On a functional level, a retaining wall is designed to do little more than supporting the soil behind it. They’re most common in landscaping concepts where erosion and soft subsoils can be an issue. They can also play a key role in controlling the flow of water when needed.
This temps many homeowners to undervalue a retaining wall’s esthetic abilities. Some just pick the cheapest retaining wall bricks they can find and then go about the business of choosing water features, and flower bed edging, relegating the retaining wall as an afterthought.
Truth be told a retaining wall can contribute a lot to the esthetic value and visual appeal of your landscaping. Beyond its functional role, a tastefully designed retaining wall can greatly add to the overall value of your home.
Can I Install A Retaining Wall On My Own?
If you have a strong back, a do-it-yourselfer’s mentality, and perhaps burly forearms, you might be thinking about installing your own retaining wall. Still, when you roll up your sleeves and take a closer look at the details, I think you’ll find this is the sort of thing you will need professional help with.
Most retaining walls are used to hold back a significant volume of soil. This calls for certain changes in gradient, possible backfill of materials, and a working knowledge of how erosion can affect the area. Ultimately, if you truly need a retaining wall to support the soil characteristics of your property, you are better off contracting the job out to a professional landscaping company.
That’s not to say that all retaining walls are purely functional landscaping pieces. If you want to improve the appearance of a raised bed garden, in what is an otherwise flat area of your yard, you could certainly do it yourself. A decorative retaining wall that doesn’t have to worry about the forces of physics and erosion is much more in play for a backyard do-it-yourselfer.
Popular Retaining Wall Concepts
There are some popular concepts that property owners use retaining walls to improve the look and value of their homes. You might be interested in using one or more of the following to enhance the appearance of your landscaping.
Retaining Wall Frame For A Raised Garden Bed
Raised beds are an increasingly popular way to grow a high volume of vegetables and flowers. They only require hand tilling, they’re more comfortable to tend than a traditional ground-level garden, and they also offer superior weed control.
The earliest raised bed gardens tended to be made from wood that started out looking great but ultimately would turn gray and degrade with time. Retaining blocks tend to have a much longer lifespan and hold their appearance better than wood. Not to mention they’re also easier to maintain.
You could still use a wood frame to help contain the soil. Then wrap the retaining block wall around the frame to enhance the visual effect. Just make sure to remove all the grass at the bottom of the raised bed and then block it up with either lasagna garden or landscaping fabric.
A Retaining Wall Terraced Garden
If you have a mild slop to your lawn, but you still want to gain some additional gardening space, you could use retaining walls to create a terraced effect. This concept is rooted in practical science and was used for centuries by the Inca who fed their people from terraced gardens built up on steep mountain slopes. It has a lot of the same benefits of a raised bed garden, while also helping to level out the planting beds. Though you likely will need to have additional backfill soil brought in.
If the gradient of your yard is steeper than say 12 to 15-degrees, you might want to enlist the help of a professional landscaping company or a landscaping designer. Once you start getting beyond a 15-degree grade, forced from water and the volume of soil can gradually start to have an effect on the retaining wall in the long-term.
Retaining Wall Surrounding A Water Feature
Koi ponds and large water fountains generally need a significant volume of water to operate properly. Unfortunately, a lot of the collection basins they come with tend to not be all that visually attractive. Wrapped the exterior of your water feature with a decorative retaining wall certainly enhances the appearance. In certain instances, you might be able to expand the original volume of water.
A Retaining Wall For A Raised Walkway
Yards and gardens that tap into East Asian architecture often have elevated walking paths. Especially if there are going to be people coming an going during the day. In a scenario like this, a retaining wall can be used to create a walking path that is one to two feet above ground level.
It can then be paved with concrete backfilled with gravel, covered with paving tiles or topped with a stable layer of mulch. This lets you control traffic flow, which could be very handy at a commercial property or multi-family residential property.
A Retaining Wall To Ring Around A Tree
All trees have a natural drip edge which roughly corresponds to the diameter of their canopy. This allows the branches and foliage to capture water that drips down to the underlying soil to feed the roots. It’s a system that works very well in a natural forest.
Unfortunately, most of the trees in a modern-day lawn are competing with water-stealing grass, and potential water blockage caused by dry thatch. Surrounding a tree with a one to two-foot-high retaining wall, and then filling the interior with soil and a thick layer of mulch can help feed young trees, for vigorous growth.
This concept is also great for older trees that might have exposed roots. Covering them again with soil and a little mulch lets the mature root mass behave as intended. It also helps the tree retain more soil moisture and prevent pests. Just be mindful not to have any mulch of soil go too high up on the bark of the trunk. If the area that needs recovering is large, or a-symmetrical, you can always add some creative contours and plant up shallow-rooted flowers to make it more visually attractive.