Landscaping stairs are often necessary when the ground elevation changes are too steep for a simple ramp. Ramps can become slippery when moist and if they are too steep can cause leg fatigue rather quickly.
Stairs can be constructed of many different materials and we will discuss a few in this article. If the change in height is perhaps only two feet or so, the use of landscape paver stones works very well. Many of these stones are four inches thick and range from eight to eighteen inches long and eight inches deep.
Start by flattening the ground at lowest part of the steps. Lay your first course of stones flush with the adjoining grade and back fill them to the top of the stones. This will not only be the base of the new steps but will help anchor the courses of stones above.
The next set of stones will sit to the back of the lower set and just rest slightly on the stones below it. Make sure the soil or stone you are using to back fill your stepping stones is tightly packed so it cannot sink later on and allow the steps to tip.
Now back fill the second row of stones. Install your third set of stones and so on until you reach the height of the next level in your garden area. You must make sure that the stones are tightly back filled on all sides. Plant some ground cover plants that are perennial in nature and their root system will also help to hold the stones securely.
With eight inch deep or wide stones your treads will be about seven and one half inches wide when finished. Although much narrower than a house stair, they can easily be managed. Laying two rows of stones side by side can increase the tread width and depth to fourteen inches +- making them even more comfortable to climb.
Another fairly easy landscape stair can be constructed out of six inch by six inch landscape PT timbers. You will need a good chainsaw, a half inch drill, a sledge hammer a level, shovel and a tape measure.
Again starting at the lowest level or first step, excavate the ground to accept a buried piece of the landscape timber. If there is to be more than two or three step this is necessary to hold a long stair in place. You will bury a front and two side pieces alongside to provide a foundation of sorts for the steps.
If your stairs are to be three feet wide, when the timbers are buried, it will measure four feet across. ( three feet for the front piece plus six inches for each side piece). Your side pieces should project back from the front of the stair at least two feet. Back fill these timbers and tamp the material in place.
Now cut a piece of timber the full width of the stairs or four feet long. Place the four foot piece on top of the buried timbers. Drill a hole into each of the side timbers and one in the center of the four foot piece to accept the sixty penny galvanized spikes.
Using your sledge, drive a spike in each hole thereby tying the lower timbers together. Install a short piece of timber on top of the two side pieces making it one level piece. Back fill this assembly and your first step is done.
Now cut another four foot piece of timber and after measuring back at least twelve inches for another step or tread. Place this timber across the step below that you just finished in the same fashion and nail it in place.
Back fill each step and the add your more steps until you reach the height you desire. A nice touch is to leave the soil down inside about two inches, install some landscape fabric and finish each step with colored pea gravel.
If you have a great change in elevation, a regular pair of wood stairs may be in order. My home set has a change in elevation of about twenty feet. I constructed a short set of three steps with a small three foot by six foot landing, a longer set of fourteen treads, another larger landing six feet by eight feet with a wood sitting bench and a last set of risers of fourteen more treads.
Installing simple handrails and posts makes climbing easier and the sitting bench for two people side by side, complete with cup holders routed into the seat arm rests, makes a great place to sit on hot summer days in the shade and enjoy the piece and quiet of the garden areas.
All materials for garden wood stairs should be made of pressure treated lumber or other rot resistant material.