Introduction: Easy Stepping Stones - No More Mud Trails

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Easy Stepping Stones

So the problem we have is that there are several choke points in our lawn, where both humans and pets always walk, and in those locations, bare spots in the lawn tend to develop and leave mud, especially in the spring.

Locations like stepping off the porch, through gates, in front of the bbq, and at the stairs to the pool or deck are always going to be high traffic areas. It is here that we will install (rain friendly) stepping stones to make it easier to walk, and yet not require any special work to maintain via the lawnmower or whipper-snipper.

I really didn't see any instructables showing how to install them in a lawn without a major hassle, so this will be how to do an easy installation of stepping stones in an existing lawn, with no talent required.

You can read this instructable "page by page" in text or
you can Watch the full Video of the project on the youtube link here or in the attachment:

Full stepping stone video

Both contain the same information.


The materials are fairly basic and require no skill.

  1. Square shovel
  2. Dirt containers (bucket, garbage cans, etc)
  3. An old carving knife
  4. Any old Flagstone.

Step 1: Acquire Flagstone (the Cheap Way)

Sure you can go spend hundreds on flagstone from a dealer, but if you have more time than money like us, we had to get them with pocket money. Also, remember you don't have to get them all at once...collect them a few at a time and build in sections.


1. Friends and Family: The key here is to always ASK. Pretty much everyone has a handful of stones kicking around, just ask around and you will be on your way.

2. Online Classified Ads: Any local classified ad fairly regularly has listings of flagstone for FREE or cheap, because there are always people who are upgrading or rearranging, or what have you, and there is a definite love hate relationship with flag stone for various reasons. You have to be constantly looking, as it comes up quick, and you could miss it. Be sure to look up online under: flagstone, flag stone, stone, rocks, and pavers. This works best if you look every day for a few weeks especially at the beginning of gardening season. In most cases, if you can pick them up before working hours are over at 4pm, you will beat everyone to them. You may also have better luck if they are still IN THE GROUND and have to remove them (although if you can avoid this all the better).

3. Garage/yard Sales: If you are an avid saler on saturday mornings, always be on the lookout for flagstone in small piles especially on the sides of garages or alleys around houses..especially ones run by late middle aged fat men who "just dont want to get around to THAT project his wife wanted for a few years" lol these have been my best FREE rocks. The key here is to ASK. Always ASK. If they give you a price, and it is always like 50$...tell them you have been getting them for about a buck a rock. That will sound reasonable...also throw in the "saving them DUMP FEES and the hassle of going there" usually works, and no matter how many you think you need...TAKE THEM ALL.

4. Side of the road: you will be surprised at the number of flat rocks in the WILD you can just walk off with.

5. Commercial vendors: ( lol.

Step 2: Arranging Stones BEFORE Digging

So now you have picked your mud patch, and have a pile of stones you are ready to start digging....NOPE.

Now is the time to lay out all the stones you have in a nice ideally curved path, where you want your path to go.
You will change your mind or have it changed by "the powers that be*" several times but a good guideline is to do some trial walks along the path and see if you actually walk in that location to the destination. No sense in putting rocks down and then still have worn out trails around them.

If you are going to get fancy with NON ROCK inserts, this is the time to play around with your fancy tiles, commercial stepping stones with flowers on them, cement impressions of your hands, memorial stones, hiding a body, or whatever you are into now is the time to find that special spot before you change your mind and have to redo whole sections.

If you don't have enough to do a whole section, leave a fairly open, non-committal ending so it is easier to finish with later acquired rocks. I have found that working only from one end at a time, is best so you are not suddenly "trapped" having to fit several tiny rocks in the last foot of path in the middle.

As far as pattern, if you are not using single rocks in a line, it is best to use a variety of shapes and sizes. I like to finish off with a big rock and use a big rock in any archway or intersection. For a wide path, it is best to have series of sets of TWO ACROSS, THREE ACROSS, and then "SMALL STONES ASYMMETRIC with a BIG ROCK", and mix up the order so it looks like they were BORN there. Try to mix up colours and rock types as well for that storybook garden look.

When you have all of your rocks laid down, time to HYDRATE. Try not to move too many around, rarely are changes better, or at least take a snapshot of your work so you can go back to it if need be. Remember rocks are heavy and on the ground...try not to be too picky. If someone insists on "helping" feel free to "direct" rather than do the work while they backseat drive your decisions. It is amazing how much things become JUST FINE if faced with actually moving rocks while YOU criticize. lol.

Since we are going for the "OPEN" path rather than a "concrete sidewalk look", always remember to leave a lot of grass between each stone, more than you are comfortable with usually, it will make a nicer design, and the grass clumps will stay in the ground better during digging. Also, when you get to an edge like a deck or sidewalk leave at least several inches of grass before that edge, it makes it easier to mow rather than a few strands of grass against the deck boards.

Step 3: Everyone's Favourite Step...quitting for a Week or Two!

This is my favourite step! If you don't have a great place to put several hundred pounds of grass clumps, it is now time to procrastinate until the grass under the rocks DIES. After that you can just dig the rock holes and dispose of the soil in any nearby garden or flowerbed and not have to cut out the living grass plants.

It also gives you a chance to live with your design for a bit to see if you like it. It also gives the possibility that someone ELSE might do the digging! This is especially true because they are a pain to mow around on the surface, and the household lawn mower might do the digging. If YOU are the household lawnmower are out of luck unless you have a nice grounded teenager to enslave to reduce their sentence.

The other advantage to waiting for the grass to die back is that it makes it easy to see where the stones go when digging. Like one of those pre-school puzzles made of wood you just pop the rocks into a frame. Easy peazy.

It also allows you to wait to do the digging after a nice rain and the grass sticks together well. This is not a project for noon sun burning down so plan for morning or evening work ideally.

Step 4: Digging

Ugh so you have failed to trick others into doing the manual labour, so now the work begins. Feel free to do it a little at a time...and keep well hydrated with your favourite beverage...and maybe leave some out to entrap any wayward teens mooching off of you and enslave them as per the previous step..but I digress.

The best method i have found is using an old filleting style knife to trace around each rock precisely a few inches deep. You can use a shovel or edger alone but it is much harder and leaves larger gaps. Wear gloves, because you WILL get a blister under your pointing finger if you don't have workman hands already. Knee pads might help if you are not used to working at ground level. ALWAYS CUT AWAY FROM BODY PARTS YOU WANT TO KEEP.The knife WILL slip and move a couple feet toward large arteries. Be safe.

When you have traced around several/all the stones ( saving getting up and down each time if you are a lazy butt like me) you can then move to you square shovel.

Remove one of the stones and place it nearby keeping it facing the same direction it started so replacing it is easier (some of the rectangular stones are hard to remember the correct direction).

Grab you square shovel and trace out the main forms of your rock around the dead grass. Then start on a flat side of the cutout, that is closest to the size of the shovel width and step the shovel into the ground about 3 inches. Work boots help here as digging is hard on the ball of your foot after a few rocks, and is less painful if you drop a rock on your toe. Also try not to step on your KNIFE or kick it as that hurts as well. Ideally paint it pink before starting. You WILL keep losing it.

Pull up a bit of ground and then undercut the roots approximately the thickness of your rock. Try to take out the whole slab of you can. Having cut around the rock with the knife will make this work out pretty well.

If you are going to have to cut live grass off of the dirt clumps, i have found that piling them on a variety of garbage can lids rather than in a big tub, makes for easier work, and makes retrieving slices to back fill gaps much easier.

If you are using garbage cans for yard waste, remember DIRT IS HEAVY and dont overfill the tub. If you must overfill, remember to put the tub on a wagon or trolley while it is STILL LIGHT. I broke several garbage can handles learning that. I found using a smaller tub to start with, prevents your enthusiasm with too much dirt.

Step 5: Preparing the Bottom of the Hole

So you have your hole roughed in, you want it to fit the rock and have the top of the rock be just under the level of the grass so that it will grow over the rock on the edges, and so you can use a lawnmower over the path without scraping anything or ruining the blade.

This step is why you use a square shovel. You can look at your rock and kind of guess at its shape on the the bottom thickness and kind of judge where it needs to be higher or lower. To make this easier you just try to make the bottom inch or so of soil very nice and fluffy so it will settle around the rock bottom shape. You take the shovel and give the entire bottom of the hole a "karate chop massage" with the flat bottom of the blade. First in a line in one direction, and then the other, and then if need be in other directions. Repeat as needed, keeping the sides of the hole sharp, and the bottom fluffy.

Step 6: Placing the Rock

So if you have done all the previous steps correctly, all you have to do is hold the rock directly over its puzzle piece hole and drop it straight down!

It should land immaculately flat inside the hole exactly as planned, at the correct height, and not rock back and forth at all when you step on it! That is TOTALLY what happened on all 86 rocks I laid in this month.

BUT for you amateurs...

In the worse case scenario, you have to pull the rock back out. Add a layer of dirt if it was too deep, remove a layer of dirt if too shallow, RE-FLUFF with the karate chopping massage movement with the shovel end, and then STOMP THE STUPID ROCK INTO PLACE because you are NOT DOING THAT AGAIN!! F*$%#!.

Serenity now, serenity now.

When the stone is nicely in the hole, walk on it to set it firmly and check for movement, it should not wobble when you step on any of the edges. Remove or add a handful of dirt on the offending end if need be. Do not treat the edges too harshly on thinner stones, as they can crack or worse SHATTER and the steps are not as nice in two pieces as one step.

Step 7: Checking for Depth and Settling In

Once you are all done your section, I swept off the excess dirt and then hosed down all of the rocks (don't get them wet if you are working in that area again as it will be too muddy, do this at the end of your day).

Any rock that collects a corner full of water and mud is TOO DEEP, pull it up and throw dirt under the offending corner. Firmly stomp it down again.

Do a final walk check for wobbliness, and adjust the stones as needed.

Take the lawn mower and run it over the entire path from a few directions and check for clearance.
Walk the paths as you would have normally, and see if everything is A-ok, and then as a last check:

Make sure the dog approves, and then sit back and relax for the rest of the day.

Just remember you have to do this like 8 more times some other weekend...gah...

If this was your last section WUZZAH! Good job. Ask your partner for a sympathy massage.

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