Retaining Wall Ideas

Redi-Rock International/flickr

You’ve finally decided what to do with that sloping section of your yard: you’re going to make the slope into steps by using retaining walls. Since the construction of a strong retaining wall is beyond the scope of most DIY projects – in fact, it requires a great deal of knowledge and skill – it is best to leave this project to the pros and consult a reliable landscaper. He will be able to tell you what sort of retaining wall is best for your needs, and install it with the benefit of his knowledge and experience.

You will have to consider the lay of the land where you live. A licensed landscaper in Atlanta, GA, for example, will have a great deal of experience in constructing retaining walls on hilly terrain.

The most important characteristic of a good retaining wall is, of course, strength. A retaining wall must be able to hold sloping earth in place while allowing for water drainage. Therefore, whatever materials you choose, if your wall is going to be more than a foot or two high, it will need a strong concrete foundation. Your landscaper may take care of this himself, or he may work with a licensed concrete contractor in order to build the foundation.

Types of Retaining Walls

What materials should you consider as you plan your project? Here are several options.

  • Wood is best for smaller jobs where the wall is to be no more than a foot or two high. Although the natural beauty of wood is popular and desirable, wood requires more maintenance than other materials since it must be stained and sealed twice a year.
  • Gabions – baskets or cages made of thick galvanized wire and filled with stone – are a stable yet flexible alternative for heavy jobs. In the industrial world, gabions are used to stabilize shorelines and prevent erosion on slopes. In the residential sector, the middle of the wire basket or cage may be filled with a less expensive material, keeping the stone on the outside where it can be seen.
  • Poured concrete. A plywood mold is set up over the foundation and the concrete is poured and allowed to cure. Then it is stained and sealed.
  • Stacked stone. This is not actually a retaining wall, but only a façade – the retaining wall is usually built of other materials, such as plywood or concrete, and the stacked stone placed over it as a veneer.
  • Segmental retaining walls (SRW) are made of concrete masonry units that use their own weight to remain in place, without mortar. Because the units are available in various sizes, shapes, structures and colors, they give homeowners a variety of aesthetic options. They are flexible, durable and resistant to the effects of weather. Segmental retaining walls work equally well for large industrial projects and much smaller residential ones.


Depending on the size of the project, you will need to consider your drainage needs. For small projects, it might be enough to dig a series of small tunnels under the wall and fill them with gravel to facilitate drainage. Larger projects will require a network of pipes and drains linked to your home’s drainage system. Consult your landscaper to decide what is right for your project.

A good retaining wall takes a lot of labor and skill to build. With appropriate construction materials, a strong foundation, a proper drainage system and a licensed landscaper on your team, your retaining wall should stay strong and steadfast for many years to come.

Rahel Jaskow is a home improvement writer, covering topics from pest control to frugal DIY.

Get Free Quotes

Looking for a Pro? Call us at (866) 441-6648

Get Free Quotes
  • Service Needed
  • Zip Code
Get quotes from qualified local contractors