DIY: How to Landscape Outdoor Steps & Stairs


Steps and stairs can create a dramatic gateway, a gentle transition or a secluded nook in your landscape. Different functions, heights and soil conditions at variance from the rest of the yard or property sometimes make landscaping steps and stairs a neglected challenge. The key to successful landscaping around steps and stairs is making choices that extend beyond a few mundane shrubs or an inconspicuous low-growing tree. Use color and lighting to work to incorporate your stairs and steps into the total environment for an eye-pleasing landscape.

Step 1

Clear the area around the steps or stairs of all weeds, flowers and shrubs you will not keep in that space. Transplant the salvaged plants immediately and give them a good watering in their new homes. Till and rake the remaining soil smooth. Remove all residual mulch.

Step 2

Add fresh garden soil infused with several shovels full of compost to the area around your steps and stairs. Work the mixture into the area to be landscaped.

Step 3

Water the soil lightly and assess drainage function. Allow the water to seep completely into the ground. Wait at least an hour before you begin working the soil.

Step 4

Choose low-spreading plants and shrubs to landscape shallow stairs and steps. Underplant the shrubs with shade-loving ground cover, such as periwinkle (Vinca minor) or pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis).

Step 5

Interplant shallow garden steps with a fragrant earth-hugging ground cover, such as lemon thyme or sweet woodruff, that give off scent when dried or crushed underfoot. This allows visitors to enjoy a whiff of gentle fragrance as they step through your landscape.

Step 6

Allow at least 6 inches between the steps and the lawn to incorporate a row of solar lights into your landscape. Mound fragrant cedar or rosewood mulch about 2 inches high around the bases of the lights as accent.

Step 7

Add landscape boulders around stairs on short, steep slopes to help prevent erosion. Use a garden spade to create shallow bowls into which you'll nestle the rocks. Plant ground cover interplanted with spring bulbs around the boulders for year-round interest.

Step 8

Install an inanimate garden feature, such as a stone statue, pedestal-mounted birdhouse or sculpture, for tall stairs that climb to 2 stories. Mulch the area well. This will help you avoid the dangers of annual pruning of shrubs and trees from a high perch.

Step 9

Water your new landscape well. Monitor the progress of new plantings or immature trees and shrubs for the first year to assess how they are adapting to their new environment. Replace any plants that appear to be struggling.

Tips and Warnings

  • Avoid installing plants or garden features that might invite wildlife you don't want near steep steps or stairs. Bees can be a dangerous distraction on a steep slope.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel
  • Rake
  • Fresh garden soil
  • Compost
  • Garden hose
  • Landscape rocks
  • Spade
  • Solar path lights
  • Concrete garden feature or sculpture
  • Ground covers


  • Northscaping: Do-It-Yourself Landscaping Guide
  • The Landscape Design Site: Garden Step Ideas
  • Landscape Design Advice: Landscape Steps
Keywords: landscaping steps, planting around stairs, landscape stairs

About this Author

Kate Sheridan is a freelance writer, researcher, blogger, reporter and photographer whose work has appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines and trade publications for 35 years. She attended Oakland University and The University of Michigan, beginning her journalism career as an intern at the "Rochester Eccentric." She's received honors from the Michigan Press Association, American Marketing Association and the State of Michigan Department of Commerce.

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