The Best $13 We've Ever Spent-Outside Improvements pt1

It's just life. We got hit this year with needing a new air conditioner system for the house, a new A/C for the truck, the foundation under our addition had to be lifted, the pool liner needed to be replaced, the kids needed some help. Every year we choose a new home improvement project to tackle. This year, we decided we were going to blow up the back yard. But with finances being slaughtered, we were going to have to get creative...and dirty.

I had planned on showing y'all a few before and afters, but I saw I had 85 pictures and we weren't even half way done! So this is part one of-I don't know how many-outside improvement posts. Here we go...
Since we are getting a brand new pretty pool liner, the outside had to get done. Here's the list:

  1. Find a way to hide the big honkin' A/C that's right off the deck.
  2. Remove all rocks and pebbles and replace with cobblestone.
  3. Add a new deck addition.
  4. Take out all the ugly shrubs around the pool and replace with pretty plants, bulbs and grasses.
  5. Try a pallet garden this year, instead of fighting this Texas clay again.
  6. Plant bulbs all around.
  7. Remove 25 ft dead palm tree.
  8. Get new patio chair cushions and umbrella.
  9. Trim the outside of the guest bath block window.
  10. Anything else I can come up with along the way.
Do you know how much cobblestones cost?! When you factor in all of the sand, and equipment you have to rent as well, it's a whole bunch of moula...not to mention a ton of work. Doing some research, we found this at Lowes:

Hmm. Can it really be that easy? $13 and a few bags of $3 Quikrete later, we were back home, giving it a shot.

First, level the area you are about to do.

This area was FULL of cheap-looking stones and pebbles. A. Lot. Of. Pebbles. I threw them over to the side, around the A/C, and anywhere else I could hide them.

Next, mix your Quikrete and plop your mold down. You can add color at the mixing point (they have it with the molds) or you can wait and stain it after. We chose the latter.

Add your Quikrete to the mold, and squish it in real good. Scrape any excess off the top.

Immediately lift off the mold.


Set the mold right next to it, and do it again. The instructions have pictures of different ways you can go about matching it up. You can get 2 molds out of 1 1/2 bags of Quikrete.

Getting rid of that red trim stuff at this point.

Once we had the area filled, we put sand in to help it stay in place, and planted different succulents and moss for ground cover. We used Quikrete brand sand. You want to sweep this in place, and water it down with the hose. Over the next couple of days, you will sweep again, and you're done! It was so easy. The only hard part was lifting 80 lb bags of concrete. Over time, your area will settle into place, and the sand will become like mortar.

Now, we had stained this the night before, but it rained that night and kinda washed it away.

I bought wipe on stain at the ReStore to blot on later. Sorry for the cropped pictures, but I'm hiding my next tutorial/project and will have a reveal in a few days. :)

Here it is at this point:

I absolutely love how it turned out. I'm debating whether or not to take up the red brick and put more white ones there. They are $1 a piece at the ReStore. We still have a lot more to do in other areas, and I can't wait to see it all finished. One of the main reasons we are doing this is because the rocks and flagstone that were around got so hot during the summer, and the burn your feet getting from the pool to the deck. You have to run or you blister-it's that bad.

Since we had the concrete out, I had Mark help me do a little side project that I found online. Concrete hurricane lamps are expensive! (Also called fire columns) They used to sell them at Restoration Hardware for about $350 a set! I've seen them on other sites for $60 plus, and I'm just not willing to pay that for something I know I can make for around $13. I found a wonderful tutorial by Diane at 'in my own style.'

But, I'll give you the rundown...

This is what I wanted:

Since our deck addition is going to step down, I thought 3 in different sizes would look pretty cool. We bought a tube in the concrete section at Lowes.

I had Mark cut it into 3 Pieces, and I sprayed the inside with high gloss polyurethane to help the form come off when it was done. It dried overnight, then we added the Quikrete. You want the one in green and white bag because it has less rocks. We wound up using what we had for the cobblestones. (Lesson learned. It had a lot of rocks) It took 2 bags at $3 a piece, and the tube was $7 and change. You also want to duct tape paper plates to the bottoms. Try and make your cuts as straight as possible so your columns don't lean.

That's our friend, Ben. I think he thinks I'm insane.

Next, we added coffee cans to make an indent. I dumped the coffee out of one, and then I figured out a gallon vinegar jug has the same dimension. Since I use vinegar for just about everything, I had plenty of those.

We let them dry overnight, and late afternoon, we took the forms off.

They just kind of peel away. They were looking a little rough, so I sanded them with 60 grit, and brushed on some concrete skim.

Ok. I had wrist surgery 10 days ago at this point, and I got tired of brushing it on left handed, so I just slapped it on with my hand then went over it with the brush.

A quick sanding the next day, and the awesomeness is done. We could have added color when we mixed, or stain after. I'm not exactly sure if I want to stain them. I was thinking just high gloss poly because I kinda like the color of concrete. What do you think?

I like the little imperfections in them. I used a gel fuel can, but I think I might go with candles. I just threw some rocks in there for the pic, so I will change those out with some pretty ones. One thing we don't have a shortage of around here is rocks. I also think I will exchange these bowls for cylinder shaped ones. Hobby Lobby was out when I went. Oh well. 

And that's about it! I hope y'all enjoyed today's post. If you did, leave me some comment love! That always makes me smile. :)

Y'all take care, and come back soon for the rest of the outdoor saga!

UPDATE: To View the next installments of this series, click links:

tagged: +Diane Henkler  


  1. I'm a new reader, so I don't know if you've discussed it, but I'm curious about your palm tree. The man and I recently removed a live Mexican Fan Palm, and it was a heck of a job.

    Cutting it down was easy. Digging up the root ball took a lot of days over two weeks to do. It had to be pulled out of the hole with a neighbor's pickup truck because our SUV wasn't up to the task. It was then cut in half, and hauled off to the dump. I never want to do that again!

    1. Hi! Yes, I believe it was a Mexican Palm. It was huge and beautiful when it was alive. We had 2 freezes in a row a couple of winters ago and that killed it, along with a lot of other people's large palms here. The man who cut it down kept getting his chain saw bogged down because of the fibers.
      The root ball on it is huge and goes under our deck. There's something kinda pretty about it, so I actually had him leave it and I had my husband chip out a hole so I can plant some stuff in it. Lol
      I know if we ever want to remove it, it might take out a corner of our deck, so that's just not something I'm willing to deal with right now. I was waiting to see if we are going to have problems with pests or anything because it's still full of water somehow.Thanks for letting me know that this thing is going to be a monster! And welcome!

  2. I came over from Beneath My Heart and I so love your patio! You gave a perfect tutorial too! xo

  3. I have one of those Quikrete molds and have never used it... You've just inspired me to do so! Stopping by from the Beneath My Heart March linky party!

    Cher @ Designs by Studio C

  4. That is so nice Robin and Cher! Thank you so much! :D

  5. I love these things. Quikrete Walk Maker Patio Build Summer 2017. Perfect size and strength to make the job so much easier. It was very simple and straightforward. I don't usually get my hands dirty in the yard but I was able to use this without any problems. Make sure and mix the concrete well. Our Results are here: https://giph.io/v.php?pm=881W

  6. Hi! I just tried to post a comment and I dont think it went through so I'm sorry if this is a duplicate (I'm on my mobile)! I just had a few questions about this project if you have the time. We are planning to build a patio like the one you built here against the back corner of our chainlink fence. We are wondering if the pebbles (or some people have used sand) underneath the concrete molds you made was a necessary step or could we just dig up the grass and pour these over dirt? We are trying to do this as cheaply as possible since we have a million and one home projects to get done as well! Second question- you said above that the Quickcrete was about $3 a bag and that it took one and a half (1 1/2) bags to make just 2 of those concrete mold pavers, is that correct? I'm sure things may be priced differently now but still :) I hope you're able to reply! Thank you!

    1. Hi! Thanks for the questions. Yes, it took about that much concrete mix. Figure 3 bags per 4 complete molds. And yes, you can just level the dirt. We just happened to have a ton of pebbles to deal with. My sister used the same mold a different way. They dug out a level area for a sidewalk, poured concrete down and then used the mold as a stamp. It made it more like one solid sidewalk. Either way looks pretty cool.


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