Budget stepper ideas to enhance your yard

MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICEJanuary 2, 2014 

Precast steppers can be used to create convenient connections within a landscape for minimal cost.

MCT

I find the absolute best small budget gardening ideas on Pinterest. I gather them to help gardeners realize how to create low cost features that make a big difference in your yard. With the new movement toward modern, minimalist layouts and organic style, there's one element that I look for more than any other. In generic terms they're called "precast concrete stepping stones," but that hardly does them justice. They're sold in all home improvement stores from coast to coast, and usually are a little over a dollar for a simple foot-square stepper.

Nationwide, folks are rethinking their mid-century tract homes that have become swanky architecture for the new millennium. Study these projects enough and you realize that concrete has evolved from the low-cost choice to hot stuff. This trend is driven by the introduction of permeable paving, which is the green alternative to pouring a solid slab.

Today, a standard foot-square stepper costs about $1.40 each, while a 16-inch-square one is about $3.25 - both of which are an incredible value. Stepping stones are the best deal you can find for making big changes for little money.

• Create a linear pathway with steppers. The new look is a very straight, rectilinear layout for a walkway.

• Create a wider walkway. For this option you can use two one-foot steppers set flush, edge-to-edge for a 1-by-2-foot shape that no longer looks like a stepper at all. This is an alternative to hand cut rectangular stone pavers that cost big bucks.

• Turn the lawn a into checkerboard. Everybody wants to cut back on lawn care and water use. One way to explore this is to cut squares out of your lawn and replace them with concrete steppers. Anyone can do this for big results in one weekend.

• Lay a mini-patio this weekend. Steppers are great for renters or those with a very small yard. Simply level the ground and set the larger 16-inch-square concrete pavers edge to edge for more stability. When renters move, they can take up the squares, pack them in to the trunk and bring them along.

• Mind the gaps. The new permeable look features gaps between the concrete squares. How wide these gaps are depends on what kind of filler you choose:

• Lawn is a popular choice but it's hard to manage, so many folks have discovered the new artificial turf that's so realistic it fools me all the time. This is a great way to get the green grids you see in magazines without the high maintenance of living grass.

• Ground hugging herbs and ornamental groundcovers are another popular gap filler. Herbs like creeping thyme and chamomile are great choices because they release fragrance when walked upon. Other groundcovers bloom in a fabulous carpet of color, or mix them up with small clumping perennials such as thrift.

• Gravel is a very popular choice, but avoid grey pea gravel which doesn't enhance this look. Take some time to find a truly attractive choice. With grey steppers you need contrasting gravel in dark slate color, warm earth tones and some unusual gravels in green that adds a lush feeling and terra cotta for red-orange. For crafters, this is a great opportunity to dabble in pebble mosaics to fill these gaps. Above all, choose gravel that's readily available locally so you can always get more in the future.

• Though less available, consider recycled glass tumbled to gravel for potent colors that work best in tiny gardens that need a big design punch. This is an essential of the jewel box succulent garden look and provides great opportunities to make something special.

For those hoping to create gardens and outdoor living spaces in keeping with the modern trends, or if you're just short on cash, consider using the 12-inch or 16-inch squares in your next project. Explore this look on my Small Budget Gardening board on Pinterest (http://www.pinterest.com/maureengilmer/ ) to find more inspiration along with 15,000 other folks just like you.

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