Mark the outer edges of the patio with spray paint. Use square shovels to knock down high spots in the soil and remove debris. For a patio that sits flush with the yard, excavate one to two inches of soil to accommodate the height of the stones. A rented sod cutter or rototiller can be handy for large, shallow excavations. Be sure to wear safety glasses and ear protection if working with a rototiller or sod cutter.
A natural stone patio like this one works like a big puzzle; the final patio should look like one giant piece of stone that cracked apart in the yard. Lay out the individual stones, adjusting for the best fit and keeping the gaps between stones consistent. For this project, the crew used large stones spaced about two inches apart. Make sure to have plenty of help on hand when moving and placing the flagstones. Use patio-grade flagstone — it's better able to stand up to heavy furniture and foot traffic. Place the largest stones in areas where furniture will sit and those that will experience the heaviest foot traffic.
If a stone has a sharp edge that could be a hazard to bare feet, knock the edge off with the back of a hammer and smooth it out by hitting with the front of the hammer. To reduce larger pieces, score the stone along the desired cut line. Line up a chisel on the score mark and tap with a hammer. Move the chisel about half a chisel-length down the scored mark and tap again. Repeat the process, working down the scored mark until the piece breaks off. Even up and smooth out the broken edges with a hammer. Always wear safety glasses when cutting or breaking stone.
The flagstones sit on top of a sand base. Set the stones one at a time, lifting the stone and pouring enough sand underneath to cushion the entire stone. Replace the stone, wiggling it around to push sand into every crevice. Use a rubber mallet to pound stones in place.
Check the stones for level. Also test each piece by stepping on all parts of the stones to make sure they don't tip. If a stone isn't stable, lift it and add sand as needed. Small pieces that have chipped off of stones can be wedged underneath as well.
Ahmed picked shredded redwood mulch to fill the spaces between the stones, blending in with the natural mulch from the yard's plentiful fallen leaves. To apply, dip a handful of the fluffy mulch into a bucket of water and push it between the stones. Ahmed also planted clusters of drought-tolerant ground cover throughout the patio for color.