How Hardscaping Works

Hardscaping Materials

A couple puts down stone flooring.
A couple puts down stone flooring.
Andrew Hetherington/Photonica/Getty Images

­If you're dead-set on redesigning your yard with hardscaping features, you have a lot of decisions to make. Whether you do it yourself or hire a professional, you'll need to choose what materials to use in your new wall or patio. Before you make any off-the-cuff decisions, it's good to know all your options. We'll go over some of the most popular hardscapi­ng materials as well as some common uses and advantages of each.

  • Concrete: This extremely common and popular material is a mix of cement, sand, aggregate and water. It's known for being relatively cheap and very durable. Before you recoil at the prospect of using concrete, note that it's extremely versatile. Aside from being able to take on any shape, you can have it stained and textured to match your preferences. It can be used in all aspects of hardscaping, including patio flooring, walkways, driveways and retaining walls.
  • Brick: These red blocks can give your patio or walls a classic look that never goes out of style. Brick tends to be a bit more expensive than the concrete alternative, with a cost more comparable to stone.
  • Stone: A few different kinds of stone are popular for hardscaping, such as flagstone, sandstone, slate, limestone and quartzite. Flagstone is a popular choice for patio flooring. For this, hardscapers typically lay the stones on a layer of concrete and connect them with grout joints. The width of these joints can vary depending on your preference.
  • Wood: As we've mentioned, the use of wood in hardscaping can create a fluid transition into a wooded landscape. It's most commonly used in fences and decks. Typically, decks are built with pressure-treated pine, and retaining walls are constructed with treated landscape timbers. Wood chips can also make a rustic walkway.
  • Pavers: While not a material per se like the ones above, this is a term that you'll come across in your hardscape planning. The term refers to different kinds brick-sized units used for patio flooring and walls. We're all familiar with classic brick pavers, which are red, made of clay and assembled together with mortar. Another kind of paver is made of concrete. It can be dyed any color and formed into any shape. Although sometimes dyed red and shaped like a rectangle to imitate brick pavers, concrete pavers can be molded into more interesting and curvier shapes. What's more, you don't have to install them with mortar -- most interlock to form a pattern.

When it comes to expressing your style, hardscaper expert David Stevens suggests using no more than two or three materials in one unified structure (like a patio). Cost is a significant factor when choosing materials. If you're considering hiring a professional hardscaper, ask him or her to include the cost of materials in the quote. Also ask the professional to recommend accents such as lighting and water fixtures.

Now that you're more familiar with your options, let's get into specifics about how to implement hardscaping features to make a beautiful outdoor space.