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Cost-effective, water-wise pathways and patios


Cost-effective, water-wise pathways and patios

By Joe Schriner, Licensed Landscape Contractor

As the spring weather warms up, the time is right to get started with the garden projects you have anticipated for so long. Winter rains are almost behind us, but saving and retaining water remains a consideration in any home and garden project.

In addition to less thirsty plants, if you will create a new pathway to traverse and beautify your garden space or a patio surface for relaxing and dining outdoors, consider building-in water-wise features.  An average size path or patio can cost as little as $100 up to $2000, and also depends on whether you will roll up your sleeves to do the work yourself or hire a landscape professional.

Practical pathways

There’s more to a designing a pathway than deciding whether it will be straight or meandering. Depending on your budget and design ideas, a garden walkway can be simple or formal. A rustic garden might call for a park-like borderless path of bark or wood chips between planted areas. Another cost-effective but more defined pathway can be constructed of recycled concrete stepping stones. Still more defined is a path crushed rock (gravel) between borders, or to install bricks or pavers set in sand. The range of styles and colors at landscape materials suppliers is surprisingly diverse including flagstone, cobblestone and recycled concrete. 

Moderately priced crushed rock is one of my favorite materials. It comes in many colors, shapes and sizes. Finely textured blue shale, for example, is mined right here in Sonoma County. Along with tan to gold-colored (Sonoma Gold) decomposed granite, both are materials that compact well and make good choices for walking surfaces. These varieties also stay in place better than round gravel which tends to stray beyond the desired area when disturbed by playful pets and children.   

Permeable patios

Water is a valuable resource for us Sonoma County gardeners.  Be sure to keep in mind where the water will go when it reaches your new landscape.  To an even greater degree than pathways, patios made from solid surface materials like poured concrete are non- permeable. Rain that hits solid concrete just runs off, usually making its way out to the street, and eventually back to our creeks and rivers, picking up toxins all along the way. Using crushed rock for your patio surface will ensure that rain water stays in your garden soil, replenishing the local ground water supply and watering your plants.

Garden surfaces constructed of stepping stones or crushed rock are great for the do-it -yourselfer because they are affordable and easy to install. One cubic yard of decomposed granite is about $120 and will cover one hundred square feet, enough space for a small sitting area.  Both stepping stone and crushed rock surfaces will help keep water in your garden.


So circle a weekend on your calendar in April or May to get outside and build something you will enjoy using for many seasons to come.  When you shop, enjoy browsing for beautiful permeable materials that are easy on your wallet. Once your project is completed, you can be assured your choice is as good for your garden and the environment as it is beautiful.

Joe Schriner is a licensed landscape contractor and owner of Earthworks Landscaping based in Cloverdale. With 15 years of experience and a dedicated crew, his firm has designed and installed landscapes for satisfied clients all over Sonoma County.