DIY Concrete Garden Steps

DIY Concrete Garden Steps

We recently added a set of DIY concrete garden steps to our back yard. Which ended up being  4,200 lbs of hand poured concrete, and 6 months of battling rain to complete.  

We recently completed our spring project, of adding some simple DIY concrete garden steps. These will allow us to walk from our back yard down to a wooded walking trail that runs next to the creek behind our home. We started this project back in March, and due to all kind of crazy weather with all the pop up storms the project has been slightly delayed. Let just say the process of digging and hand pouring the 4,200 lbs of concrete was quite a challenge in the rain. As you can see our back yard has quit a steep slope. Ironically our previous home also had a slope, but it was going up, instead of down. That actually presented a entirely separate set of issues, which is why we selected a home with a slope going away from our home this go round, but as first time home buyers we had no idea what we were doing last time, lol. Just let me say as a side note, lot selection really is very important, and unfortunately in the building process to many people do not pay enough attention to proper lot selection. Believe it or not I actually spent more time deciding on my lot than I did my interior finishes, because as an interior designer I knew they would all eventually change with the trends.So allow me to walk you though the process. My husband Ron came up with this plan all  on his own. I gave him the perimeters of: I wanted steps going down the hill, that will not rot, like ones at our other home, which were cross-ties. I hated that our cross tie wall and steps basically started to decay after 16 years at our previous home, so with this house it was all about making sure the materials would last. Stone and concrete have been our top choices for this reason. He started by getting a basic layout of where I wanted the steps to go and ran stakes and string as a guide. He also gave the area a rough rake to remove pine straw and loose rocks.

Next, he constructed a form which is based off a pressure treated stair stringer. This is the exact same stair stringer that is used for exterior deck steps. He cut it in half and made a 3 step form that could easily be dug into the side of the hill. He went with 3 steps based upon the actual grade of our hill so he could turn and alter the steps as he went to make a natural decent to the bottom of the hill. 

The next step was to mix the concrete and add it in to each of the step forms. It was easier to start from the bottom and work his way up. The would keep any possible run off from occurring. He filled each section and smoothed off the tops. Since this is an outdoor staircase, I was not really worried about perfection as long as it is a even stair tread. Plus, I am thinking that we will probably stain the staircase at some point. 

We also added metal rebar stakes, that where pimed and painted to resist rust and corrosion, into each of the steps for stability prior to pouring the concrete. You can see one of them in the top form that has not been filled yet. Once the steps are poured it was all a waiting game for the concrete to set up. Which depending on the weather was about a day or two due to thickness. At this point he could remove the form which would allow him to begin working on the next set or level. 

Since he was planning on reusing the forms as he worked his way down the hill, he decided to use screws instead of nails, which made the disassembly process much easier. Plus it saved his boards from splitting and splintering. 

There were a few sections that required using a wonder bar to pry the boards away from the concrete. Which was mainly on the long runs for the actual stair stringers. 

As you can see the entire stringer lifted out seamlessly and was ready to be reassembled for the next set of step. Ron actually made sure to number the pieces prior upon building the initial form, so he would know the exact order of the boards and where each of them went the next time. I mean he is an engineer after all, I would expect nothing less. I will not even get into the schematic drawings and actual structural measures that went into this process just to get this project started. Like I said, I just said told him, I want steps, that won’t rot, and let him go with this one. 

So this is what the first set of step looked like after the forms were removed. Pretty nice, right? Yeah only 50 more to go, lol…..

Well not really, the next level needed to be more of a concrete landing or pad since the grade was more level. I also really liked the idea of it not being just a straight staircase. 

I wanted to meander and have areas you could stop and pick flowers or blueberries since they are planted along this pathway. So this level ended up being a 3 foot landing before the next set of steps began. 

Then the process started all over again with the next set of 3 steps. We did the same process as above; adding the rebar, pouring the concrete, etc etc. It really just became a rinse and repeat scenario, as we worked our way down the hillside between thunderstorms and other life happenings. 

This was a few of the pictures taken at the half way point we were about 15 step in and 2 landings. We were really making great progress and we were very happy about the way the staircase was looking so far. However, we needed to start creating a turn. You see I wanted it to have a meandering garden path feeling so I wanted it to have a natural turn, which was also going to help with some of the back breaking digging. 

So Ron again engineered a form to create a subtle turn on the landing. So instead of a 3x 3 square of concrete he altered the form to make the landing turn on a 35 degree angle. Then we proceeded with the next set of steps. 

This is a aerial shot from the back porch so you can see how the turn really nestles nicely into the hillside. It also shows you how we are still only a little over half way done. Again the weather this year was less than cooperative because it seems like it rained even other day, which this is fantastic for our plants but not so great for pouring concrete.  

 We managed to finally just keep getting a few more sections done here and there over the last few months. Finally 4,200 lbs of concrete later which was seventy 60lb bags, we finally reached the bottom. 

This is a photo of the final run from the turn point on the landings down the base of the hill. So you can see from the turn it was a perfect pattern of  steps and landing,  repeated 3 more times until you reach the base.  

This is a a view from the bottom looking back up at all of our hard work after we got the fresh pine straw and a few pieces of landscape shrubs and trees added into the bare spots. While we still have a little more work to do, I am so happy to be able to easily get to the base of the hill. 

So as a future project we are thinking we want to add a pea gravel walk path over to our archway. This is an area we cut into the woods in order to access the walking path and creek from our back yard.

 In fact the path was an old deer path and was already there; we have just decided to maintain it and keep it clear from over growth so we can access the beauty that lays behind it. Which is otherwise known as Cogburn Creek, a large creek that runs through our neighborhood. At the moment is is quite low, but after a few of the rainstorms we have had this summer this lazy little creek looked more like some white water rapids. We actually have a natural waterfall that has developed over the past 2 years from the beavers and run off, located directly behind our house, on this very trail. Let me tell you it sounds absolutely amazing when we have a lot of rain.  I can actually here it from my Sleeping Porch which is just another reason I stand behind my original words above about lot section and picking the right one. It might have taken some back breaking work but now I can access some of the best spaces in my neighborhood directly from my own backyard. 

13 Comments

  1. Pingback: sunshine and daisies
  2. Thank you VP it was a big job 🙂 Yes we are very happy to not tumble or slide down that hillside anymore, lol. I can now descend in a much more graceful manner than my previous “trips”.

  3. Oh my goodness that is a lot of concrete, but those steps are magnificent and will last a lifetime. Your husband is so creative making the mold with the stair runners, what a smart guy.

  4. What a great job! You’ll use those for years to come!

  5. Wow, that is one impressive project and one that will last forever. I am also a gardener and garden designer and love to see these amazing DIY projects.

  6. Whew! What an awesome job!
    And having to endure all that weather (rain) challenge.
    An amazing out come.
    No stumbling down the hill 😊

  7. Thank you Laura, we are actually planning to let them weather to see how the concrete ages then we may be painting, staining or possibly acid washing them for a little bit higher end finish. While I like the basic cast concrete look, I think it still need a little more polish plus the GA red clay keeps staining them, which is driving me nuts.

  8. Joanna I agree, I our last home we had stairs made with railroad crosstie’s and the rotted when in 10 years. The only way to average them was to pour concrete inside the hollowed rotten inside and hope for the best. I vowed never again. LOL

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