We asked the experts for DIY retaining wall ideas for creating a sturdy, stylish structure to level the landscape.
The natural undulating terrain is alluring until you’re playing croquet on a hilltop lawn or enjoying a candlelit dinner on a secluded patio. But with a retaining wall, you can create a functional outdoor space where once there was only an unstable slope.
We’ve compiled our best ideas for retaining wall ideas for sloped backyards to help you plan your DIY landscape projects. But first, let’s consider a few key questions
Retaining Wall Ideas For Sloped Backyards
What Is The Purpose Of A Retaining Wall?
Retaining walls not only helps solve problems, but they also have a sculptural quality that defines the landscape and can evoke different styles using a variety of materials. For example, stacked wood or mortared stone gives a rustic look, while poured concrete gives a sophisticated, modern look.
Just remember that there is little room for error in designing a retaining wall that will hold back tons of earth and sand.
How Much Does A Retaining Wall Cost?
It starts at $4.30 per square foot for cast-in-place concrete, $5.65 for interlocking concrete block, $6.15 for pressure-treated pine, and about $11 for stone. Installation costs and accessories such as drainage stones and filter cloth are not included.
What Is The Lifespan Of A Retaining Wall?
Wood can last up to 40 years. There is no limit to the lifespan of a properly installed masonry or concrete wall.
DIY Or Hire A Professional?
Wood and block concrete walls are great DIY retaining wall ideas. Mortar masonry and cast-in-place concrete masonry are usually best left to masons.
Does Height Matter?
Regulations require that walls taller than 4 feet be designed by an engineer and built by a professional.
What About Maintenance?
Except for the occasional cleaning of drip holes, retaining walls do not require much attention.
Retaining Wall Components
Affordable and suitable for Sunday carpentry. Sold at sawmills and home centers, 6x6s, 6x8s, and 8x8s are held together with screws, spikes, and rebar. These walls are simply secured using a simple crushed stone foundation and a T-shaped wooden deadman. Pressure-treated pine and fir wood will last 40 years, and western red cedar and redwood will last about 20 years.
What is the cost? Pressure-treated pine, $6.15 per square foot (not installed); Lowes
With adequate drainage, stone, brick, and concrete block walls are strong and durable. You can buy these materials at a stone store or home improvement center, but you will likely need masonry to install them. Mortar walls rest on a reinforced concrete foundation below the frost line and require drainage holes to relieve earth pressure. Dry stone retaining walls without mortar requires only crushed stone bedding.
Cost. Fieldstone, $11 per square foot (uninstalled), stone yard.
Concrete is the strongest and most durable and can be molded, stained, veneer, or carved to look like mortar stone. Buy bagged dry concrete from a home improvement store or wet concrete delivered from a ready-mixed concrete truck. Leave the design, formwork, and pouring to the professionals. Like mortar masonry, the wall must be supported by a reinforced concrete foundation with drainage holes. It is the only type of wall that does not lean against the ground (leans back).
Cost: $4.30 per square foot, ready-mixed concrete from a truck, not built; C & C Ready-Mix Corporation.
Interlocking Concrete Blocks.
Lightweight, flat-surfaced, and easy to assemble without mortar, this is an easy choice for the Sunday do-it-yourselfer. Sold at masonry and home improvement stores, these retaining wall blocks have a rough surface, and simple appearance, and come in a variety of colors, including gray, brown, and red. Like wood or stone walls, they are built on a crushed stone base. The mesh is sturdy and each strand is anchored to the ground.
Cost Versa-Lok Weathered Mosaic (pictured), $11.40 per square foot (unattached); Versa-Lok
Retaining Wall Ideas For Sloped Backyards And Uses
Turning A Backyard Into A Terrace
Reader Mike Sieber of Mannington, West Virginia, stacked large modular stone blocks to level a steep slope and create a defined area for entertaining and play.
Designing A Patio
Readers Dominique & Eric Butters of Silver Spring, Maryland, carved out the back of their home and lined shelves with interlocking concrete blocks to create a patio with a sitting wall.
Transitioning To A Walkway
Reader Sandra Yoshioka of Torrance, CA, used a wall of stucco blocks to create a flower-filled buffer between her walkway and her front door.
Building A Driveway
Reader Clifford Parker of Jamestown, CA, built a stone/wood hybrid wall to raise the grade of his backyard and hold the outside edge of his new gravel driveway.
Repairing And Upgrading Retaining Wall
Give the interlocking block a rebirth with a penetrating finish in a warm reddish or golden color. Water-based stains can be sprayed or roller applied directly to clean, washed surfaces.
Similar: Rust-oleum concrete stain, 15 cents per square foot.
Apply cement stucco to smooth out stains and surface irregularities. Stain or paint it an earth color to enhance the landscape.
See in photo Quikrete Finish Coat stucco (Palomino), 21 cents per sq. ft.
Brick, stone, or concrete flakes that mimic stone or brick can be glued together to liven up a dull surface. You get the traditional look for less than the cost of regular mortar masonry.
Photo: Natural stone veneer, Tuscan Collection, from $8 per square foot unattached.
Repair An Existing Retaining Wall.
‘Can my wall be salvaged?’ Only a structural engineer or mason can say for sure, but if yours shows any of these signs, it may be time for a new one
A wall that is leaning, as shown in the photo, is out of this world. Whether it is due to tree roots, poor drainage, or an inadequate foundation, a leaning wall will likely have to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch.
In the case of poured concrete, small scratches can be filled with hydraulic cement. In the case of a mortar wall, the damaged grout can be scraped out and re-hammered. However, if the crack is more than 1/4 inch wide and deep and 2 feet long, there may be structural damage to the wall. Consult a professional to determine if repairs can be made or if replacement is necessary.
Noticeable sagging in each course of a wood or block wall indicates that the foundation has been damaged in one location. A professional may be able to replace the foundation in the damaged area and rebuild the wall in that area only.
A thick belly in mortar masonry may be caused by water pressure behind it. Use a masonry bit to drill a 1/2-inch drainage hole to promote drainage. Swollen walls in wood or block construction are usually caused by inadequate anchorage. Careful excavation of the back of the wall can help rebuild the protrusion. Consult an expert before beginning work.
Plants On Retaining Walls
Looking for a wall design with plants? Use plants to soften a rough masonry wall. The following eight images show some colorful perennials that climb up or over the surface of a retaining wall.
Climbing Rose “New Dawn.”
The glossy foliage of this plant complements the fragrant, pale pink summer flowers. Grows up to 18 feet tall and 8 feet wide in zones 5 to 9.
About $17; heirloom rose.
This plant grows in full sun with its roots at the base of a wall. Most often planted on a trellis. The trellis can usually be removed after one or two years.
In the summer, clusters of fragrant white flowers are displayed on the heart-shaped leaves of this vine. Grows up to 80 feet tall and 12 feet wide in zones 4 to 8.
About $25; roadside garden.
You won’t miss this vine’s tiny spring flowers, but you won’t miss its deep red fall foliage. Grows up to 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide in zones 3 to 9.
About $20; Northeast Nursery’ Inc.
In spring, this vine produces tubular, fragrant flowers that attract hummingbirds. Grows up to 20 feet tall and 6 feet wide in zones 4 to 9.
About $10; Woodland Farm.
Curtains Retaining Wall Ideas
When planted on a wall, they cascade over the edges, creating a dramatic waterfall effect. Water sparingly because of the increased soil load on the wall.
This disease-resistant rose has glossy green foliage and pink clusters of summer blooms. Grows up to 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide in zones 5 to 9.
About $25; Moody’s Nursery.
Dark green glossy foliage with small pink flowers and bright red berries in fall. Grows up to 2 feet tall and 5 feet wide in zones 4 to 8.
About $15; best as a garden tree.
This shrub produces white, purple, pink, or red star-shaped flowers on a cushion of green foliage in spring. Grows up to 4 inches tall and 2 feet wide in zones 3 to 9.
About $14; bluestone perennials.
A matted succulent with magenta, daisy-like flowers that bloom in summer. Grows up to 3 inches tall and 2 feet wide in zones 5 to 7.
About $5.50; High Country Gardens.
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