Make an inviting, cobblestone-inspired, decorative garden path with this step-by-step guide and turn a neglected area of your yard into a retreat you can enjoy for years to come. This eye-catching decorative garden path can be created by forming concrete into stones. You’ll need minimal tools for the project which can be done in a few easy steps and over time as your schedule permits.
We have lived in our home for six years and had a narrow area in our yard which needed some love. This summer, we decided to do something about it! We talked about several different options for a path, including flagstone, stamped concrete and pavers. All of those options required a truck or a significant delivery fee, so we decided on a DIY project using bagged concrete mix and a decorative form.
Having done this project before at our previous residence, we knew we could take our time and do it over several days to make it easier on ourselves. It took us two Saturday afternoons and a couple of weeknights to complete. We made several trips to the home improvement store to pick up the concrete. This served to pace ourselves and allowed us to get a feel for how many bags of concrete we would need. We are very happy with the end result, and find ourselves using the pathway more often to get to the backyard.
- One Quikrete Country Stone reusable walk maker form
- Quikrete concrete mix
- Shovel or hoe
- Dust mask
- Small steel trowel
- Bag of Portland cement (recommended)
- Colorant or Release Agent (optional)
Step 1 – Prepare the Project Site
The surface doesn’t have to be perfectly level, but it should be clear of all weeds and other debris and the soil should be fairly compacted. If you have grass where you plan to put your path, you will have to remove it and level the underlying soil. In our case, we had an unfinished side yard so we used a flat nose shovel to level.
Step 2 – Mix the Concrete
Mix the concrete by emptying a bag of concrete into a wheelbarrow. Be sure to read and follow the instructions and safety warnings on the packaging. Always remember to wear your dust mask to protect your lungs.
We opted to use the cheaper Quikrete 80 lb. concrete instead of the crack resistant concrete to save on cost. The crack resistant concrete is roughly twice as much. To compensate for this, and to help give the finished path a little smoother finish, we added four heaping garden trowels of regular Portland cement to each bag of concrete. A bag of Portland cement can be purchased from any home improvement store for about $6 – $8 and we had oodles left over.
Add the water. This is easiest if one person is mixing the concrete with a shovel or hoe while another person pours the water. The instruction on the bag will tell you how much water to add. We found just over a gallon of water per 80 pound bag was about right.
The mixture will be thick, but should smooth easily. Be careful not to get it too wet or the concrete will sag when the form is removed in a later step.
Step 3 – Place and Fill the Form
Place the form by starting at one end of the path. Using a shovel, scoop the mixed concrete into each section of the form. We found it best for one of us to be filling the form, while the other used the cement trowel to poke and level the concrete into the form.
Once filled, use the cement trowel to float the creamy cement to the surface. Don’t worry too much about getting it perfect at this point. You will use the trowel again once the form is removed.
Once leveled, grasp the form on opposite sides, then jiggle and rock the form gently back and forth until it comes loose.
Then lift the form upward and off the wet concrete and set it aside.
Next, use the trowel to continue working the surface to a smooth finish. The water in the concrete starts draining once the form is removed which exposes the rock aggregate in the concrete’s surface. Use the trowel to work more of the cement to the surface.
Step 4 – Color for Variety (optional)
If you want the finished result to look more like stone, a colored release agent can be broadcast over the surface of the concrete while it is still wet. Finding the release agent is the hard part. Our project wasn’t big enough to warrant buying a five gallon bucket of release agent. Luckily, our neighbor finishes concrete, so we asked him if he had any leftover release agent we could buy. He had two colors of brown left over from previous jobs which he let us use. Try contacting any company which does decorative stamped concrete. The two buckets we brought home only had a couple of inches in the bottom of each one. This was more than enough to do our path which is about 40 feet long.
You could also try using a concrete cement color mix instead. This is normally mixed into the water before adding it to the dry concrete mix to give a uniform, integral color throughout. There are several color options to choose from including Charcoal, Brown, Terra Cotta, Buff, and Red. The downside to this is the additional cost which adds about $6 per two bags of concrete.
We used a dry tampico brush to broadcast the release agent, but it can also be broadcast easily by hand. Just be sure to wear your dust mask and gloves for this step.
Then use the trowel to lightly work it into the surface of the still wet concrete. Once you are done with this step, this is how you will leave the concrete for the next 72 hours to cure and harden.
Step 5 – Rotate and Repeat
Rotate the form and begin the process again. Rotating the form helps break up the pattern and give variety to the path.
We found one 80 lb. bag of concrete mix would fill the form one and a half times. This encouraged us to mix at least two bags each time we worked on the path. This allowed us to end each day without having only half a form filled.
Step 6 – Remove the Release Agent
If you choose to use release agent, you will need to remove it before the path is usable. Allow the concrete to cure for a minimum of 3 days, and then use your hose to spray the powder off the concrete. This process will spread the release agent into the air so wear your dust mask to protect your lungs. You don’t need a lot of water pressure to remove it. The more water pressure you use, the more color will be removed.
The Finished Decorative Garden Path
We love the way the path turned out. Using a combination of the gray concrete with two brown release agents allowed us to mimic the colors in the natural stone boulders used for steps in the middle and end of the path. After adding some bark mulch and some plants, here is how it turned out.
- We found one 80 pound bag will fill the form 1½ times. We ended up using 13 bags of concrete mix for our project.
- Once the cement is completely cured, you can gently lift individual stones to spread them apart.
- You can fill the form in another area and then transfer the stones to fill in hard to reach sides and corners of your project.
- The concrete dries fairly quickly. Work on this project when the day is cooler to allow more time for finish work.
- We filled the gaps between the stones with a mixture of potting soil and peat moss instead of sand. This was to allow moss or other types of ground cover to grow between the path.
- This youtube tutorial was helpful when planning the project.
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