Maintaining Trees and Lawns

How to Make a Retaining Wall Work for Your Garden Hill

by Cherly Wheeler

If you have a hill in your garden, a retaining wall could be the way to keep it looking its best. Here's all you need to know about making retaining walls work in your yard.

What Is a Retaining Wall?

As the name suggests, a retaining wall is used to 'retain' soil in a garden. One of the most common uses for a wall like this is to preserve hills in gardens. Adverse weather can quickly erode hillsides, and though grass and shrubs can help prevent this erosion, it's notoriously difficult to get foliage to grow on a hill. Retaining walls are often the only saving grace to keep a hill in position, holding back the soil so it can't erode away. Retaining walls can also level off part of a hill, giving you a new, flat space that you can use for garden beds or even an outdoor living area.

What Materials Should You Use?

Above all else, your retaining wall needs to be built from strong and sturdy materials. The soil from your hillside will put a lot of pressure on the wall, particularly when it's sodden with rainwater. If the materials aren't strong enough, it won't be long before the wall collapses. Generally, retaining walls are either built from stone or concrete blocks. Stone works perfectly in a rustic garden, enhancing the natural atmosphere. Concrete, on the other hand, will look great in a modern garden where everything looks crisp and clean. Concrete is also easier to use, as there are interlocking concrete blocks on the market made specifically for retaining walls. It's also possible to use pressure-treated wood to create a retaining wall for a small hill, but wood may not stand up to the weight of a large hill.

How Should the Wall Be Built?

The way your retaining wall is built will make or break it — literally. It's important that the structure is erected properly if you want it to be safe from collapse. If you have some skills in DIY and you're only building a small concrete retaining wall, it's possible to handle the job yourself. The task is relatively straightforward. First, you'll need to dig back a few feet into your slope where you want the wall to go, holding the dirt back with landscape fabric once you're done. Then, using stakes and string to mark out your wall, you'll need to dig a shallow trench for your blocks to sit in. After tamping down a few inches of stone dust, simply start laying the blocks, making sure they're level and aligned. Note that if you're building a large wall or a stone wall, you'll want to call in a professional for the job, as it's harder for the average homeowner to make these structures safe.

Contact a landscaping service for more information.