Reuse and repurpose plentiful broken concrete headed to the landfill by making an easy, inexpensive broken concrete patio! When used this way, broken concrete is referred to as urbanite and it's a great way to make a useful and nice looking addition to your landscape on the cheap.
Have you ever had to break up old concrete and been faced with a pile you had to dispose of? It's heavy and not easy to get into a truck to take to the landfill, but are there other options?
Yes! I've used broken concrete a number of ways in our last house after we finished the garage into living space and broke up a cement driveway.
We made pathways, raised beds and used it for stepping stones.
When we had a lot of old cement paths and patio to remove to make way for our farmhouse's foundation, I knew I'd be able to use it in creating our garden.
And one of the first things that I wanted to make was a small broken concrete patio in the fenced vegetable garden that would take advantage of this view:
Didn't it turn out wonderfully?
And it's SO easy - really. There's a bit of grunt work involved, but you can work at your own pace. You only need basic equipment and 1-2 bags of a $10 mortar mix.
There's a whole movement in the gardening community to reuse broken concrete and they've even made a fancy-sounding word for it:
So when you're using it to create something new like a DIY broken concrete patio, you can call it an Urbanite Patio if you want.
Whatever you call it, I knew I'd want to make a tutorial for you because it's a great way to add beauty and function to your landscape really inexpensively!
Why make a tutorial?
When I did a search, I found only photos and rough outlines of broken concrete garden projects people made. Many of them mixed up the the mortar before and then trowled it on like tiles or brick, which is WAY more work.
I knew our method works - we had a pathway at our last house made like this that lasted many years - and it's much easier and faster.
How to Make a Broken Concrete Patio
- broken concrete pieces
- wheel barrow
- sledge hammer and small hammer (or other way to break smaller pieces off of larger ones - optional, but helpful)
- rake and shovel
- sand and/or gravel if installing on dirt
- mortar mix
- outdoor broom
- hose and spray wand with gentle spray
The most important supply is the mortar mix. This is a mix that doesn't have any rocks in it like cement mix does. You can see in the photo above that it should look like fine sand.
You can see below how we made that mistake - don't be like us!
1. Decide your shape and prep your area
You can make a square, rectangle, or circular patio - it's totally up to you.
You'll want to think about edging - what will come up to the patio? If it's grass, then you can leave the edges of the concrete for the grass to grow into and then you can mow over.
Maybe you want a defined edge? Try building a frame with treated wood, garden edging, or cement edging similar to this.
Our patio is inside our fence vegetable garden with paths of cardboard and wood chips. Gravel can also be pushed into the patio edges.
Prepare the Area
We started with an existing gravel bed and the patio wasn't going to get a lot of traffic, so we dug out the gravel just a bit for the whole area and then used a trowel to dig for individual pieces as needed.
If you are starting with grass, you will need to remove the grass and dig down far enough to add a layer of gravel and/or sand. The sand adds a layer that makes it easier to level if you need your patio to be really level.
There are many path-laying tutorials that say you need 3-4 inches of gravel and 2 inches or so of sand. Do that if you want, but for us that seems overkill for a project like this. You just need enough to be able to adjust your pieces since the bottoms of the concrete will be bumpy.
2. Lay out your broken concrete pieces
This is the fun part as you see it coming together. It's also the hard part with all the grunt work of loading the pieces in the wheelbarrow, unloading, and placing and moving around.
Feel free to take your time with this and think of it like a puzzle you're putting together. I laid ours out over the course of a couple weekends.
- You can start from the middle like I did, from a corner, or from a side - it's up to you.
- You'll want to keep your gaps as small as possible as you're moving and fitting, but leave space around each piece for the mortar mix.
- Use a sledgehammer to break larger pieces into smaller ones.
- Use a small hammer to break off edges or corners that are in the way of fitting to other pieces.
- Use a level on pieces from the center out if you'd like. If you need to think about drainage, you may want it to be higher at the center or slope from one side to another (for example away from a foundation or structure).
Here are a few tips for laying the edges if you're doing a freeform shape like our patio:
On the left above you can see how I found a small piece to fit into the open V left from two other larger pieces. This is optional on edges, you can just leave the V edge if you like the look.
I found it best to stand back and look at the patio from afar and decide if any areas that looked "off" to me. Then I'd search for small pieces to fit or use a sledge hammer to break small pieces off larger ones.
On right above, I wanted to show how I used some pieces of wood to fill an edge area to make it able to hold the mortar mix. Again, I could've left it to be more jaggedy - it's a personal choice.
3. Sweep dry mortar mix into crevices
Break open the package of mortar mix and spread it as evenly as possible over your patio. Then use a broom to sweep the mix into the crevices.
I love how quick and easy this part - and the next - is!
Now you get to learn from our mistake - the mix you see being swept in above is a concrete mix that contains small rocks. You do NOT want this. I knew I didn't want this, but Brian came back with it and swore the rocks would settle to the bottom after wetting.
Um, they didn't. You can see the rocks in the crevices in the photo below and that's where they stayed.
4. Spray With Water & Cure
Use a gentle shower from a hose wand to go over the whole area, wetting everything evenly.
You can sort of use the water to direct the mortar mix run-off into the crevices, but it's okay if there are some areas that settle or leave holes when curing - that's what the second coat is for if needed.
Once the mortar mix has been evenly wetted, leave the patio to cure for a good week or two. During this time, try not to walk on it much.
5. Layer second coat of mortar mix, if needed, and spray.
The picture above is our patio after the winter with the rocky cement fill. Many of the areas needed more mortar anyway, so I used a wire brush to remove as much of the exposed rocks in the crevices as possible to get ready for the correct mortar mix.
I also used the brush to remove some of the green mold that had accumulated. These concrete pieces already had some of this, so you may not need to clean it. A pressure washer would also work.
On the second layer, you can simply pour the mix only into the crevices instead of a general sweep, using more mix where it is needed and just skimming the tops of other areas. This creates less run-off.
Then repeat the water spray, making sure everything is thoroughly wet before leaving it to cure again.
And that's it! With just a few steps - and some muscles - you've got a useable patio for around $10-$20 depending on how much mortar mix you need. Plus, you've kept something out of the landfill!
Here are a couple more details from our finished patio I wanted to share:
Make a Memory Stone
When our mason finished our farmhouse foundation, he made us a number of garden stepping stones using leftover cement with either leaves or broken pottery he found under the house. It was really sweet.
I used one of them for the center of the patio since it was a round shape.
It's a fun memory and a great idea if you'd like to incorporate a memory or two into your patio. Maybe children's hands or pet's paws set in a concrete form?
There are two places on our patio that have edges that are cracking. I suppose one day they might come off.
I'm not too worried about it because it is a free form shape and may not be noticeable when gone. If I do care, I can redo the area with more mortar mix I think.
If this would bug you, you can build a wood form outline - which would mean your patio would need to be square or rectangle - and build your cement puzzle inside that. Then when you fill with the mortar, you'll fill to the wood edge. I'd probably keep the edge in place, but you might be able to remove it like a cement form.
So, are you going to do this? If you do make your own DIY broken concrete patio, we'd LOVE to see it! Upload and tag us @anoregoncottage on Instagram or Facebook.
Looking for other ways to use broken concrete in the garden?
Above are just a few ways I used broken concrete in our last garden, turning it into an urbanite walkway, stepping stone path, flower bed edging, and vegetable raised beds.
Think outside the box and you can make something pretty from other people's landfill!