How to lay a patio yourself – prepare the ground for pavers, using cement or not

How to lay a patio: DIY with our 10-step guide. How to prep the ground to install a patio on grass or not, using cement, or not...

How to lay a patio
(Image credit: Getty)

Learn how to lay a patio yourself to enjoy a great looking feature that suits the style of your yard perfectly. With our easy step-by-step method, you don’t need to call in the professionals to install a patio on a grassy or other area of your backyard space. And, in no time at all you'll have the perfect spot for wining, dining and relaxing in.

Laying a patio is a straightforward job for a keen DIYer, and is a task you could do over a weekend. The only catch is that you might need a friend to help you lift the pavers into place, whether you're working with big or small patio pavers. 

We’ve got all you need to know to install a patio in our guide, including how to prepare the ground and lay the sub-base. We’ll even let you into the secret of laying pavers without cement...

  • Find the best patio ideas in our edit for when it's time to decorate your space.

patio decorating

(Image credit: Getty)

How to lay a patio step-by-step

You will need:

Safety notice: As mentioned, some paving slabs are extremely heavy and you may need help lifting them. You'll also find the job easier if you wear knee pads.

1. Measure and mark up the area

To start installing your patio pavers, you’ll need to measure and mark out the area with tape to show where the patio will be and to dig out the soil there.

2. Prepare the ground for pavers

If the area is currently lawn or long grass, it’s worth cutting the turf into strips using a spade and then rolling it up. This way, you can save it to fill any gaps between the new patio and the lawn when you’re done. 

Dig out an area 150mm deep – that's 10cm for your sub base, and 5cm for your mortar and paving slabs. If your slabs are very thick, allow a little extra depth. If you are laying directly next to the house, the finished patio should be at least 150mm below the damp proof course. 

3. Prepare the underneath of paving slabs with a sub-base

You do need to put something under paving slabs. Paving slabs should not be laid directly on to soft ground or grass. What’s crucial to patio laying success is a sub-base to provide the support paving slabs require. 

You'll need a sub-base, which is the main load-bearing layer of your patio. The best sub-base for a patio is hardcore laid to the correct depth, along with a binding layer of sand. The pavers should then be laid on mortar made using sand and cement.

To do this, fill the bottom of your patio area with the sub-base and rake to an even depth of 50mm, then compact – you can do this by just walking over it (or you can hire a vibrating plate compactor), ensuring that you cover the entire area twice.

4. Check your base over

Cover with a thin layer of builder's sand. It's really important your base is completely flat and level at this point, so check that now. Note: You will need a layer of sand around 2 inches (50mm) deep above the layer of hardcore when you’re laying pavers.

5. Make up the mortar

Next, make your mortar by mixing five parts builder's sand with one part cement and adding enough water to create a dough-like consistency. It shouldn't be runny, but just soft enough to work with.

6. Prep your paving slabs

Dampen your paving slabs by spraying them with water from a spray bottle or lightly sprinkling them from a watering can. If you lay dry slabs, they'll dry out the mortar mix too quickly. 

7. Start paving

Using a trowel, place a dollop of mortar where the centre of your first slab will go. Always start in a corner and work outwards. Place the slab on top of the mortar and gently tap in with a mallet. Continue laying your slabs in rows, leaving 10mm gaps between them. For installing porcelain paving, it’s vital to use a slurry primer, which should be painted onto the entire base of the paver.

8. Level up as you go

As you go along, check that the paving slabs are level by placing a spirit level over them. It's much easier to correct any unevenness now.

9. Leave time to dry

Leave to dry for at least 24 hours and do not walk over the patio.

10. Finish the job

Once dry, finish your patio by filling in the gaps with more mortar. Mix more sand and cement in the 5:1 ratio, but do not wet, or it will stain your slabs. Fill in the gaps with the mixture using your trowel. Brush away any excess mixture from the surface of your patio.

  • Now you've done the hard work, make sure you keep your patio looking on point with the best patio cleaners.

Bradstone Old Town concrete Paving in Old Quarried

(Image credit: Bradstone)

Can you lay a patio without cement?

It is possible to lay a patio without cement as an alternative, provided you choose an area of the yard that’s well drained, firm and level. Scroll down to get the lowdown. You can lay a patio by putting the pavers on to sand rather than on to a mortar mix made using sand and cement. For a patio laid this way choose a well-drained area. 

Using a spade, dig out the chosen area to about 6 inches (150mm) and level it.

Lay road base/hardcore to a compacted depth of 2 inches (50mm), then repeat to create a 4 inch (100mm) sub base. On top, lay a 2 inch (50mm) layer of sharp sand. 

The patio slabs should then be laid, leaving a small gap between them. Fill the gaps with sand using a broom to sweep it into the spaces so they’re filled. Spray the patio with water, and let the sand settle. 

As spaces appear fill them with more sand as before, and do so again after a week or so.

How to lay a patio next to a building

If you're laying a patio next to your house, you will need to create what's known as a fall – meaning that your patio will need to be slightly sloping to allow water to drain away from your house and not collect by walls. 

This is done by inserting wooden pegs in a grid where you sub base will go, ensuring that the pegs go in between 12 and 16mm deeper for every metre away from the house. Pre-mark the pegs with a marker to make sure your measurements are correct. 

Then, at the sub base filling stage, make sure the aggregate just covers the tops of the pegs. 

How to lay paving slabs in a pattern

If not all of your slabs are the same size and/or shape, or you want an unusual pattern, always do a dry lay first – lay them out exactly how you want them on your lawn. Never lay an unusual paving pattern straight onto your base, as you're almost guaranteed to make a mistake.

All in a weekend's work 👏

Anna is a professional writer with many years of experience. She has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. She covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design.