Nothing adds a touch of charm to a garden like beautiful stepping stones. Unfortunately, the ones available in garden centers and home improvement stores are boring, not very attractive, and worst of all, exactly like what everyone else has.
No self-respecting DIYer wants her home to be a cookie-cutter model of everyone else’s, so try making your own stepping stones so you can get exactly what you want at a price much lower than those awful formed concrete ones. The bonus is that you get to have a little fun and get as creative as you want to.
Decide on a Form
You’ll need a mold of some kind, and arts-and-crafts stores sell cheap plastic trays for just this purpose. The selection is somewhat limited to geometric shapes though, but don’t redo your plan if you don’t find what you’re looking for - just make your own.
For free-form shapes, just dig the mold into the ground itself. Mark the outline with paint or string, then dig a hole about an inch deep in that shape. It doesn't have to be perfect, but it helps if your soil is somewhat dense and compact - you’ll get better edges.
If the ground under the stepping stones is loose like sand or gravel, you’ll need a thicker stone to stay in place. Cut a piece of plywood to your desired shape, use 1x2s to wall off the edges to make a 2-inch-deep mold. Line it with heavy plastic for easy removal. This may need some tricky miter cuts, but the stability of the thicker stone is worth it.
Choose a Medium
You have a few options as far as the body of the stone. Smaller stones that are purely decorative can be made with tile grout, non-sanded provides a very smooth finish, and sanded provides a rougher finish. The upside is that grout is cheap and comes in a pretty wide selection of colors - the downside is that it is somewhat delicate.
A one-inch-thick stone would probably break under the weight of an adult unless it was set flush in very dense clay-like soil, but a 2-inch-deep stone wouldn't set properly and would be even more prone to breakage.
Concrete and cement are better alternatives. They don’t come in many colors (maybe one or two), but they take paint well. Cement is grittier than grout, but smoother than concrete - concrete has stones and pebbles mixed in for strength, but can make for an interesting look.
Pick Out Decorations
The decorating is the fun part. You can embed glass pebbles, tiles, beach glass - just take a look at the mosaic section of your arts-and-crafts store. Anything there will work as long as it is non-porous.
Broken mirror pieces look great. Another fun technique is to use plant matter to create fossil-like impressions. Choose leaves and flowers with strong stems, prominent veins and pronounced shapes for best results.
Make the Stone
Mix your chosen medium according to the package instructions - follow them carefully, because too much water will cause cracking but too little water will cause flaking. When the medium is ready, pour it into the mold.
Leave some extra room at the top of the mold, so the medium has somewhere to go when you start pressing in the decorations. The heavier/bulkier the decorations are, the more room you should leave.
Let the medium set for a bit - the length of time varies with the particular medium. It can’t be too liquid or the decorations will sink to the bottom. It can’t be too stiff or the decorations won’t stick. Try to put in a decoration every few minutes and see what happens. If it sinks, pull it out and try again. But if it’s too hard, you’ve lost your chance.
When the medium is ready, apply your decorations as desired and allow to dry (according to the medium package instructions). If you used the ground as a mold, cover with plastic if you’re expecting rain - it must not get wet during the setting process. Once everything is dry and set, just remove the stone from the mold, place and enjoy!