Concrete Patio Makeovers

stylish concrete house with patio

Concrete is an extremely durable material used for many different home applications. It can outlast natural materials like wood, and withstand heat, freezing, and thawing with minimal damage, as long as it's properly mixed and laid. No wonder so many people choose it for their garden patios.

The downside to concrete is that it's kind of... boring. No offense to those who adore the no frills, no zip, no pizzaz of a solid block of hardened mud, but for those of you who've got one of these slabs of gray just sulking in your backyard, and who don't prefer this look, you're in the right place.

Check out a few ways you can give that concrete patio a magazine cover makeover—or at the very least, make it worthy of a barbecue with the neighbors.

Concrete vs Cement

While the words concrete and cement are often used interchangeably, they are distinctly different. Cement is one of the ingredients that make concrete, while concrete is the final product.

When mixed together in the right proportions, sand, crushed stone or coarse gravel, and cement result in the material we know as concrete. Think of cement as the glue that makes it all stick together. Ta-da! So now you know.

Cover It Up

If you can't stand the look of that concrete patio, get it out of your life! Or at least out of your sight. We're talking about building over it with wooden decking. You don't even have to break out the jackhammer to remove the concrete. In fact, it's preferable you leave it since it provides firm support underneath the decking.

Switching from concrete to wood completely changes the look and feel of a space, making it more inviting than a utilitarian concrete slab. If you're up for a project to add curb appeal to your most important investment, check out How to Build a Wooden Porch Over a Cement Porch for some inspiration.

To Stain or Not to Stain

concrete patio in front of door

While we appreciate the low-maintenance aspect of a concrete patio, we're not so keen on its visual contribution to the garden, or its lack thereof. That expanse of gray doesn't do much to delight our eyes.

In the garden, we want our eyes to be drawn to focal points, led by movement, tickled by colors, especially after we've worked hard selecting plants, choosing their placement, nourishing, watering, and ensuring what we've planted will thrive.

A concrete patio can feel out of place in a natural landscape, but you can help it blend in by adding some stain. Choose a simple pattern to add interest, such as a grid to mimic the look of floor tiles, or a medallion stenciled in the center.

Of course, you don't have to commit to a pattern if don't want. That's a lot of extra work anyway. You can always stain the floor all one color to help it merge with the landscape. Whichever option you choose, keep in mind the results are permanent. No pressure.

But before you decide on your course of action, consider the look you're going for and the process involved. Concrete stains come in acid-based and water-based.

The acid-based stains are long-lasting, and resistant to chipping and peeling. They work by creating a chemical bond that forms an attractive, natural-looking finish. They also take longer to dry, so don't start the process until you get a long run of good weather.

With water-based stains you'll have a greater variety of colors to choose from. These stains dry more quickly, and unlike the acid-based stain, bond to the surface of the concrete in a non-chemical reaction. As a result, they're more like a film or coating on the surface of the floor.

Tip: Just as you wouldn't attempt to paint a house without trying out the color first, apply a test first in an inconspicuous spot. Evaluate whether or not it suits your taste before deciding to proceed with the first coat.

Painting Concrete

hand painting patio

Along the same lines, you could choose to paint instead of staining the concrete. Concrete paint, like the stain, is specifically engineered for use on this material. We'd like to stress that it's never a good idea to use regular exterior paint for a job like this.

You may be trying to use up any leftover paint from a previous project, and while we applaud your desire to use every drop and not waste it, the wrong paint in this case is a foolhardy decision. Exterior paint won't hold up to heavy foot traffic, nor will it resist the thrashing it'll receive from the elements.

Pretty soon you'll end up with a crackpot paint job (and some embarrassing looks from the neighbors) when the paint starts to peel off, flaking into the garden, sticking to your shoes, and getting tracked into the house. Then all your efforts are for naught, making it even more painful when you have to strip the entire thing just to do it properly.

Finding the right paint is a must, but so is using the right tools to apply it, and we all know how difficult it is to get a quality result when you don't have what you need for the job.

In this case, concrete paint (AKA masonry paint, AKA elastomeric paint/elastomeric wall coating) tends to be thicker than exterior paint, making it difficult to use in an air sprayer because the fine particles tend to clog it up.

Now that doesn't mean you can't apply it with an air sprayer. It just means it's a good idea to ask your paint store clerk for a product that's compatible with the sprayer. This way you can avoid the frustration of having to stop in the middle of the job to clean or unclog the nozzle, or the extra expense if it turns out you have to buy a different paint.

As with any paint job, to ensure best adhesion, you must follow certain steps before the painting can even begin: clean, strip, seal, and prime.

Only then are you ready to tackle painting. You'll likely have to apply more than one coat, but when it comes to best painting practices, it's preferable to wait at least a day to ensure it's fully dry before applying the next coat.

Painting your patio is more than a weekend project, but once you're finished, prop your feet up to celebrate a job well done and enjoy that sense of satisfaction. Mmmm, we can just smell it on the horizon!

Add Curves

curved concrete patio

Concrete in the garden doesn't have to be a simple square or rectangle. In fact, we prefer it not be. Those harsh angles just don't look natural in a garden landscape. So if you're averse to applying chemicals via stain or paint, and are more inclined to hard labor, think about adding curves to the patio.

Enter the magic of pavers, crushed gravel, and stone. With a little creative maneuvering, you can add curves and borders to the edges of the patio to soften the hard lines so the patio blends in better with the rest of the garden.

If you're feeling even more ambitious and have the energy/people power behind you, consider adding wide paths that curve softly, leading you from the patio out into the greenery. Meandering paths are perfect for strolling. A perfect way to hide something in plain sight.

Rugs Aren't Just for Inside

rug under patio table on stone

A rug can really tie a room together—The Dude knew what he was talking about. And that same rug (especially with complementary furniture and lighting) will turn a concrete eyesore into a warm, welcoming space.

Rugs come in synthetic and natural fibers, and are made to withstand the weather and foot traffic. Many big box stores carry them in a variety of styles and patterns. You just need to find the one that suits you.

Use the rug to cover up minor flaws like cracks or dings, but don't be tempted to use it to disguise something large enough to trip an unsuspecting guest. That's just a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Fix the cracked concrete before anyone gets hurt, then you can sally forth and cover it up once you find the right rug to tie the room together.

Add Height for Visual Appeal

Trellises, arbors, and arches all work wonders to add interest to a concrete slab. They can be metal, wood, or vinyl, and you can opt to keep them planted or not. If you choose to keep them bare, you might want to spend a little more for one that actually looks nice. A flimsy metal arch will look much better covered with leafy vines during the growing season.

Install a Pergola or Gazebo

garden gazebo with plants

We've already mentioned an arbor, which is similar to a pergola in style, but not in size. Pergolas and gazebos are larger structures, more like outdoor rooms. They act like a covering, a shade in the garden. The gazebo is generally a structure on its own, while the pergola is added to the exterior of a building.

Both add structure and style to the garden. Like the arches and trellises, pergolas and gazebos can be planted to create privacy. And because they are larger and sturdier than a trellis, can be planted with vigorous plants like wisteria or climbing roses.

Some flowering vines will look great on your new installation.

Don't Forget the Plants

concrete patio near lawn and small bushes

Plants in decorative containers add softness to the hardscape, particularly ones with fine, feathery leaves that incorporate lots of movement in the yard.

Many easy-to-care-for plants do well in containers, but we suggest you opt for plants that are larger and more mature to add height and interest.

Palms, peace lily, and monsteras tolerate low light and do well in containers. Monstera vines can even be guided upward to frame a view or cover a wall for added shade.

If your patio is in full sun, plant potted citrus, fountain grasses, and woody herbs like lavender or rosemary. These plants generally don't like their feet wet, so container gardening is ideal for them.

Bonus: you can bring them inside if you live in an area that freezes.