What Is Hardscape?

Hardscape refers to the inorganic elements and features of a landscape design. It includes non-living materials like rocks, gravel, pavers, concrete, bricks, tiles, wood surfaces, and various construction materials. Hardscaping forms the “bones” of a landscape and works in contrast to softscaping, which includes the living elements like plants, trees, and lawns.

Hardscaping serves both practical and aesthetic purposes in landscape design. It can be used to construct functional elements like patios, walkways, parking areas, and walls. It also adds visual interest and complements greenery and plantings. Thoughtful use of hardscaping materials lends style, personality and purpose to the landscape.

Elements of Hardscaping

There are many types of hardscape materials and features used in landscaping. Some key elements include:

Pathways and Walkways

Pathways connect different areas of the landscape and provide walking routes through the space. They are often paved with materials like brick, stone, concrete, gravel, mulch, or wood. The style and layout can range from meandering garden paths to straight sidewalks lining the perimeter.

Patios and Decking

Patios create an outdoor living space, extending the function of a home out into the yard. They provide space for dining, entertaining, or simply relaxing outdoors. Materials like stone, brick, concrete, gravel, and wood decking are commonly used.

Driveways and Parking Areas

Driveways and parking pads give vehicles access and a place to park off-street. Asphalt and concrete are typical paving materials, along with pavers, bricks, gravel, and crushed stone.

Stairs, Steps, and Ramps

Stairs, steps, and ramps allow people to move between different elevations in a landscape, like from a patio down to a garden. Materials depend on the style and needs, ranging from stone and brick to wood, concrete, and metal.

Outdoor Kitchens and Fireplaces

Outdoor kitchens equipped with cabinets, counters, grills, and sinks expand a home’s living area. Fireplaces and fire pits create an outdoor gathering place. Durable materials like stone, brick, and tile withstand outdoor use.

Gardens and Planting Beds

Gardens for flowers, vegetables, and other plants need defined edges to contain the soil. Materials like bricks, pavers, stone, and concrete create borders, while wood and metal can make elevated planters. Gravel and mulch also fill garden beds.

Ponds, Fountains, and Pools

Water features provide visual and auditory interest to landscapes. Materials like concrete, plastic liners, and flexible PVC form ponds and pools. Rocks, gravel, and stone dress up their edges.

Decorative Structures

Structures like pergolas, trellises, benches, statues, and lighting add ornamental features. They are built from materials such as wood, metal, stone, and concrete.

Retaining Walls and Terracing

Retaining walls and terracing contain and support changes in grade and elevation. Materials like concrete, stone, and segmental blocks are commonly used to build sturdy retaining structures.

Fences, Gates, and Screens

Fences enclose yards and pool areas for safety and privacy. Shorter screens mask views or delineate garden rooms. Popular materials include wood, vinyl, iron, and masonry.

Lawns and Ground Covers

Lawns of grasses or turf create soft green carpets. Inorganic materials like gravel, mulch, sand, decomposed granite, and pebbles serve as permeable and drought-tolerant ground covers.

Benefits of Hardscaping

Incorporating hardscape features and materials into a landscape design provides many advantages:

Defines Spaces and Creates Structure

Hardscaping delineates specific areas and separates different zones like patios, planting beds, and lawns. This gives a landscape organization and improved flow.

Provides Function and Purpose

Functional hardscape elements like pathways, parking pads, stairs, and retaining walls serve important needs in a landscape. They facilitate access, circulation, and transitions between elevations.

Enhances Architecture and Design

Hardscaping complements a home’s architecture and design style. For example, a formal English garden matches an elegant manor, while a rustic pergola suits a Craftsman bungalow.

Adds Visual Interest

The color, texture, and form of hardscape materials like stone, brick, and gravel add aesthetic appeal and design flair to the landscape.

Accents Greenery and Plantings

Hardscape features offset and highlight surrounding plants and lawn areas. Things like garden walls and patios help green spaces pop.

Provides Durability and Longevity

Hardscape materials stand up well to outdoor conditions like weather, wear-and-tear, and foot traffic. Elements like pathways and patios last for years with proper installation.

Increases Usability of Outdoor Spaces

Hardscape additions like patios, decks, and benches let homeowners better enjoy outdoor living. Kitchens, fireplaces, and pools upgrade entertainment spaces.

Requires Less Maintenance

Inorganic hardscape materials are low maintenance compared to the care needed for living plants and lawn. A wash or sweep keeps hardscape looking fresh.

Adds Curb Appeal and Property Value

Tasteful hardscaping at the front entrance and in the backyard increases a home’s visual appeal. This can boost a property’s resale value.

Hardscape Material Options

There is an immense variety of materials to choose from for hardscaping projects, ranging from natural stone to modern synthetics. Each has unique properties, price points, and installation needs. Some top options include:

Natural Stone

  • Granite – Extremely hard and durable. Withstands heavy use.
  • Limestone – Adds natural, earthy character. Can be textured or smooth.
  • Sandstone – Rich, multi-colored appearance. Somewhat soft and porous.
  • Slate – Very strong and slip resistant. Available in shades of gray, purple, red, and green.
  • Bluestone – Rugged, irregular flagstone. Ideal for patios and paths.

Manufactured Stone

  • Cultured stone – Molded concrete that closely mimics natural stone shapes and textures.
  • Aggregate stone – A composite of cement, aggregates, and color additives that form lightweight artificial rocks.


  • Clay bricks – Traditional fired clay units. Long lasting with classic styling.
  • Concrete bricks – Made from concrete. Lower cost than clay and often larger in size.


  • Poured concrete – Wet concrete poured and cured on-site. Very durable but requires forms.
  • Paver stones – Prefabricated concrete units of various shapes. Install interlocked.
  • Slabs/pavers – Flat squares and rectangles cast from concrete. Available in multitudes of sizes, colors and finishes.


  • Ceramic – Made from clay that is fired at high temperatures. Available glazed or unglazed. Withstands weather extremes.
  • Porcelain – Dense, impervious ceramic tile that resists moisture, stains, and freezing.
  • Mosaic – Small format tiles in all types of materials, combined to form mosaic patterns.


  • Teak – Prized for its natural oil content. Ages to silvery gray. Does not warp or crack.
  • Cedar – Its natural oils help resist decay. Gradual weathering adds charm.
  • Ipe – An extremely dense and durable tropical hardwood. Requires no sealants.
  • Composite – Manufactured wood product combining wood fibers and recycled plastic. Low maintenance.

Gravel and Aggregates

  • Pea gravel – Small, smooth stones. Makes a crunchy walking surface.
  • Crushed stone – Irregular chunks and pieces of quarried rock. Hard wearing and informal.
  • Decomposed granite – Crushed granite fines compact well for pathways. Retains a natural look.
  • Pebbles/cobbles – Rounded river rock. Available in an array of sizes and colors.

Paver Base Materials

  • Compact gravel – Angular gravel compacted to form a solid base under pavers.
  • Crushed stone – Different grades of quarried rock fragments used for drainage and structural bases.
  • Sand – Different types of sand used for bedding and joints between pavers.

Hardscaping Design Tips

When planning hardscape features, keep these design guidelines in mind:

  • Fit the style to the home’s architecture and surroundings. Avoid clashing looks.
  • Select materials suited to the climate. Ensure they can withstand freeze-thaw cycles, intense sun, oceanfront conditions, etc.
  • Use color and texture thoughtfully. Contrast or complement other hardscape and softscape elements.
  • Vary paver orientations, patterns, sizes and shapes to add visual interest to patios and walkways.
  • Combine materials for contrast. For example, a gravel path winding through brick patio borders.
  • Keep functional routes wide enough for easy access and flow. Minimum of four feet for main paths.
  • Allow space between pavers and structures for roots and drainage. Avoid compacting root zones.
  • Include lighting to illuminate steps, paths, pools, etc. for safety and ambiance after dusk.
  • Meet local building codes for setbacks, permits, maximum heights and engineers’ approval if needed.
  • Have underground utilities professionally marked before digging to avoid damage.
  • Add finishes like grout, sealers, and gravel joint fillers to enhance durability and aesthetic appeal.

Budgeting for a Hardscape Project

The cost of hardscaping varies widely based on the materials used, project size and complexity. Here are some guidelines for budgeting:

  • Get bids from multiple hardscape contractors, and review examples of their work.
  • Expect to pay $25-$100 per square foot for installed pavers, depending on the paver quality, pattern complexity and base preparation required.
  • Stone veneer siding costs approximately $20-$70 per square foot. Natural quarried stone runs $60-$200 per square foot.
  • Concrete work like poured slabs, stamped patios, and retaining walls can range from $5-$20 per square foot.
  • Decomposed granite, gravel, mulch and other loose materials cost $2-$8 per square foot as ground covers.
  • Tiling a patio or walkway runs $10-$25 per square foot depending on the tile type and installation factors. Mosaic tiles add expense.
  • Having the site professionally graded before hardscaping gets underway costs around $1,500-$5,000 depending on extent of work needed.
  • Large projects often require engineered designs, permits, and specialized equipment for excavation, grading, and installation. This can significantly increase costs for labor and project management.
  • Ongoing maintenance of sealing, power washing, replacing broken pavers, and removing stains also needs to be budgeted annually.

Hardscape Maintenance Tips

While hardscape elements are meant to be durable, they still require periodic maintenance to maximize longevity and keep them looking pristine:

Inspect for Damage

  • Check for cracked or broken pavers, shifted retaining walls, eroded joints between stones, wood splintering, etc.
  • Catch minor damage early and make repairs before it spreads.

Clean Surfaces

  • Sweep away debris like leaves, dirt and mud. Use a hose, mop or power washer to remove grime.
  • Clean oil and grease stains with degreaser. Use a laundry stain remover on organic stains.

Seal and Protect

  • Re-apply sealants and waterproof finishes per manufacturer directions every 1-2 years.
  • Wood surfaces benefit from weatherproof stains. Stone and grout need protective sealers.

Fill Joints

  • Replenish joint sand between pavers after cleaning. Tamp down for firmness.
  • Use polymeric sand that resists weed growth, insects and erosion.

Check Drainage

  • Ensure drainage gaps, trenches, drains and sump pumps keep working to prevent pooling water.

Tend Ground Covers

  • Replenish gravel, pebbles and mulch in beds to maintain coverage and suppress weeds.

Prune Nearby Greenery

  • Keep plantings and grass from encroaching onto hardscape areas.
  • Trim overhanging branches to prevent debris buildup and stains.

Remove Snow and Ice

  • Promptly shovel, scrape or melt snow and ice accumulation to reduce slip hazards and prevent salt damage.

Level and Realign

  • Fix subtle sinking, shifting or tilting in patios, walkways and walls that may worsen over time.

Working with Landscape Contractors

Quality installation is key to creating durable and attractive hardscapes. Homeowners often hire professional landscaping contractors to handle major hardscaping jobs:

  • Get referrals from neighbors, friends and social media groups for reputable contractors.
  • Check credentials like licensing, insurance, and association membership. Request contact info for past client references.
  • Get a detailed written proposal outlining the scope of work, timeline, materials, costs and warranty.
  • Ask how many hardscape projects the contractor completes in a typical year and check their online portfolio. More experience brings better results.
  • Inquire about their subcontractors. Some firms have in-house masons, carpenters and lighting experts while others outsourced those skilled trades.
  • Compare bids and prices from competitors. Ask questions if quotes differ greatly for similar work.
  • Read all contracts thoroughly and don’t make large down payments upfront. Stagger payments tied to project milestones.
  • See if permits are needed and who will be responsible – you or the contractor.
  • Verify who will call to have underground utilities marked before excavation begins.

Hiring professional hardscape installers ensures proper site preparation, compliant materials, and techniques refined across many past projects. Their experience translates into hardscape elements built to endure.

Hardscaping Adds Value

Hardscape projects require significant upfront investment. But the financial return comes in added property value, expanded living space, and years of everyday enjoyment.

Curb appeal matters, and a beautifully designed, tidy landscape can boost a home’s resale price. Hardscape features also make outdoor spaces more usable and enticing for buyers.

By expanding living areas, patios, kitchens and dining spaces into the backyard, homeowners gain functional square footage to enjoy with family and friends.

And well-built hardscapes simply endure. With sound materials and regular maintenance, they provide pleasure through changing seasons and shifting homeowner needs.

The inorganic backbone of rocks, pavers, walls and surfaces brings any landscape to life. Blending natural inspiration with human craft, hardscaping creates outdoor sanctuaries to savor for decades on end.


What are some basic hardscape materials for beginners?

Some beginner-friendly hardscape materials include:

  • Pea gravel – An affordable and forgiving paver base and pathway material. Easy to work with.
  • Concrete pavers – Available in simple shapes and colors. Easy interlocking installation.
  • Wood decking – A classic material for elevated patios. No masonry skills needed.
  • Prefab garden borders – molded plastic or metal edging strips to rim planting beds. Just stake in place.
  • Crushed gravel – A budget-friendly and low-maintenance alternative to poured concrete slabs.
  • Mulch – Natural wood chips spread as a walkway cover or decorative ground cover. Super simple.

How do I design a hardscape layout?

Start by observing how your yard is used and mapping traffic patterns. Sketch ideas, considering functional zones like dining spaces, play areas, and gardening beds. Mark existing trees and utilities. Calculate square footage needs. Choose surfaces for both form and function. Decide on a layout that complements your home’s architecture. Scale drawings help visualize plans.

Can I install a paver patio myself?

With proper planning and preparation, installing a basic paver patio is doable as a DIY project. Be sure to:

  • Create a compacted, graded base of gravel and sand. It must be perfectly level.
  • Use a screed to evenly spread and smooth the sand base.
  • Follow paver patterns exactly, using spacers to set tight joints.
  • Tamp pavers firmly into sand. Check for evenness with a level.
  • Fill joints completely with sand, tamp again, and water to settle.

Consider hiring a pro if the patio is large, elaborate or needs retaining walls. They have the right tools and skills.

How much maintenance do hardscapes need?

Most hardscapes are quite durable, but still need periodic maintenance. Plan to:

  • Sweep or hose surfaces clear of debris a few times per year
  • Replenish joint materials like sand between pavers annually
  • Reapply protective sealants every 1-2 years
  • Inspect for damage like cracks and make minor repairs
  • Clean stains promptly before they set
  • Rejuvenate weathered wood with stains/sealants
  • Trim back encroaching plants a couple times per year

What is the difference between pavers and poured concrete?

Pavers are precast concrete blocks installed piece-by-piece atop a sand or gravel base. Poured concrete involves wet concrete delivered onsite and cured into slabs.

Pavers pros: wide variety of colors/textures, can replace just damaged units. Cons: prone to weed growth between.

Poured concrete pros: seamless, smooth surface. Cons: cracks over time, no color/pattern options.

Pavers suit patios. Concrete works for driveways, garage slabs, and edging.

Are there environmentally friendly options for hardscaping?

Yes, green options include:

  • Recycled plastic or glass composite lumber for terraces
  • Reclaimed bricks and pavers from other projects
  • Recycled rubber mulch and other crumb rubber products
  • Permeable paving that allows water to soak through into soil
  • Drought-tolerant crushed gravel and pebbles as ground cover
  • Locally sourced stone and plants to