Laying decorative stone around your home, whether to cover an area without plants, to create a path, or to use as a garden mulch, requires the correct initial planning and installation steps. Decorative stone doesn't harbor termites, blow away or require replacement like wood chips and similar options, but it does raise the temperature in the surrounding area and it must be treated as a permanent landscape feature after installation. Stone is best suited for plant-free areas, although you can use it with heat-loving perennial plants, such as in a rock or desert garden bed.
Choosing Decorative Stone
The type of decorative stone that works best in the space and has the preferred look is the first decision that you need to make. If the main purpose of the stone is purely ornamental, then almost any type will work well. In areas where you expect some foot traffic, such as along a path, select larger, smoother stones like river rock. River rock is also a good choice if drainage is an issue in the space because the larger rocks don't compact and moisture can more easily drain through and into the ground beneath. If you prefer smaller stones that pack down better than river rock, yet still provide drainage, volcanic rock, or lava rock, provides a good choice. Keep in mind the sharp edges of volcanic stones make them unsuitable for pathway use.
After deciding on a type of stone, it's necessary to determine the amount needed. Begin by deciding on the best depth for the decorative stone bed. Generally, small stones less than 1/2 inch in diameter require laying at a 2inch depth, while larger stones up to 1-inch diameter require a 3-inch depth, and 1- to 2-inch-diameter stones are laid to a 4-inch depth. After determining the best depth, measure the square footage of the area where you are installing the stones. A cubic yard of decorative stone will cover 160 square feet at the 2-inch depth, 108 square feet at the 3-inch depth, and 80 square feet at the 4-inch depth.
After you have your stone, the first step for installation begins with clearing the area. Dig up and remove any sod from the site. Pull up weeds completely by their roots and remove any remaining root pieces in the soil so they don't regrow. If the area was exceptionally weedy, water the location and wait seven days for seeds to germinate. After germination, apply a premixed broad spectrum herbicide, such as one containing glyphosate. Wear safety glasses, a face mask, gloves and long sleeves when applying the herbicide. Spray it evenly over the installation area but avoid overspray onto neighboring plants or lawn areas. The herbicide usually kills the remaining weeds within a few hours and it's no longer active in the soil within seven to 10 days.
Proper installation minimizes later maintenance issues and prevents most problems in the decorative stone bed. Installing edging around the perimeter of the bed, whether you use vinyl edging strips, or stone or wood edging, keeps the stones in place so they don't migrate to other areas of the yard. Lay down a layer of landscape fabric over the entire site, overlapping the edges of each fabric sheet by at least 3 inches, to suppress any remaining weeds and to keep the stones from migrating into the soil. Unlike plastic sheeting, landscape fabric allows water and air to pass through and into the ground. It also lasts longer than plastic.
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