's. It comes in 80lb bags. I chose this based on the recommendation of a person at Lowe's after I explained what I wanted to use it for, and it has worked out well on these types of projects.
2 Large Buckets (to mix mortar) The large Home Depot or Lowe's buckets work well here.
Hose and Sprayer (to add water to the mortar mix, and to mist the mortar as it dries/cures)
Trowel (to place/spread masonry mix)
Shovel (to dig the trench)
Spade (for lighter digging and shaping the trench)
Rubber Mallet (to tamp down the sand and tap the stone base in place)
Newspaper (for weed control) You can also use landscaping cloth
Old rag (having a wet rag while you are laying the natural stones with mortar is a good idea, you can use this to wipe off the bottom of the stones so the masonry mix adheres better, and wipe off mortar that makes it on the surface of the natural stones)
Mask (while mixing in the dry masonry mix with water - there is a lot of dust)
Rubber Gloves (to wear while mixing and applying mortar)
Below is an illustration of what I was trying to accomplish...
THE STEPS I TOOK . . .
DIG A TRENCH - Dig around the tree. There should be a small trench at the edges of the bed. The trench needs to be deep enough to place some sand, a landscaping brick, mortar, and the natural stone. Also consider you want the stones to be placed at an angle. You can use the sand to provide a more solid base and create a good angle. If you are digging close to an established tree, you may have to cut through some roots to dig this small trench. Keep in mind you are going for an "angled" trench, not a flat one.
GETTING READY TO PLACE THE BRICKS - To prepare to place the landscaping brick base - I spread the bricks around the trench. (That's our dog Jasper in the background being my "helper".)
USE SAND AS THE BASE - Put sand in the trench. I used the rubber mallet to tamp the sand down. Once again, you want an "angled" base to place the bricks. The angle doesn't come across well in the photo below.
PLACING THE BRICKS - When you place the landscaping brick in the trench on the sand, make sure you are creating the proper angle for the stones. You can shift the sand and dirt around, or add more sand if necessary. IMPORTANT! Be consistent with the height and angle of the bricks so you have a good base to lay the natural stone. I found that I had to redo a couple sections because I didn't pay good attention the angle the of the bricks - the bricks were starting to flatten out (I wanted the angle to be good enough to prop the bricks up so they could be seen from a distance).
I used the rubber mallet to tap the brick in place to settle them in.
MIXING UP THE MORTAR - Mix up your mortar in small batches. You will need two buckets, a drill with a mixing attachment and a hose. One of the buckets for mixing the masonry mix and the other filled with water (this is the prop your drill and mixing attachment in between mixing up batches; the purpose being to keep the mixing attachment wet so the mortar does not dry on it between batches. I got this tip from watching some contractors mixing tile adhesive & grout for ceramic tile in a home. Follow instructions on bag for mixing the mortar, making sure it is the proper consistency.
When I was ready to start adhering the stones - I simply lifted them up a few at a time to spread the mortar on the brick base. I wiped the bottom of the stones with a wet rag to clean off dust and dirt and provide for better adhesion. Using the mortar mixture as an adhesive, place the stones on top of the bricks, completing a section at a time. Use a trowel to scoop up mortar out of the bucket and spread it on the brick base. Don't worry about slight variations in thickness of the stones. You can prop up thinner stones with thicker beds of mortar. If you have ever laid tile before - the mortar serves as both the adhesive and the grout between the stones. See the tip below on the easiest way I found to achieve this.
HELPFUL TIP - I found the following technique to be helpful in placing the natural stones... Place some mortar down on the bricks, when you place the stone, place it farther away from the previous one and mush it back towards the stone to have the mortar also serve as the "grout" between the stones. See illustration below... This is much easier than trying to fill in small amount of mortar between the stones after applying them which can be tedious and very messy (trust me - I tried this method). If you get the mortar mixture on the surface of your stones - make sure you wipe it off with a wet rag while it is wet - do not let this dry!
Generally mortar/cement will harden or cure better if it is repeatedly wet as it dries. It was a hot day when I did this project, so I would go back and mist sections of the mortared stones with the hose (I have a mister setting on my hose attachment). Don't spray it with a heavy stream of water or you will wash away your masonry mix!
Before placing the mulch back under the trees, I laid down sheets of newsprint for weed control. All the dirt was covered in a couple layers. I found that misting the layers with a hose helped these from blowing around as I was laying them down. Then I covered them with mulch. The newsprint has worked out wonderfully in preventing the growth of weeds or grass. I understand that over the years this will break down and have to be replaced but that's OK with me. I know you can use landscaping cloth, but recycling the old newspaper for something useful seemed like a great thing to me.
NOTE - the people who mow our lawn use riding mowers and inadvertently ran over the border while going around the trees and cracked it in a few places and I had to re-mortar and fill in some cracks. It was an honest mistake and they are careful about it now, but just know that a heavy riding mower can do the same to your project. Standing on it and going over it with a standard push mower should not be a problem.
For my other natural stone border see this post: DIY STONE LANDSCAPE BORDER 2