Having somewhere nice to relax in your garden is a must for any homeowner. A patio is a practical space where you can enjoy al fresco dining, caring for potted plants, entertaining and much more. But building one isn’t always simple, especially if the ground is not level. That certainly isn’t to say that you cannot build a patio here, but it’s important to look at how to build a patio on uneven ground. To install a patio on uneven ground, you’re going to need quite a bit of time and equipment. However, doing the job correctly will ensure a patio that is strong, safe and stands the test of time so it’s certainly worth investing the effort. You will find that almost no garden will have a completely flat surface for a patio since most have even a slight incline to allow for drainage. In this guide, we will be providing you with step-by-step instructions for how to lay a patio for beginners.
Why Can’t You Build a Patio on Uneven Ground?
Building a patio on uneven ground will result in an uneven patio. It’s as simple as that! If you have an uneven patio then this primarily poses a safety hazard because the slabs you use may be raised at certain points causing a tripping hazard. Furthermore, an uneven patio isn’t going to look particularly good, and you’ll find it incredibly difficult to keep anything on it. For example, imagine placing an outdoor dining table and chairs on uneven ground, everything will be wobbly! While the preparation work may involve more effort, it’s essential to follow the right steps to building your patio so that the end result is everything you expected.
How To Build a Patio on Uneven Ground
The key to building a patio on uneven ground is correct preparation of the area. You’ll need to dig down and then build layers onto which you can lay your pavers or slabs.
What You Need
- Spray paint or flour
- Plate Compactor (aka Wacker plate); or hand tamper
- Coarse sand and gravel
- Pipes which measure the same length as the patio
- Mini Digger (Optional)
- Timber (2 x 4)
- Rubber Mallet
Step 1 – Mark Your Area
Begin by marking out the boundary of your new patio. You can use a piece of string tied to two stakes and pop these into the ground to mark out each edge. Do this for every edge but if you are creating a patio with curved edges then you will need to use a garden hose to mark these as the string will only form straight edges.
You should lay down the hose and then use either flour or spray paint (Amazon link – opens in a new tab) to leave a more permanent mark so that the hose can be removed.
Step 2 – Dig Out the Area
Next, you’ll need to dig down into the ground creating a trench that is between eight and ten inches in depth. Of course, since you are building on uneven ground, it would be a bad idea to dig the trench to the same depth all over. What we mean by this is to create a more even surface, you will need to adjust the depth at different areas of the trench for a more uniform finish. You can measure how level it is by using a laser level or spirit level, whichever you prefer.
No Access to Mini Digger? How To Level A Garden Without A Digger
Step 3 – Compact the Ground
You’ll now need to use a plate compactor to flatten the bottom of the trench. This is another tool that you will likely need to borrow or rent as most homeowners simply don’t have one sitting in the tool shed. Alternately, there is a cheap one here (Amazon link – opens in a new tab). Once you have compacted the soil, be sure to check that it’s level again and if necessary, add or remove dirt.
Step 4 – Add Gravel and Compact
When everything is level, it’s time to add a layer of gravel. You’ll need around two to three inches and when it is laid, be sure to go over it with the plate compactor. Again, you will need to check how level the area is before moving on to the next step. Make adjustments where necessary.
Once you have compacted and levelled the first layer of gravel, you will need to add another. It can be tempting to just throw it all in at once to save time, but this won’t provide you with as stable a foundation so doing it in two layers is preferable.
Step 5 – Add Sand and Compact
The next step is to apply coarse sand over the top of your compacted gravel. This will need to be around two inches in depth and to compact it, you can simply use a piece of 2 x 4 timber to smooth the sand out. To do this, you’ll need to place two pieces of pipe along the edges of the patio and then put the lumber on top. You can then run the lumber back and forth using the pipes to make a more level surface.
It’s important to be very careful when removing the pipe so that you don’t upset the sand and cause it to become uneven again.
Step 6 – Add Your Paving Slabs
You’re now ready to install your chosen paving slabs. These can be laid directly onto the sand but be sure not to force them down into it. As you lay the slabs, keep checking the level and if anything is uneven, feel free to add or remove sand as needed.
Step 7 – Level the Paving Slabs
To level the slabs, we recommend using a rubber mallet. It is best done once you have at least a pair of slabs laid and only gently knock the area adjacent to another slab that has been laid. If you have an open area where you are yet to lay slabs, do not knock or compress the slab into the sand.
Step 8 – Sand Over the Gaps
When you’re done, take your coarse sand and brush these between the slabs using a broom. It’s essential to make sure that each joint is fully filled so take your time and if you need to repeat the application more than once, that’s OK. You may notice that the joints look filled in, to begin with, then over time as the sand settles, gaps begin to form so keep an eye out for this in the months after the installation.
If you’re keen to install a new patio but worry that the uneven ground you wish to place it on will be an issue, don’t fear. By digging down and levelling out the ground using layers of sand and gravel, you can create a smooth, even surface that’s perfect for entertaining and relaxing.
Garden Doctor Tips
“When using a mallet, we would advise placing a piece of cardboard on top of the slab. This will prevent any scratches!”
“It’s important to consider the type of stone you are using. Smooth, tumbled stones won’t bond together in the same way that coarse, jagged stones!”
“If you do not have access to a wacker plate, you are able to use a hand tamper – this is seriously hard work though and will take a certain level of fitness!”
“If the area is particularly large you may find that a mini digger makes the job easier. You can hire these with a driver and suitable bucket attachment by the day!”
Frequently Asked Questions
What can I use instead of a Wacker plate?
A hand tamper is an ideal substitute for a Wacker plate. It’s much cheaper and you can find them at any home improvement superstore. Just make sure to use one that has a rubber grip on it, so your hands don’t slip off it while you’re pressing down your materials.
What is coarse sand?
Coarse sand is a type of sand that has been separated from the finer particles of sand. Coarse sand is often used for construction purposes, as it is strong and can withstand pressure. It is also used for making concrete and asphalt, as it helps to make these materials more durable.
Do you need a Licence for a mini digger?
If you are using the plant in a public area, you will need to have the appropriate plant operator qualification for the machinery you are using. If you are hiring a mini digger for use on private property, you do not need a licence but you will need insurance.
Trevor Wright is not just a seasoned horticulturist; he’s the esteemed Garden Doctor. With a BSc in Horticulture and years of hands-on experience in the soil, Trevor has become a trusted mentor for all things gardening. As the founder of Garden Doctor, he’s committed to clarifying the intricacies of gardening, offering straightforward advice that’s rooted in years of practice. His writing is a garden of how-tos, savvy insights, and comprehensive guides that enable individuals to nurture and grow their garden dreams. When he’s not knee-deep in garden beds, Trevor is at his keyboard passing on his green-thumbed wisdom to budding gardeners, ensuring that the legacy of sustainable and joyful gardening blossoms far and wide.