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How to Build Brick Garden Stairs

Updated February 21, 2017

Whether your garden style is classical or casual, a set of garden steps in a slope makes trips up and down easier and can add a strong design element to your landscape; brick garden steps also provide texture and substance. According to "Better Homes and Gardens Step-by-Step Landscaping," materials that contrast with the path at the top and bottom of the steps help set them off, so your path does not need to be brick to build a set of brick garden stairs.

Measure the slope your steps need to cover by measuring straight out horizontally from the top of the slope to the point where the ground is flat again, to get the length you need to cover, then straight down from that point to get the height.

Calculate the number and size of your steps based on the measurements of the brick and the slope. Figure the height of your risers and the length and depth of your treads based on the size of the bricks, to avoid making cuts. Measure the length, width and depth of the brick. Most paving bricks are 4 inches wide, 8 inches long and 1 1/2 inches deep.

If your slope is 5 feet long by 2 feet high (60 and 24 inches), you will need four treads two courses deep of brick laid end-to-end with 6-inch-high risers. Add the 4-inch width of the brick to the 1 1/2-inch depth of the brick, plus a 1/2-inch joint to get the 6-inch riser height.

Dig out your foundation with a shovel in the same configuration as you calculated for your steps. Dig at least 2 inches deeper than the soil surface for the bottom step.

Construct concrete forms for your steps using 2-by-6-inch lumber for the bottom (as it will sit 2 inches into the ground) step and 2-by-4 lumber for the upper steps. Build simple U-shapes--boxes open across the back--that are fastened with screws from the front for easy removal. Add gravel to the bottom of each form with metal reinforcing mesh across the tread and rebar horizontally across the back of each step, according to "Step-by-Step Landscaping." Put additional short lengths of rebar into the ground inside the form for the bottom step.

Mix the appropriate amount of concrete according to bag instructions and shovel or pour it into the forms. Lift the mesh so it is centred in the wet concrete. Smooth the surface with a concrete trowel and let cure for about a week.

Remove the forms and spread a 1/2-inch layer of concrete over the riser and the tread of the lower step with the trowel. Press the bricks into place lengthwise on the tread, beginning back up against the riser. Use a 1/2-inch spacer between bricks. Check the bricks with a level as you go, adjusting the concrete as necessary.

Apply the bricks to the riser by placing them on edge so one face is flat against the vertical riser at the back of the tread. Run the bricks along the riser, leaving 1/2-inch gaps between each brick.

Spread concrete on the next step's tread and riser. Lay out the first brick beginning at the front edge of the step. The edge of the brick should be flush with the front edge of the riser brick on the step below. Lay out all bricks on this step--and remaining steps--as previously, checking with a level and making adjustments as you go. Let dry for several days.

Pack grout into the spaces between all the bricks with a joint strike. Once a joint is filled with grout, pulling the joint strike or rounded pipe back along the grout line will leave an attractive, concave finish. Clean any excess grout from the bricks with water and a sponge before the grout dries.

Things You'll Need

  • Wooden stakes
  • String
  • Level
  • Measuring tape
  • Shovel
  • 2-by-6 and 2-by-4 lumber
  • Wood screws
  • Concrete
  • Rebar
  • Gravel
  • Reinforcing mesh
  • Paving bricks
  • Grout
  • Cement trowel
  • Joint strike
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About the Author

Patricia Hamilton Reed has written professionally since 1987. Reed was editor of the "Grand Ledge Independent" weekly newspaper and a Capitol Hill reporter for the national newsletter "Corporate & Foundation Grants Alert." She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Michigan State University, is an avid gardener and volunteers at her local botanical garden.