DIY Weekend: Phase #1 of the Side Patio

Mulch Side Patio: Phase One

Why hello!! The last few weeks have been madness. I’ve been working on multiple wedding projects, hosting Nate’s birthday, be a bridesmaid and then travelled to Hawaii for some R&R. So much has happened that it left little time to blog, but don’t worry – I took about a gillion photos (you may have seen a few on instagram) to document all the fun. So now I have the big task of writing it all down and posting. Luckily, I am recharged and ready to go!

Mulch Side Patio: Before

So let’s go back to that first weekend of June…. Remember the short-term plan for the side patio project I mentioned? Well the time had come to get this project finished. Nate’s birthday was the following weekend and it was important to me to have the side yard usable for the pool party.

Mulch Patio: Before

This meant, dealing with sweltering temperatures outside and doing the project solo. Why? Well, this also happened to be the final weekend of school for Nate which meant he was under deadline to get all his grading completed. Under no circumstances could he help me as much as he wanted to although he did help a little at the very end. Some may think this was an odd project for me to do by myself, but I was actually fine with it. I felt it was a challenge that I could handle with proper planning.

Purchase the mulch and prep the yard

Mulch choices

Speaking of planning, I researching many different kinds of materials to use until I had two favorites.

1) Walk-on bark mulch has longer pieces of bark and wood usually 2-4″ long. This type is used as a ground cover in areas that will have foot traffic, and on slopes to help control erosion.

2) Playground bark mulch is man-made and has shock absorbent qualities. This type is used in playgrounds, jogging trails and backyard play areas.

I liked the idea of having the playground bark, but decided on the more organic look of the walk-on kind. I needed about 3.5 cubic yards for the patio area, but bumped it up to 4 to get free delivery.

Mulch delivery

The delivery happened during my work day, so I wasn’t able to direct them how I’d like it dumped. And surprise, surprise – the delivery was more in the street then the gutter where I asked them to put it. So once I got home I spread out the mulch so it was out of the road as much as possible with help from neighbor Lee. Then since I knew I had quite a bit of weeding to do in the morning, I watered the patio area with a sprinkler to soften the dirt.

Project Breakdown

I recorded a little video vlog of my weekend if you would like to see a play by play.

Mulch Patio in Five Steps

This project consisted of five basic parts.

Mulch patio: weeding

1) Weeding and working the soil

I started the day by weeding and turning the soil. This took the majority of the morning and by the time I was done – I was a sweaty, dirty mess. I stopped around lunch time, showered and headed to a graduation party for a couple of hours. This was a nice break, with the weather in triple digits.

Mulch install: leveling

2) Leveling the soil and install a border

Later in the afternoon, I worked on leveling out the soil and then watering it down again so I continue the next morning. It’s amazing how packed that dirt has gotten over the years.

On Sunday morning, I picked up where I left off. I continued to level the area using the flat edge of a 2×4 to help me out. Our side yard is a little higher than the concrete around the pool, so I worked on giving the area a nice slope so water would run off and settle into the mulch the end of the patio before getting to the pool.

Install edging

Next, I installed a 2×4″ border between the patio and grass area for a permanent edge. I dug a trench, inserted the board and then leveled it before packing it with dirt.

Mulch install: landscape cloth

3) Lay down landscape fabric

I was torn about installing landscaping fabric or not, but in the end I went for it. Obvious benefits include a even surface to lay the mulch out on and it being a weed barrior. I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to do the extra work. Turned out it was one of my better decisions and actually fun to install.

I bought a large roll of fabric and two boxes of staples. Then it was just a matter of laying out the cloth, cutting it to size (a little bigger than you want) and securing it down with plenty of overlap between pieces.

Pixel on landscape cloth

The cats were very interested in this part of the process. They were dismayed to see the dirt covered, but their love for fabric had them all over the landscape cloth.

Mulch goes in

4) Bring in the mulch

With the patio prepped, it was now time to bring in the mulch. I put in my headphones with a nice upbeat electronic mix, got my dad’s big flat shovel and went to work.

Mulch wheelbarrow

I counted 40 wheelbarrow trips until our wonderful neighbors arrived with two extra wagons to help me finish off. We each took 6 trips to get it all in. Lee and Carol were so sweet to help me out and it save me a bunch of time since it was almost dinnertime on Sunday.

Mulch in

Before the sun set, I leveled out the mulch as best I could and called it a day.

Mulch leveling

5) Level

The final step was leveling out all the mulch which turned out to be harder than I thought. If I were to do a project like this again I would have added mulch a little at a time then leveled and repeated. I think this was partly due to the shape of this mulch which was hard to shovel and rake.

Watering it down

Finally, we watered down the mulch to reduce the dust and help settle it. This will of course happen more with time, but the water gave it a good start.

Cost (all other materials & tools used I had on hand)

Tips for your patio project

  • My favorite tools for this project was my work gloves. I wore them through the whole thing. They did a great job protecting my hands from blisters, splinters and even the sun.
  • I also love my hand tiller. I think this is the perfect gardening tool for me. It’s small and pretty powerful.
  • Remember to support your back when doing this sort of work. I try to keep the mantra of “belly button to spine” in my head as I work.
  • When the mulch was flying you really need something to protect your eyes. A cheap pair of sunglasses work for me.
  • Doing a project alone I really needed some motivation to stay out in the triple digits. My Spotify playlists got me through most of it.

Mulch leveled

For the party, we moved our dining table and chairs onto the mulch for extra seating. Eventually I’d like to have a real outdoor dining area, but we either need to find the right table or build one ourselves. So my plan for now is to set up a little sitting area with the outdoor chair we already have.

I was extremely proud of myself for completing this project. I know Nate wanted to help, but it was personally satisfying to undertake this on my own and complete it.


  1. Donna says

    Hi Andrea – I found your project on Youtube and I’m so glad I did! I’ve been planning on making a mulch-based seating area in my front yard, so I can sit and admire the new flower beds I made – watching your video and then reading your blog here has really provided the missing knowledge I needed…thanks so much for showing me how you did what I’ve been wanting to do!

  2. Diane says

    Not sure if you’re still seeing this comments, Andrea, but great project! I’m about to put in a mulch patio, too. Do you remember how deep you made the mulch or have any recommendations on depth?

    • says

      Hi Diane – I believe I put in the mulch 3-4 inches deep. You could certainly go deeper than that, but I’d avoid going to shallow for coverage issues.

We'd love to hear what you think!