Step-By-Step: How to Build an Instant Patio

Use these photos and instructions to finish it in a weekend

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Step 1

Full article

1. Rototill or dig the soil; rake it smooth. Lay the 2-by-4s about 7 feet apart to serve as temporary guides. Place a stake in the soil to mark the patio's center; tie a 3 ½-foot-long piece of string to it, then tie the string's free end to the second stake. With the free stake, trace the patio's outline in the soil, pulling the string taut as you walk a wide circle around the center stake.

Remove the stakes and mark the circle with gypsum. Remove the 2-by-4s from the sides; then place the carpenter's level on one of them to make sure soil is level. (Recheck level at every stage.)

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Step 2

2. Pour six bags of sand evenly over the soil to about 5 inches beyond the gypsum mark. Smooth it with the edge of one of the 2-by-4s, then tamp it evenly to firm.

Spray with a fine mist from the hose, then tamp it again into a layer about 2 inches thick.

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Step 3

3. Place the center paver on the sand base. Working from the center outward, set down the bricks (follow the pattern), tapping them into place with the mallet and butting them together as tightly as possible.

Spread three bags of sand evenly over the surface of the finished paving, let it dry if wet, then sweep the sand into the joints between bricks. Mist lightly with the hose. Add sand until joints are full.

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Step 4

4. To mortar the center paver in place (optional, but recommended), mix the mortar and add color, if desired, according to package directions. Using a grout bag, apply the mixture between the bricks immediately surrounding the center paver (use a trowel tip to smooth it if necessary). Allow it to dry; wipe away excess with a clean, soft rag.

For extra firming (also optional), mix 1 part mortar with 1 part sand, then brush the mixture into joints between the outer bricks. Carefully sweep excess mortar off the bricks. Mist periodically over the next two hours. Scrub bricks with burlap to eliminate any mortar stains.

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Step 5

5. Pour the remaining sand around the patio's perimeter; mist it with the hose and pack it firmly with your hands or the back of the trowel.

Finished! Planting can wait until tomorrow. To help reinforce the patio's edge, lay sod or plant low-growing ground covers as close to it as possible.

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Instant patio diagram


  • Two 7-foot-long 2-by-4s
  • Two 1-foot-long stakes with pointed tips
  • String
  • Gypsum
  • 12 1-cubic-foot bags (about ½ yard) clean sand
  • One round slate or flagstone paver, about 17 inches in diameter (add two or more for steppingstones ― optional)
  • 150 used bricks (includes a few extras for color matching)


  • One 80-pound bag Quikcrete mortar mix
  • 1 quart mortar color


  • Rotary tiller or spade
  • Rake
  • Carpenter's level
  • Tamper
  • Hose
  • Rubber mallet
  • Bench broom


  • Bucket for mixing mortar
  • Grout bag
  • Trowel
  • Rag
  • Burlap
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Three seasons, three uses: Spring

Make the patio a focal point. Place a birdbath and pots of blooming annuals such as purple nemesia and bacopa in its center.

Edge it with low mounders ― New Zealand hair sedge 'Frosty Curls', 'Oriental Limelight' variegated artemisia ― and add color makers such as breath of heaven, pink marguerites, pink and purple anemones, Swan River daisy, lilac, Berberis thunbergii 'Aurea'. Tuck low growers such as creeping thyme between the bricks.

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Three seasons, three uses: Summer

Bring out the bistro table and chairs. Tuck summer bloomers like purple verbena, yellow daisylike helianthus, purple coneflower, and coreopsis behind it. (Golden seedheads top eulalia grass behind chair).

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Three season, three uses: Fall

Make it your secret garden. Surround it with billowy bloomers like this Tagetes lemmonii for privacy, or ― for fragrance ― English lavender or mock orange (Choisya ternata).

Put a comfy Adirondack chair in the center.