A stepping-stone path is an easy and inexpensive way to add the sense of style that natural stone brings to your garden. It also is a project...

Share story

A stepping-stone path is an easy and inexpensive way to add the sense of style that natural stone brings to your garden. It also is a project that’s within the reach of most weekend gardeners.

Stepping stones are less formal than many other kinds of paths such as concrete, brick or closely laid stone. They also take a smaller amount of stone than a regular stone path, so they stretch your landscape dollar.

As in any path, stepping stones can create a focal point, leading the eye through the garden. Irregular stepping stones add a staccato rhythm and a lyrical flow as the shape of the stones varies and the path changes direction. Square or rectangular shapes made out of natural stone can be staggered to add character, or be placed more formally.

Set stepping stones into a lawn to lead a visitor in a desired direction or protect the lawn from foot traffic. Place them in gravel paths to add interest or use them to mark the point where three or more paths come together.

Placement tips

When installing stepping stones, and your soil is firm and free-draining, place them directly on the earth or use builder’s sand to level them. In clay soil, stepping stones will be more stable if a 3- to 4-inch layer of crushed rock is placed under the stones.

When placing irregular stones next to each other, pay attention to the adjoining edges. Set them so they look as if they have broken apart and then separated by geological forces. This will give a natural look to the path.

If you have stone on terraces or formal paths, use the same stone for stepping stones to create unity throughout the garden. On the other hand, use a contrasting stone to add a unique feeling to different parts of the garden.

Variety aplenty

Natural stone comes in many colors, sizes and textures.

Idaho quartzite will brighten up a dull garden with its shiny flecks of mica, and it is one of the least-expensive stones. It is available in tones of silver, gold or green. Pennsylvania bluestone varies from blue to gray to brown and can be purchased in square, rectangular or irregular shapes. You will find many other types at stone yards. Find them by looking in the phone directory under “Stone-Natural.”

When choosing stone, remember that the size of stones you want will depend on the importance of the path. A minimum size is 14 to 16 inches, to give comfortable footing. Use larger sizes for more frequently used paths.

Two smaller stones can be placed adjacent to each other, mixed in with large single stones to add interest to the path.

Stepping stones look best when the widest dimension of the stone is placed horizontally, or perpendicular to the line of movement of the path.

The thickness of the stones should be at least 1-½ to 2 inches.

Inclines and slopes

When placing stepping stones on a slope, use thicker stones, called risers. These are 6 to 8 inches thick and are set so that the thick edge shows on the front of the step and the back of the stone disappears into the slope, so they are level.

On steep inclines, the stones are set closely enough that the back of each stone supports the front of the stone behind it.

Risers are often granite but can be any type of stone that comes in large-enough sizes to make comfortable steps.

In-between accents

Soften your stepping-stone path by planting between the stones. Consider planting several kinds of ground cover to discover which ones thrive in your landscape. Here are a few possibilities:

Thyme would do well in sunny and dry locations. Choose lower-growing types such as wooly thyme or creeping thyme, which has many cultivars with white, pink or red flowers.

Bluestar creeper will take part shade. Blue flowers cover the bright green leaves in early summer.

Corsican mint looks like moss, with leaves just <137,2006/9/20/18/11/26,javerill>one-quarter <137>¼-inch high. The foliage releases a strong mint fragrance when stepped on.

Stepping stones are a welcome addition to any style of garden, whether it is Asian, traditional or contemporary. With very little effort, you can create the path that fits your garden.

Phil Wood has a degree in landscape architecture and designs and builds gardens. Send questions to thegardendesigner@seattletimes.com. Sorry, no personal replies.