Dry-Set Natural Garden Path


Level: Beginner
Cost: $$
Time commitment: 1 Day
Professionals Needed: None
Dimensions: 12' x 3'

Natural stone is timeless and universally appreciated, and this project will soften your landscape and add value to your home. A dry-set flagstone path creates direction and brings a lot of character and visual impact to a yard. Its solid and natural form is a great complement to surrounding vegetation. You'll be happy on rainy days not to have to tromp along a muddy path anymore!


  • Safety goggles
  • Gloves
  • Shovel
  • Rake
  • Hose and multispray nozzle
  • Hand tamper
  • 2'-3' level
  • Torpedo level

  • ¾ ton of natural-edge stone (seven 14-18" wide x 18-24" long x 1½--2½" thick pieces)
  • Can of marking spray
  • Two 2-cubic-foot bags of decomposed granite or masonry sand
  • Four 2-cubic-foot bags of base material (or compact existing dirt)
  • Six 2-cubic-foot bags of mulch, wood chips, gravel or other filler

Step 1: Select your stone


Look for thick 1½- to 2½-inch slabs with relatively smooth surfaces and rough natural edges. Thinner flagstone will crack under the pressure of walking with this style of path. The color should either match or complement existing or proposed materials in the landscape. Natural-edge stone offers a more relaxed, country, cottage or rustic feel, while cut-edge stone will read modern, clean, organized and contemporary.

Step 2: Select the location and prep


Select an area that is either already used as a path or make a garden more interesting by intersecting a path through it. Mark it out with marking spray. (If the ground is very dry, mist it with a hose first for better adhesion.) With a shovel, dig out roughly 1 inch below the finished grade and a little wider on each side. This is just enough to drop the flagstone in lightly. Since the ground is going to be raised around it with mulch, the flagstone can sit proudly off the ground when in place. If digging in very sandy or clay soil or in an area that freezes, dig down 2 to 4 inches deep and 2 inches wider than each stone and add base material. Rake the area smooth.

Step 3: Lay out the stone and test


“Field fit” the pieces of flagstone with the spacing you desire. Practice walking over to match the placement of stones to your natural gait and move the stones accordingly. If members of your household have a big height difference (for example, my mom is 4 foot 11 inches and my dad is 6 foot), find the average gait difference and compromise. Since this is an informal garden path, no cutting or chiseling is necessary.

Step 4: Add the base


Pick up one stone at a time. Add a few shovelfuls of decomposed granite or masonry sand, lightly mist with a garden hose to help settle the material and compact it with a hand tamper. I used decomposed granite.

Step 5: Lay out the stone and level


Reset each stone in place in its newly dug out and compacted hole. Adjust each stone, and check to see if it’s level in both directions. If it is not sitting flat, add more base or cut and fill until the stone is secure. If your path is flat, use a 2-foot level to level the stones to each other, or if on a slight slope, step them down to each other. Step on each stone to see if it rocks around, and if so, add scoops of masonry sand and spread until it levels.

Step 6: Test your work


You can test your handiwork by stepping on it. If it moves a lot, then you need to keep working on it by cutting and filling and leveling.

Step 7: Check your level again and fill in


Now that the stones are set they should still be sitting 1½ to 2 inches taller than the ground. Use your torpedo level to check the level once again and to make sure they are secure and then fill in the surrounding area with mulch, wood chips, gravel or other filler to finish off the informal garden path. Now enjoy trotting across your new path to enjoy your yard!

About the Author - Sara Bendrick


Licensed landscape contractor, author and TV personality, Sara Bendrick, is best known for her work as the host of I Hate My Yard where she tackles the tough yards of homeowners and shows them the possibilities that exist for their exterior spaces. Sara shares her passion for improving spaces through landscape design by serving as an expert source of information and tips for STIHL customers and homeowners.

Reprinted with permission from Big Impact Landscaping by Sara Bendrick, Page Street Publishing Co. 2017. Photo credit: Joe Dodd.