Front Yard Landscape Project - Zone 2

12 Materials
4 Days

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the beginning of revamping our front yard - Zone 1 - increasing the Hosta and flower beds. That project had me considering options for the large tree in the front yard that sits on a slope. We've been in the house for 19 years and I guess I had forgotten that the yard was not always this sloped until I was looking at old pictures.

Tree on the slope

As you can see above, the yard is not level. The neighbor behind that picket fence raised their lawn by adding a retaining wall. I asked them about the process one day but was disappointed to hear that it was done when they built the house (before we moved in) when they had heavy equipment on hand. Ugh! I knew we could do it, but was pretty sure I'd need to hire help so I started looking around for other options, some I could do myself. I saw some ideas on Pinterest where I could just add a small, 1/2 moon shaped retaining wall close to the tree. That could work! I headed to one of the landscape supply stores to see what I needed. The gal helping me said it was totally doable and showed me their retaining wall bricks. She said that all I would need to do was to lay the first row about 3" below the grass level ON TOP OF a 3" - 4" base of fine gravel mixed with water! Huh?! What?! I can barely dig an inch in this soil because of all the rock we have AND the roots on this tree are SO close to the surface, that I knew this was not a viable option. DRAT!

Another angle of the slope

In the picture above, you can get a better view of the slope of the hill around the is a bit steep, especially when mowing. We have a self propelled lawmower and even with the help of that feature, I find it difficult to mow around this tree.


Here is the tree when we bought our house.

Gradual slope

In this picture, you can see, there was just a very gradual slope to the yard at that time. As the tree has grown, the slope of the yard has increased.

Deciding on size of sod removal

So, I headed back to the drawing board (i.e. Pinterest) for other options. I found many .... pulling up sod and leaving the area bare, pulling up sod and adding plants (too rooty for that), pulling up sod and adding rock (oooh!) I decided to pull up the sod and lay flagstone then edge it with some brick. Now that I had a new plan, the first step would be to determine just how much sod I would remove. If I went to the bottom of the hill, it would be just a foot or so from the sidewalk which would remove too much lawn, so I thought I would start with a radius of 3' and see how that looked.

Removing the sod

After deciding the radius, to begin the process of removing the sod around the tree, I grabbed my a garden shovel and started cutting through the sod to the soil, making that cut about 2" deep. Once that was done, I used the shovel to cut the sod into smaller sections; doing so creates pieces that are easy to remove and use in a new location. To remove the sod, I used a garden knee pad, got down on my knees and used a small garden rake to pry the sod from the ground. As each piece was loose, I placed it in my garden wagon and when the wagon was full, I took it to where I was storing the sod until the project was finished.

Removed sod from Zone 1 & this project

Storing the sod until we can take it to a friend's property for her to use

Sod removed

After removing the sod, we decided this 3' radius was adequate (although I've mowed since completing this project and now I think it could have been a bit bigger).


I found some flagstone that I liked at one of the local landscape places, it had grey tones that would look great with the color of the house and the bullet bricks I used to edge the front flower beds. The yard guy was very helpful in choosing the sizes of the stone pieces and amount needed based on how I described the space. The price was $0.17 per lb and the pieces we picked out added up to 240 lbs. He loaded them into my Rav4 and I headed home.

Laying the flagstone

When I got home, I used my garden wagon (love that wagon!) and load, by load, brought the flagstone from the car in the garage to the flower bed by the tree. The next step was to add some soil around the tree where the sod had been removed and then some sand to level the area before laying the stone in place. It didn't take too long to arrange the stones so they looked right, it is like piecing together a puzzle :) Unfortunately, I ran out of flagstone; guess 240 lbs was not quite enough. I had bought enough to do about 2/3 of the project so I headed back to the landscape place the next day, buying an additional 129 lbs worth of stone. I used the bullet bricks I had on hand to line the perimeter while I was laying the stone but knew I would be using a different style brick to edge the area once I had the time to go get them.

Adding edging and small rock

After adding the additional flagstone, I bought some cobblestone pavers to line the perimeter. I have used these before to create a patio under a garden bench in the back yard. They come in a pair, one large brick and one small brick and sell for $1.15 a pair. I bought 20 pair and ended up with an extra 3 bricks. To fill the spaces between the flagstone, I bought two Home Depot sized buckets small rocks. They sell for $5 per bucket. It's more economical to buy the rock by the load, but I didn't need that much. You'll see that I didn't add landscape cloth under the stones, I am hoping the grass and/or weeds don't come up too badly. I have been using a mixture of vinegar, Dawn dishwashing soap, and Epsom salts to help prevent weed growth in other areas of the garden beds and figured I could spray that on any weed growth. Fingers crossed!

We are SO thrilled with the look of this landscaping around the tree! All the neighbors have commented on how nice it looks and how much they like it too! After the installation of the flagstone was done & we were watering the lawn next to it, we noticed how much the color of the stone popped when it was wet. I wondered if I could buy something that would create that look so I did a little research. I found an exterior lacquer that had great reviews and ordered it - even though it was $69 a gallon! After ordering it, I was back at the flagstone place buying even more stone for what would eventually be called Zone 3 of this project and asked the salesman, Mike, what he thought about using lacquer on flagstone. He said it would work but it could yellow. Hmmm, I didn't want that. He said they use a water-based sealer that came in mat, shiny, or high gloss and would last about 2 years in a low/no traffic area. The price was $45. Water-based and over $20 less?! SOLD! I grabbed a gallon and returned the lacquer.

Sealer added

I bought an inexpensive garden sprayer for $7 to apply the sealer which made the process quick and easy. Mike had said two coats would give it a nice glossy finish so that's what I applied. I waited about an hour and 1/2 between coats, making sure the 1st coat was no longer tacky before adding the 2nd one. He also said that if the stone wasn't completely dry, the sealer would have a milky finish. We stopped watering for a few days before I planned to apply the sealer to make sure the stone was nice and dry. As I was applying the sealer, I noticed some areas where it pooled up and looked a bit white so I used a small foam brush and roller to sop up any extra sealer. The total cost of landscaping around the tree was approximately $125. We LOVE the result!

****The flagstone looks good after a year of wear and tear! I do wish I had added a weed blocker, such as newspaper, because I have small blades of grass growing up between the little rocks. It's not a lot, though****

  • Measure the size of the area where you are removing sod
  • Mark with a string line or garden hose
  • Using a garden shovel, cut through the soil along the line for the new area
  • Pull up the sod and set aside

  • You can use the shovel to loosen the sod or a small garden rake
  • Add soil & sand to create a level area for the Flagstone
  • Arrange Flagstone
  • Fill in spaces with small rock
  • Use edging bricks to line the new area
  • Apply 2 coats of sealer following Manufacturer instructions

For more progress pictures, head on over to my blog....

Information from a local arborist

I want to thank everyone who provided feedback on this project. Many were concerned with the health of the tree with the rock being close to the trunk. I contacted a local arborist who works for a tree company who has been in business for many years. Here is his reply to my question of whether or not I should remove the rock.

"While it looks very nice, trees love rich soil and mulch around them. Rock is hot and has no beneficial value to a tree and its roots. It would have been better for the tree to be put into a mulched bed of bark or wood chips. That said, it is better than asphalt or concrete. The gravel will allow water and nutrients through and the flagstone will move and adjust to root and trunk growth. You need to water that tree well however so avoid surface root. Don't just allow sprinklers to be its source of water. Additionally flood the drip line once every 7-10 days during June, July and August, using a simple and cheap shower head sprinkler off the end of a hose."

We have always watered the area around the tree ALOT, so I am comfortable with the amount of water the tree has received. The coating I put on the flagstone is still good but since I have pulled blades of grass from the small rock, which has moved them around some, they are no longer 'fused' so water easily gets between them to water the roots closest to the trunk.

However, after the comments from the community here and his reply, I am considering removing the stones closest to the trunk, replacing them with mulch. Also, I think I'll remove some (or all) of the little stones and plant ground cover.


As mentioned above, after the feedback from this Community and the local Arborist, I was considering removing some of the stones and adding mulch and plants closest to the tree trunk. Well, that's what I've done. I removed 4 large flagstones (and used them in the backyard in a new patio) & the small rocks surrounding them. I then added just enough soil & mulch to plant some groundcover. I've not planted groundcover before so I may have too many plants for this area. As the plants grow, I'll remove the little rocks so they can fill in around the rest of the flagstone. I may even remove more flagstone as the plants spread.....

Resources for this project:

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  • P P on Jun 05, 2021

    As little as THREE additional inches of sod/mulch/dirt on top roots of an established oak tree is enough to kill it! it may take 5 or 6 years for the tree's death to be apparent but by then it can't be saved! adding flowerbeds, much less pavers on top of a trees roots is foolhardy!

  • Carol Harris Carol Harris on Jun 07, 2021

    looks so pretty, I love it.