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Retaining Wall Ideas

Herbee and I love to drive down the road and see a few decorative walls. Retaining wall ideas are about building the wall, and adding a special touch, such as vines with flowers flowing over the edge. In the area of the country where I live, some people build functional retaining structures to hold the soil from eroding. This is a great landscape solution.

There are also decorative walls in many varieties of gardens. Two ways to approach building this type of project are with mortar, or with stackable stones without cement. We will walk through the basic steps of a stackable retaining and decorative wall without using cement.

You do have the choice of hiring out to a contractor, or doing it yourself. Supply companies offer a variety of products to choose from today, making this a very do-able project. Below are a few basic steps in planning the process.


Identify Area To Hardscape

  • Is it a problem area or are you looking to create an attractive structure?

  • What type of materials do you want to use? Brick, round or flat stones, boulders, etc... Granite is more for a taller wall and is a heavier stone. You can get a specific wall stone in round, flat, or thin. (this is called a fieldstone) You can also use a concrete block wall to create a larger look.

  • What height and width are you looking for?

  • Do you want to do mortar or stacking?

  • Do you want to match the color tones to your house or any other existing hard-scape?

A decorative dry wall usually averages one to five feet. There are several options for retaining wall ideas. If you need to make the wall higher, I would recommend using mortar. The cement will create stability for your wall. Your length can vary as much as you like.

This project should be thought through methodically, and don't hurry to get it done. It is relatively easy once you gain confidence in putting your first layer of rocks or stone in. Below are simple guidelines to follow.


Simple Guidelines In Building Retaining Wall

  • Measure out the area you want to build the structure. Put stakes in at all four corners and tie string to the stakes. Make sure the string is taunt, so you will have an accurate measurement.

  • Decide how much stone or rock you will need. Stone is usually delivered on a wooden pallet and comes in a ton per pallet. You can sketch your structure on a piece of paper, and pencil in your measurements. Figure out how much material you will need by multiplying the length times the width, times the depth = the cubic feet. Many stone manufacturers or stone companies will help you with the measurements.

  • Six To Eight Inch Trench
  • You will begin by digging a trench. This is the first step for the foundation. In most cases, use a tiller if possible. Below is a picture of a trench about 6 to 8 inches deep and around 20 feet long. The trench should be anywhere from 1 to 3 inches wider than your structure will stand.

  • Fill the trench with small stones or crushed screenings. From the very beginning, always have a level handy, and measure each and every step of the way. You can tamp down the stones. Tampers can be rented at most rental stores.

  • Begin putting your first layer of rocks or stone all the way down the length of the structure. Be sure you measure for level as accurately as you can. If you are using irregular stone, put larger pieces at the base of the trench. Continue layering, being careful to fit each piece as snug as you can to one another. After the structure is built, there will be some settling of the ground. Your last layer of irregular stone should be large ones again, to give a finished look (called capping).

  • Crushed Stone
  • Don't try and stack the rocks or stone in a straight line, as they will not match up properly and will be unstable. You will want to position them so they fit nicely with each other, but are staggered. Make your structure stronger by positioning the material horizontally across the structure every once in awhile. This technique will stabilize the entire feature as you are building it.

  • As you are building, look for places in each layer where you may have to re-structure or use a smaller shim stone. To shim, take smaller pieces of stones and slide them in between the larger pieces. This procedure is usually done with irregular shape flag stone or different sizes of round stones.

  • You do have the option to put some cement in the trench along the back side of structure. Some people like to do this for more security of their wall. Regardless, you will want to fill in the rest of the trench with dirt.

Small Wall
Stackable Retaining Wall
Decorative Wall

What if you are on a slope, or incline? You will want to stair-step your foundation when you are digging your trench. As you work up the slope, the trench will be deeper. When it's deeper than a stone's height, you can do your stair-step. Abruptly bring the height of the trench up one stone height, like a stair. This is the toughest thing you'll need to do, but be careful and patient and you'll succeed.

Once the ground is tilled and raked, use your level to work each layer as you proceed down your wall.

Your second layer of stone at the bottom of the slope becomes the first layer at your first trench stair-step. Remember, this is a stackable dry retaining or decorative feature. If you go higher then five feet, you will most likely want masonry work done.

Another twist on retaining wall ideas is to get control of your drainage problems. Do you live in an area with poor drainage? Do you need something to block the flow of water? Here is a solution with a stackable retaining structure.

You can have a decorative dry rock or stone structure and also run solid or corrugated piping along side of the feature, for drainage purposes.

Above are simple steps you can take to build your very own decorative outdoor feature. It is important to research different materials and manufacturers. Once you have your wall built, decide if you want to add any plants around the structure.


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Looking for more retaining wall ideas? Many people love putting their favorite flowers around. We like to see a combination of colorful shrubs and flowers surrounding it. The feature is the focal point and the plants are an accent. When finished, you will have a masterpiece you can show off to your friends and neighbors.

More importantly, you can enjoy this decorative feature for years to come. Herbee hopes these insights have given you some retaining wall ideas for your landscape.

Other Articles You Might Be Interested In.

Walkways --- Caring For Your Garden

Evergreen Plants --- More Outdoor Features Besides Retaining Wall Ideas



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