A patio can be as simple as a few slabs of stone to keep the lawn furniture from sinking into the ground, or it can be as elaborate as an outdoor living room, complete with lighting, coffee tables and stand-alone fireplace.
It can be made of cement, slate, brick, stone, or even gravel (although it is hard on bare feet). While a patio often abuts the house, you can construct a hard surface almost anywhere - for better use of a secluded glade, to support an arbor for shaded outdoor dining, or for a single chair to escape all that quality time with the family.
Choosing the site
When selecting the site, first consider use. Most of us use a patio for relaxation and entertaining, so be sure there is enough space to seat at least six people plus a grill and a table. (And remember that a patio close to the house shortens the walk between kitchen and grill.) The minimum size for two people with two chairs is 12 square feet, though with patios, more is more. To help visualize size, mark it off with pegs and line.
Also consider the available shade. At least partial shading will enable use of it during even the hottest Maryland summers, while a little sunlight will let you put a planter or two with sun-loving flowers on its borders.
Drainage is another important factor. Be careful to build it below your house level and to slope it away from foundations or you will have water running into your rooms after the first hard rain.
With the tremendous increase in gardening and outdoor activity, there's a nice array of materials available. Concrete pavers offer visual variety coupled with durability, according to Jerry Mench of JCI Landscaping Co.
"There's lots of different shapes and a great assortment of colors," Mench says, "and they withstand a lot of weight per square inch."
"[Another] nice thing is they are made to lay together," explains Leo Vollmer of Knolltop Landscape Co. "Also, [many] concrete pavers have spacers on the side that hold them apart 1/8 inch for spacing."
Clay paver brick (different from common building brick) is another material choice that is of uniform size and comes in a variety of colors. It's the kind you see in sidewalks in Annapolis and Williamsburg.
"You can have fun with different patterns or mixing colors," Vollmer notes. "You can have a contrasting border or work geometric patterns into the patio."
For homeowners who like the look of slate but are worried about its brittle nature, Vollmer suggests Pennsylvania blue stone.
"Blue stone gives the same effect [as slate] but is much better traction," he says. "And it gives nice random patterns."
In constructing a patio, consider the long-term health of the surrounding plantings, particularly any big trees. Some people use plastic as a first layer to discourage weeds, but smothering large areas of root system with an impervious surface can shorten the lives of desirable flora. (Some landscapers use a weed mat as a first layer instead of plastic.) Vollmer simply puts down 3-4 inches of washed gravel beneath the patio layer, which allows percolation of water and air.
Another way to deliver air and water to plantings is to install perforated PVC pipe in the gravel under the patio surface reaching from the outermost edge of the patio (under ground level) to the roots.
To fill joints between pavers or stones, Vollmer uses crusher run, a combination of stone dust and gray stone.
"Ants can go up and down in sand, but they don't through crusher run," he notes. Additionally, "moss likes to grow in stone dust, so you get a nice green pattern in about a year [in the shaded parts]."
Materials and how-to books for patio building are available at Hechinger, Home Depot, Lowes and other home supply stores.
This Week's Checklist
Pick off all the blooms on strawberry plants you set out this spring. This will divert energy to the root system and increase your plants' harvest next year.
Ignore the many different leaf and stem galls (tumors) you may see on elms, hickories, oaks and maples. They may be unsightly but they're harmless.
Pick peas when they're young to keep plants producing.
- Home and Garden Information Center of the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Maryland.
Pub Date: 5/24/98