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Should You Use Flagstone or Pavers in Your Backyard Patio Design?

Reading Time: 6 minutes

The Best Materials for Your Backyard Patio Design

Flagstone patio or paver patio? Although there are other materials that may be used in a backyard patio design, such as brick and cobblestone, we’re going to focus on the two most popular ones: flagstone (natural stone) and pavers (a manufactured concrete product).

flagstone entry patio with bluestone borderFlagstone Patio Materials
Natural stone, commonly referred to as flagstone includes slate, travertine, limestone, sandstone, and bluestone. The flagstone used in backyard patio designs is quarried in different regions of the nation. Each type of stone has distinctive qualities, texture, and color.

Stone arrives from the quarry rough cut into rectangular and square shapes of varying size. It also comes in random irregular shapes and large slabs.

The uneven size and shape of stone gives craftsmen the option to “go with the flow” and work creatively with the stones as they are, allowing them to determine the spacing and size of joints between. If the patio design specifies a more “tailored” look, craftsmen can lay out all the pieces, and fine cut them to fit the pattern and achieve evenly sized joints between stones.

paver backyard patio design with ornate inlay and border
This ornate backyard patio design includes textured and tumbled pavers that mimic natural flagstone and cobblestone. PHOTO: Techo Bloc

Concrete Paver Patio Materials
Manufactured concrete patio pavers also come in random pattern sets of varying sizes as well as slab sizes. The point of difference is that they arrive from the factory precisely cut, so the need for cutting pieces on site is minimal. Materials are required to meet set standards of strength and consistent dimensions to suit different applications such as driveway, patio or walkway surfacing.

If you prefer a look that is organic and free form, stone is the way to go. If you are looking for an “out-of-the-box” uniformity of character in your backyard patio design, manufactured pavers are perfect for achieving that look.

Designing Patios with Flagstone and Pavers

flagstone backyard patio design with custom curving edges and mortared joints
Note the curving line where the lawn meets this patio of irregular shaped flagstone with mortared joints. This effect is unique to natural stone.

Stone offers a creative opportunity for talented designers and craftsmen to make a one of a kind patio for your yard. Pavers offer a wide range of colors and styles in pre-set laying patterns.

The Versatility of Flagstone
The flagstone we use for backyard patio design can be set in concrete with mortared joints, or laid on a compacted gravel base. If the design calls for large slabs of irregular flagstone, we always set them on a gravel base. We fill the joints with pea gravel or plant a low growing ground cover that fills in the spaces and creates a green joint. It softens the edges of the stone.

slab stone backyard patio with green joints
This patio features large stone slabs with “green joints” filled out with low growing ground cover plants.

The Efficiency & Consistency of Pavers
The design capabilities of paver patio systems have become more sophisticated today due to technology.

paver driveway with ornate inlay and border design
This paver driveway features an ornate patterned inlay and contrasting border. PHOTO: Techo Bloc

Companies like Techo Bloc offer pavers made with limestone or granite aggregate. The aggregates introduce subtle variations in color and texture that mimic natural stone. There are three piece and four-piece type products that facilitate patterning. They also offer material in 2×3 foot sizes that approximate the effect of large stone slabs.

Jeff Taphouse of Techo Bloc says that paver patio design has benefitted from the boom in outdoor living and pool construction over the past fifteen years. Concrete pavers don’t get as hot under foot as some types of flagstone, making them a desirable surface for a pool deck on a summer afternoon.

paver pool deck design with slab sized square pavers
This paver pool deck feature extra large “slab” sized squares. PHOTO: Techo Bloc

Patio Construction Requirements: Paver vs. Flagstone

The preparation is similar for both paver and flagstone patios, but for two key differences: One is in the composition of the base layer. The other is skill level required for installation.

flagstone pool deck and raised patio with brick inlay
This pool deck and patio feature bluestone in varying colors.

Base layer. The base layer for a flagstone patio can be poured concrete and mortar to fix the stone surface to the slab, or like paver patios, it can sit on a compressed gravel base topped with a layer of sand.

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Pavers are set on top of the sand and secured with a specialty manufactured sand called polymeric sand that fills paver joints to keep out dirt and weeds. Polymeric sand contains silica. Unlike regular sand, polymeric won’t wash away over time because contact with water activates binding agents in the mixture that lock sand particles together and hold the pavers in place at the same time.

Labor. Because natural stone shapes are not consistently even, laying a flagstone patio is always a custom job that requires the artistry of skilled stonemasons to shape and fit the materials on site. Pavers are manufactured to meet exact specifications, so the need for cutting and shaping is minimal.

Comparing Patio Maintenance Requirements

driveway design with textured pavers and curb stones
Driveway with textured pavers and curb stones. PHOTO: Techo Bloc

Both types of patios will eventually require some routine maintenance. Assuming they were correctly installed in the first place, the need for maintenance should be minor.

Backyard patio designs constructed with pavers may experience some heave due to seasonal freezing and thawing, but that’s easy to fix. Your contractor will remove pavers from the affected area, level the base, reset the pavers, and sweep polymeric sand back into the joints to fix them in place.

Taphouse encourages installers to lay a woven geotextile mat before pouring the gravel base for their paver patio. Woven geotextile fabric provides the strength and soil separation needed to prevent settlement or rutting.patio design with mortarless flagstone

The mortarless flagstone patio shown above is set on a base of crushed stone and sand. The cleanly defined joints are filled with pea gravel.

The mortared joints on a flagstone patio can deteriorate over time and crack. This is more labor intensive to fix. Your contractor will have to use a grinder saw to clean out the joints and replace the mortar. Fortunately, it takes up to ten years before mortar will start to deteriorate even a little bit. It’s routine maintenance but happens infrequently.

 

This walkway features irregular sized flagstone slabs with green joints
Walkway of irregular flagstone slabs and ground cover planted between the joints.

Although we favor natural stone, especially for patios, pavers are often an efficient and attractive solution for driveways and pool decks. We often use natural stone and manufactured pavers in the same landscape design project. We may do a walkway in one material and the patio in another. For example, on a secondary walkway that goes from the patio around to the front of the house, we’d more likely use the manufactured product to save money in one area to spend in another.

Each type of material has advantages. Your landscape architect can help you make the best choices for your backyard patio design and other hardscaping features.

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