70 Retaining Wall Ideas – Blocks, Costs and Cheap DIY Options

The cheapest way to build a retaining wall is to DIY it. And the most DIY-friendly way is to use commercially available concrete blocks, sold in Home Depot or Lowe’s.  They commonly come as self-aligning and trapezoidal in shape which makes it easier to form concaves, convexes, or straight walls. They are lightweight, have flat sides, and easily fit together without having to use mortar. Your main work will be to create a leveled gravel footing and lay the blocks. Some type of anchoring will be necessary – consult at the store. But while this option is one of the easiest to build it can be costly. Still, it’s probably the most aesthetically appealing one, especially as a landscape feature.

To see many other options and to get inspired, check out my great selection of wall designs and inspirational ideas.

For your convenience, I’ve also researched some most common questions and answers about building retaining walls.

They can become pricey very quickly. This guide should help you to discover some cheap and inexpensive retaining wall ideas. The total cost of building a retaining wall is mostly determined by the following four factors. Let’s discuss them.

 

70 Retaining Wall Ideas

 

1. Wall Material Selected

For information regarding prices of various wall materials, jump to Costs.

Concrete Blocks and Poured Concrete: Many sites list poured concrete as one of the most expensive materials used to construct a retaining wall. I have a different opinion. If you want the strongest wall then poured concrete is the way to go. If you’re building a small wall (short and low) then going with concrete could be the least expensive DIY method. Yes, it’s very labor-consuming. But that is where you save a lot of money doing it yourself! You dig a trench, you build a form hopefully using some recycled plywood (or buy a few sheets), you buy a bunch of bags of dry concrete, you mix it, you pour it, you lay a few drainage pipes, and you’re done. Of course, if you’re in need of a longer and taller wall, it’ll be lots of pouring and hard work. For that, it’s better to go with a ready mix cement truck which is costly. Then your other cheaper option is Cinder Blocks (concrete blocks with holes).  If you want the strength of poured concrete at around half the cost select cinder blocks.

Wood: Wood is a relatively affordable material. Unless you’re building in 2021. Who knows how long will the lumber crisis last. In general, treated for ground contact wood is cheap and can be readily purchased at a lumberyard or home improvement store. Select lumber that is pressure-treated – it will ensure that your wall will be durable and long-lasting. A wood wall 3 to 4 feet in height will only need a simple base of crushed stone and T-shaped deadman anchors.  If you can build yourself a raised garden bed using wood you can sure build a retaining wall from wood, just make it sturdier.

Used railroad ties or sleepers would be another great and inexpensive material to build a wall from if cosmetics are not as important. They are sold in lumber stores. 

Boulders:  For a creative way to build an appealing wall that is inexpensive, use boulders. They’re free if you can find enough of them for your project. Think about the pattern you want to create – the style of boulder retaining wall will determine the size of boulders required for your DIY project. The basketweave pattern will need boulders that are similar in size and shape; the random pattern can use different sized boulders; a boulder wall combining the two previous patterns is constructed of selected random boulders mixed in with mostly regularly sized boulders.

2. Wall Height

Build a wall only so high! The higher the wall, the more expensive it will be to build. You can find plenty of cheap retaining wall ideas for designs four feet and under. A pony wall is a great example of a short retaining wall that creates a visual barrier between two landscaped areas. Pony walls and retaining walls under four feet can be dual purpose – landscape feature and provide seating.

3. Labor

If you DIY, of course, the labor is free.

4. Drainage

We included a brief outline for building a retaining wall, with an emphasis on when a wall needs some type of drainage system.

 

DIY Retaining Wall Ideas

While retaining walls have the practical function of holding soil and rain runoff back, they can also be used to increase the visual impact of outdoor space. Could your yard benefit from one but need some DIY ideas?

Gravity walls: A gravity wall is a type of retaining wall that stands up on its own. Constructing one of stacked stones or boulders can be used to create straight, curved, or tiered walls under four feet.

Dress it up: Build a simple wood retaining wall. Add vines or flowering plants that hang over the top edge to give the wall visual interest and more texture.

Make it dual purpose: Make your wall design ideas to dual purpose to maximize your landscape plan and outdoor space. Use a retaining wall to define a patio, separate terraced flower beds from a raised herb garden, or create a place to sit near a fire pit.

Commercially Available Concrete Blocks for Building Retaining Walls

We have compiled a convenient list of commercially available concrete blocks from DIY stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s. Materials and products listed include man-made interlocking blocks, blocks (not interlocking), and natural stone. Brands like Pavestone, Rockwood, and Belgard make DIY projects for the backyard, front yard, driveway, and anything in between look professional and polished.

Here are some examples of what you can DIY from such blocks. Also, here’s an easy Retaining Wall Block Calculator, to get an idea of how many you may need.

Concrete block wall with the appearance of stone

A residential garden retaining wall forms a nice and easy curve – see image above. The Pavestone RockWall system was used to build it with wedge-shaped caps and blocks. Image and cost source

Concrete blocks landscape retaining wall

Pavestone Charcoal Blocks are used to build convex shape terraced landscaping retaining walls (shown above). Image and cost source

Low retaining wall of pavers for a raised flower bed

River Red Concrete Self-aligning trapezoidal shape blocks form a curved wall (shown above). Image and cost source

 

Here’s a handy list of where to purchase blocks. Look for on a budget deals.

Pavestone Blocks – manufactures a wide range of segmental concrete products for residential, commercial, and industrial projects.

Oldcastle Blocks – built with reliability, integrity, and safety, blocks are environmentally friendly.

Rockwood Blocks – offers plenty of options to allow for the uniqueness of each project, commercial or residential.

Belgard Blocks – concrete wall blocks are strong, durable, and easy to install.

Alan Block – also know as Junior Block has products for many different applications including retaining walls, privacy fencing, and two-sided patio seating walls with plenty of capping options; great for DIY because they are simple to stack.

Redi-Rock Limestone Block – these limestone blocks have a natural limestone split texture of quarried stone; good for building retaining walls, fences, garden walls, and even sculptures; easy to cut and simple to install.

Flagstone block – This type of concrete block has the appearance of natural flagstone due to its appropriate moderate shade variation; ideal for garden walls, landscape edging (driveways, pathways, flower beds, etc.), raised flower beds; easily creates curved walls and retaining walls with steps.

Versawall – has a remarkable interlocking system that makes these concrete blocks straightforward to stack; mimics natural stone and rock.

VERSA-LOK – products for building concrete block retaining walls similar to Versawall blocks; available in the US.

Duostone – lightweight and manageable size make them easy to move; they have a smooth face and a rock face for contrast giving the blocks an understated style; manufactured with the back narrower than the front, allowing them to be placed either convex or concave to create circular, curved or serpentine retaining walls; lip at the back of the block makes for easy stacking and installation.

Textured Concrete Block – a mainstream choice for DIY retaining walls because of its strength, durability, fire-resistance capabilities, and the appearance of hand-chiseled stone; simple to install; made from concrete slurry poured into a mold or form with the texture built into it; good for projects such as retaining walls, garden walls, and other landscaping applications; known by a number of names including split-face block, split-faced block, and rock faced block.

Freestone – eco-friendly modern-looking cement block manufactured from 40% recycled glass; available in a wide variety of textures, sizes, and colors; for all applications including retaining walls, steps, garden walls and landscape seating.

 

Drainage

Proper drainage is important: a good drainage system keeps the wall strong, healthy, and durable. Types of retaining wall drainage include:

  • Weep holes – small openings in masonry walls that provide drainage within the structure
  • Pipes – perforated PVC pipes allow water to escape without putting pressure on the wall
  • Permeable/granular materials – drainage aggregate prevents water from becoming trapped
  • Inclines – use natural inclines that lead away from the wall as “built-in” drainage

A drainage system consists of a base of crushed stone or gravel, filter fabric, and perforated pipe. If you’re not sure when your wall requires drainage, include some type of system if:

  • The wall is 4 feet and higher
  • The wall is tiered or terraced
  • The wall material is poured concrete or cinder block
  • The soil is clay-based or some other kind of impermeable soil
  • Ground water is present
  • Ground slopes toward instead of away from the wall

 

General Steps for Building a Retaining Wall from Blocks

Regardless of the type of wall you plan to build, excluding ones made of poured concrete and wood – cantilevered, gravity, concrete block, interlocking block, or gabion – the steps are generally the same to DIY a wall three to four feet tall, including providing suitable drainage.

  1. Choose the material.
  2. Select the location.
  3. Dig a trench – it should be deep enough for a base of gravel two to three inches thick and wide enough to accommodate the blocks or stones plus 8 inches for backfill.
  4. Compact the soil with a hand tamper or a vibrating plate compactor – it will even out soil and provide a stable base for the wall.
  5. Lay the base on top of the compacted soil – it should be made of gravel composed of crushed stones between ½ and ¾ inches in size.
  6. Lay the first course of blocks by starting in the middle – use a level to ensure the first row is flat and even.
  7. Brush off the stones or blocks before stacking the next course – even the smallest pebble or clump of dirt might make the block uneven.
  8. Since the blocks or stones must be staggered, you will need to cut blocks/stones in half and install them on the ends every second row.
  9. Install the pipe or drainage system.
  10. Backfill the wall with gravel.
  11. Finish your wall with capstones – before applying concrete adhesive to the capstones, ensure they are dry.

I found these two guides on How to Build a DIY Retaining Wall to be quite helpful: one from Home Depot and one from Lowe’s.

 

Costs

The total cost of building a retaining wall will fluctuate, depending on where you live, the purpose of the wall and the following factors:

  • The material selected
  • The wall’s width, height, and length
  • Style and type – for example, a terraced installation is a more expensive build than a gabion installations
  • Base, backfiller, and reinforcement materials
  • Engineering fees

While gathering data from around the web, we came up with the average cost of building a retaining wall ranging from $1,000 to $9,000. For small to medium size builds, the average cost ranges between $20 to $60 per square foot or $30 to $150 per linear foot. For large builds and ones using high-end materials, expect to pay anywhere from $60 to $125 per square foot. On average materials will cost $5 to $50 per square foot. Labor costs will range from $50 to $75 per hour.

As you can see the cost range is very broad … so call around for your own estimates.

See this table below for a material cost comparison.

Wall MaterialPrice Per Square Foot (average cost)
Wood/Timber$15 to $25
Cement/Cinder Block$10 to $15
Poured Concrete$20 to $25
Boulder/Rock$8 to $12
Gabion$4 to $40
Brick$14 to $15

Cost data sources: Google Search, Home Depot, Home Advisor

 

IDEAS and INSPIRATIONAL IMAGES

Retaining walls are designed to hold back soil and prevent damage from runoff on sloped or elevated properties. Reasons for building a retaining wall include protecting the foundation of a home, diverting runoff away from exterior walls, and increasing the functionality of your yard. Our comprehensive collection of 70 designs includes low cost, inexpensive ideas and also more expensive decorative and creative ideas.

Wood Retaining Wall Ideas

Timber is a versatile material because it comes in a wide variety of grains, colors, and textures like smooth planks or logs. Wood retaining walls must be straight – it can’t be shaped into curves like stone or brick. Even though the wood is treated to prevent rotting, it will eventually need replacing.

A landscape timber retaining wall is ideal for a backyard or garden. Walls with weathered wood finishes give landscaping a rustic appearance while lighter stained wood walls have a modern, contemporary feel. Different wood types can be used. Be creative – install lengths of wood horizontally or vertically for maximum visual impact.

Treated wood retaining wall - low wall, horizontal orientation

Retaining wall ideas for a rustic landscape include distressed timber and knots in the boards. Using timber that has been weathered to varying degrees lends hints of color to the wall.

Corner retaining wall ideas made of treated pine

Using standard sized treated pine, this retaining wall encloses the corner of the property. It gets its strength from the posts, constructed in such a way to prevent settling.

Use a pressurized wood retaining wall to divide two properties

Strong and sturdy, a pressure treated wood retaining wall is shared by two yards. When the wall straddles both property lines, both homeowners will typically share the costs of building and/or maintaining the wall. However, if it sits squarely on only one property, it is generally the responsibility of that owner.

Retaining wall constructed of treated pine - simple corner design

The view of this small wood retaining wall emphasizes its design. Notice that the vertical posts are exposed to the outside. And the top boards are used as seating. Each corner uses two posts to connect the sides of the wall. And the walls don’t have to be at a 90-degree angle.  This is a good example of a wall that also serves as a part of a raised garden bed.

Small wood retaining wall for driveway area

Wood retaining wall constructed from pressure-treated structural pine increases its strength and functionality. The terraced garden beds utilize what might otherwise be “wasted” space. Notice that the thick and heavy timber boards are connected using metal I-beams.

Log crib retaining wall keeps loose materials anchored in place

Designed to keep dirt and rocks from spilling onto this alpine road, the wood log crib is constructed by interlocking logs with notched logs at the joints. Each tier is set enough apart to create resistance from creep pressure.

Creative combination of wood logs and stone boulders

This nature-inspired wall was built by creatively combining tree logs with boulders. The log wall, seen here alongside a stone path could just as easily be the defining backdrop of a backyard patio or a visual divider between the front yard and a public walkway. But keep in mind that old rotten logs often attract mice.

Tall pine log retaining wall

The pine log wall (shown above) is remarkable for its simplicity and clean lines. The durability of the sturdy log posts combined with the horizontal timbers helps keep the grassy slope in place while providing more stability.

Simple pine log retaining wall for raised landscaped area

It might be tempting to remove the old logs and replace them with newer materials. But this landscape timber retaining wall, with its logs still in pretty good shape, gives the surrounding area plenty of rustic charm.

 

Poured Concrete Retaining Wall Ideas

Poured concrete is the strongest and most durable retaining wall material there is. Extremely adaptable, poured concrete can be made to look like brick or stone using processes such as stamping, staining, veneering, or carving. A poured concrete design must include a concrete footing and weep holes.

Low poured concrete wall provides seating

The plain gray retaining wall seat is formed from pure cast concrete. But the simple wall is given distinction by the planting of colorful flowers and metal fencing with black ropes. I wonder how did they achieve such a perfect circular shape.

Large wall of poured concrete

The cement retaining wall is made from individual “containers” joined together. It gives this garden strength and style, a perfect idea for yards with limited space for a lawn.

Tiered cement retaining wall allows gardener choices

This beautiful large wall with its architectural elements makes a stunning focal point. While concrete walls can dominate the landscape, this living wall idea is a vertical garden both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

Tall retaining wall separates sidewalk from property

A modern retaining wall is made of smooth concrete cylinders. Forming a palisade parallel to the sidewalk, the sheer size and solidity are impressive.

Sleek modern step-style concrete wall

Not just a retaining wall with integrated steps, for this modern design the wall is the “built-in” staircase. The use of simple shapes and the combination of grass and cement make this wall low-maintenance. This design can also be considered multi-level seating.

Short retaining wall of poured concrete

Simple landscaping solutions are the best – this concrete retaining wall encloses the lawn and a pathway of concrete hexagon tiles.

Concrete Block Retaining Wall Ideas (cinder, cement)

Concrete blocks are the ideal retaining wall material because they are suitable for a variety of creative landscaping projects from tree rings to raised, multi-level garden beds to improving the appearance and functionality of a patio. Blocks made from cement, crushed stone, and sand tend to be of a higher density than blocks constructed of fly ash or bottom ash. The use of cinder makes the blocks lighter than concrete. The term “cinder block” is often used interchangeably with “concrete block.”

Here’s a great guide on building one from blocks – from familyhandyman.com.

The four main types of concrete blocks are:

Full-size wall block – ideal for steep slopes, large, heavy blocks are capable of holding back a lot of weight.

Three-way split block – corners are split off to give a rounded surface ideal for curved designs.

Flat-face block – has an even flat surface that is versatile and easy to use, which makes them perfect for all types of landscaping projects.

Tumbled block – type of flat-face block with bowed edges to imitate the appearance of natural stone (aka weathered block).

A cinder block retaining wall in an Australian garden

The reliability of wall material is the most important consideration. But aesthetics are also important as shown here by a cinder block retaining wall in a residential neighborhood.

Curved cinder block retaining wall

This tall, beautiful curved wall found at a construction site is built from interlocking concrete blocks. It has the look of stone at a fraction of the cost.

Patio retaining wall made from pavers with landscaping

This creative design (see photo above) turns the patio into an enjoyable outdoor space. It is constructed from pavers similar in colors to ones used for the patio. Pavers is another term for concrete blocks. They come in a wide range of sizes and in a variety of colors.

Concrete block retaining wall encloses patio

Semi-circular paver patio with curved retaining wall built from concrete blocks. The natural stone appearance of the wall perfectly works with the raised patio.

Small retaining wall construsted of custom cement blocks

Units on the right are higher than the staircase on the left. The small retaining wall is constructed of custom concrete blocks and designed to prevent erosion and possible shifting of the soil due to the slightly steep slope.

Tall retaining wall constructed of large cement blocks

While the wall shown here is part of a construction project for commercial development, this is a good example of how to build a large retaining wall for a residential property. Using larger blocks, the contractor maneuvers them into place with a track excavator. Note that the pattern on the block face is the same for each one – they were created using the same mold.

Low retaining wall with concrete caps

A curved landscaping wall constructed of concrete blocks beautifies a backyard by showcasing a flower bed filled with colorful pink and white petunias. Overhanging cap stones add charm as well as a place to sit.

Landscaped garden with retaining wall with steps

A concrete block retaining wall that incorporates steps makes a staircase easier to landscape. While the steps provide access to the existing landscaped garden, the overall design maintains its privacy and creates a little mystery.

Concrete block ideas for sloped backyard

Ideas for steep slopes like this gently curved concrete block retaining wall on a golf course illustrate how to successfully landscape it for your own yard. Note that the small tree has been planted further back to allow for roots to grow without potentially damaging the wall.

Multiple-level raised flower beds connected by one concrete block wall

Low walls constructed of concrete block with matching capstones are the perfect landscape accent. Here the multiple levels are emphasized by the different heights of the selected plants and trees.

 

Gabion Retaining Wall Ideas

A gabion wall is made of a wire cage, basket, or mesh frame, filled with materials such as rocks, concrete, or even slag glass rocks for artistic and decorative walls. Gabion designs are structurally different from other types of retaining wall designs. They are more porous, allowing runoff to travel through instead of around, eliminating damage to the structure.

Because of the flexibility of the material, a gabion wall can be created in any alignment and is especially suited to wall ideas for steep slopes. If you have waterfront property or landscaped area near a stream or river, gabion walls are ideal for bank stabilization.

Three-sided gabion wall incorporates stairs

Backyard landscaping is enclosed on three sides by a gabion wall. It was constructed with rectangular cages placed end to end. Notice that each side is made up of several long and toll cages, with no top enclosures.

Tiered gabion walls separate distinct landscaped areas

This terraced installation for a steep sloping yard is made of wire gabions filled with rocks. The multi-tiered garden design is very versatile, providing plenty of space for a variety of landscaping options.

Two-tiered gabion wall of stone creates wood seating area

Two different height gabion retaining walls are used to create comfortable seating in a backyard. The rich stain of the wood top nicely contrasts with the mix of natural colored stone.

Mesh frame gabion wall on steep slope

This huge long wall is constructed of gabion baskets placed side by side to create length. Built into the hillside, it is designed to prevent landslides.

 

Brick Retaining Wall Ideas

A brick retaining wall has a classic appearance and timeless appeal. Brick walls can be used to emphasize a certain landscaped area, showcase a herbal garden, or provide added security to your home. Well-constructed and using quality materials, they are strong and long-lasting. Because they need to be well-drained and placed on a rebar-reinforced concrete footing several feet below the surface, most types of brick retaining walls need a mason to install them properly.

Brick retaining wall landscaped to provide privacy to patio

A traditional brick retaining wall complements this residential home in Philadelphia. Because of the unevenness of the backyard, the installation of the brick wall turns the sloping landscape into a usable space for the homeowners. Note the weep holes at the bottom of the wall – these small openings allow for water within the structure of the wall to drain away. Image source

Corner of low retaining wall repaired with replacement bricks

Water is not a brick wall’s friend. When cracks appear, they should be repaired as soon as possible to prevent more moisture from getting in. Small cracks in a brick wall are relatively easy to fix; large cracks are typically a sign of structural issues.

Brick retaining wall finished with caps made of one wide brick

A long, low retaining wall is constructed of bricks and finished with a row of single wide bricks as a wall topper. Posts divide the retaining for structural support. As a focal point, the wall is made attractive and suits its setting – a residential front yard next to a sidewalk – with light posts and stairs.

Front yard retaining wall constructed of double brick - clasic red

Red brick wall contains boxwoods beside a public access sidewalk. The horizontal orientation of the bricks contrasts nicely with the double-wide bricks used to top the wall, creating a vertical-oriented edge.

Short white brick wall in a residential garden

This deceptively simple retaining wall creates an area of even ground in landscaping that might otherwise be unusable. Red mulch provides distinction to white bricks.

 

Natural Stone Retaining Wall Ideas (Limestone, Fieldstone and Sandstone)

Nothing beats the beauty of the natural stone. It also has the benefit of being an environmentally friendly material choice. Every project becomes unique in its own way because of the individuality of each stone and other factors that dictate the final appearance of the wall such as height, width, slope, style, and setback. Natural rock walls can be used for anything from raised garden beds to creating barriers for the prevention of landslides. Natural rock such as limestone, fieldstone, and sandstone are especially suited to country and traditional-style homes and gardens. Natural stone is quarried and then cut, making it an ideal material for dry stack retaining walls or mortared walls.

Sandstone

Curved natural stone wall with landscaping

A low, curved retaining wall in the front yard is constructed of natural stone. They have visually tied the stairs to the wall by using the same stone for both the steps and the capstones for the natural rock wall.

Ideas for steep slopes - cemetery retaining wall made of sandstone

Sandstone retaining wall leans into a steep slope near a cemetery. This part of the wall including the stairs and capstones has been repaired with new stones. The beige tones of the new stones will eventually weather, matching the color, quality, texture, and surface of the older natural rock.

Sandstone retaining wall to stabilize grassy backyard

An interesting wall installation in the backyard gives the landscaping a clean, natural look – warm natural stone contrasts with green grass. The area slopes downhill from the neighbor’s fence; the low wall is strong and durable, designed to push back the soil.

Sandsone wall with natural stone staircase

Rock retaining wall ideas that include stairs boost curb appeal, as seen here. But great hardscaping isn’t just about looks – it’s about your enjoyment. The wide stone steps are the perfect partner for oversized sandstones.

Ideas for hardscaping - natural stone steps built into natural rock wall

Stone landscaping blends seamlessly with its surroundings. Siloam is a company headquartered in Colorado that specializes in retaining walls for residential and commercial properties made of quarried sandstone.

 

Fieldstone (Pennsylvania Wallstone)

Fieldstone, also known as Pennsylvania Wallstone, was the type of stone found by early settlers as they plowed their fields in northeastern Pennsylvania. These stones were stacked in rows along property lines. Today, fieldstone is valued for its timeless hues of grays, browns, and pinks when split.

Fieldstone wall with steps - part of a landscaped backyard

Two-tiered retaining wall constructed of natural fieldstone

The natural fieldstone retaining wall and built-in steps shown in the first picture are made of mostly flat stones with larger stones randomly added for visual interest. In the second picture, the wall is gently curved, and the stones are organized in a way that emphasizes the split face and exposed edges. Image source

Limestone

Made of limestone, sloped retaining wall has circular steps

An ideal natural stone for retaining walls, limestone is hard-wearing and sturdy. This design (see photo above) is built on a gentle slope, prone to soil erosion. The garden has been landscaped with eco-friendly plants and shrubs to help keep soil stable and healthy. Limestone is versatile because it can be cut into various shapes and sizes demonstrated by the circular stairs.

Limestone wall is part of modern landscape design

Natural stone walls aren’t just for rustic or traditional applications. The stone columns of this modern home blend well with the limestone retaining wall, part of the front entrance of the property. Landscape design places low-lying bushes in the front, while taller shrubs add height to the low wall.

 

Tire Retaining Wall Ideas

Good for the environment because they are made of recyclable materials, tire retaining walls are strong, durable, and a viable option for controlling soil erosion. A tire design is very DIY and budget friendly.

Tire retaining wall ideas for steep slopes

A wall of old tires is built by laying tires side by side on flat, cleared ground. The base row of tires is filled with rocks, dirt, sand, or a combination and tamped down; more filler material is added as it’s compacted. Rows are added until the desired height has been reached. Tire walls have known to be as high as 25 feet.

 

Stacked Stone Retaining Wall Ideas (also called Dry Stack walls)

A stacked stone retaining wall is a great DIY alternative to stone masonry walls that require a professional build. This great tutorial video shows how to install a DIY low, dry stack wall using Pennsylvania fieldstone.

Dry stack stone wall landscaped with leafy vines

Let plants hang over the edge. It emphasizes the natural beauty of the wall.

 

Boulder Retaining Wall Ideas

Boulder retaining walls can be one of the cheapest types if boulders are sourced locally. Boulders such as fieldstone are widely available. Functional with wild and rustic beauty, boulders are the ideal construction material because they are not prone to weathering or erosion.

Tiered retaining wall landscape design with boulders

Here a front yard uses tiered low walls made of large natural stones to integrate small bushes and flowering plants into a landscape design.

Curved boulder retaining walls with boulder capstones

The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson uses a series of boulder retaining walls to display desert vegetation in their botanical garden.

Natural stone wall with water feature

Combining cut stone blocks and different-sized boulders, this large natural stone wall at Doksa Lake, Greece, includes a water feature.

Small stones used to build rustic wall in garden

This beautiful yet functional wall in a residential garden is made of small stones.

Large and small boulders make up this short retaining wall

Boulder retaining wall idea – creatively combine large and smaller boulders together while mixing the various shades of gray with soft brown and pink tones.

Low boulder retaining wall

A property defines its perimeter with a large boulder wall landscaped with inkberry holly and daylilies.

Rustic retaining wall in landscaped garden

The native species plants grown in this garden are enhanced by the rustic low retaining wall constructed of boulders.

Wall combines large boulders with flagstones

The natural grays of the boulders and flagstones that make up this wall provide the perfect canvas for the colorful tulips and phlox.

Gently curved natural rock retaining wall

A small retaining wall constructed of dry stacked stones frames a formal raised flower bed in a residential garden.

Front yard retaining wall made of large cut rocks

Structurally sound boulder wall in the front yard of a house is constructed of large rocks cut to look like granite. The wall is landscaped with container gardens and flowering plants.

Simple retaining wall of medium-sized boulders

A low and simple curved retaining wall built from medium to large size boulders is part of a landscaped residential front yard.

Natual stone wall with wood bench

Tiered installation constructed of natural stone. The ground-level part of the wall includes a brown wood bench. A gravel path in front of the wall will also help control soil erosion.

Creative use of different-sized boulders for retaining wall

Rock wall landscaping with pink phlox. The corner of the retaining wall is artistically constructed of round boulders, river rocks, and rocks of different shapes and sizes for a layered look.

 

Decorative Retaining Wall Ideas

Decorative walls add some extra visual interest to the surrounding landscape, whether it’s for residential or commercial applications. They can be produced in a number of ways including applying stone veneers; selecting the stones for contrasting color and shape; and arranging stones of different sizes into a half-circle, curved, or serpentine wall.

Dry stacked sandstone large retaining wall

Shown above is a dry stacked sandstone wall with vibrant coloring, a great decorative option for an outdoor living space.

Decorative retaining wall with natural stone veneer

Start with a concrete wall. Then boost its curb appeal by applying a natural flat stone veneer.

Mutli-colored stone decorative retaining wall with staircase

Multicolored stones give this staircase and retaining walls texture and decorative appeal.

A blend of differient sizes of natural stone and flagstone

This wall detail demonstrates how carefully selected natural flagstones of irregular shapes and sizes form a beautiful decorative pattern, rich in texture.

Dry stacked stone wall with drainage

Dry stacked stone wall with a weep hole for proper drainage – constructed of fieldstones of various sizes and shadings, cut to fit.

Bank retaining wall built into steep slope

The above retaining wall was constructed at an angle and built into a steep slope to prevent soil from falling into the stream.

 

Terraced Retaining Walls

Terraced retaining walls are divided into sections over a slope. A terraced wall can transform a steeply graded property into an aesthetically pleasing and usable front yard. There are so many options for homeowners when installing a terrace – a place to display plants; a grassy area for a lawn chair; landscaping that includes both lawn and garden beds.

Series of terraced retaining walls constructed of concrete blocks

Terraced walls made from concrete blocks are landscaped with a variety of shrubs and plants.

Hardscaping ideas - sandstone terraced retaining wall

Hardscaping ideas for a retaining wall system made of sandstone terraces. Note how capstones have an overhang for decorative effect.

Corner natural stone retaining walls in landscaped garden

A series of short terraced retaining walls constructed of natural stone in a home garden. The terraced walls have been landscaped with flowerbeds.

Garden with terraced natural stone retaining wall and steps

A beautiful sunny day is greatly improved with terraces that provide an outdoor living area where you can sit and enjoy the beautiful flowers and colorful landscaping.

 

FAQ about Retaining Walls

Does a retaining wall sound like something you and your landscaping might need? Here are the answers to some general questions you might have.

What is the cheapest type of retaining wall?

The cheapest types of retaining walls are ones made of wood and concrete blocks. It is the cost of the material that makes building one inexpensive or expensive. The cheapest design to DIY is one made of treated pine.

What is the easiest retaining wall to build?

Short walls under three feet high and constructed of concrete blocks or masonry blocks are the easiest type of wall for DIYers to build. They are ideal landscape solutions for a front yard or raised flower bed.

What is the strongest type of retaining wall?

The strongest and most durable type of retaining wall is a poured concrete wall.

How do you make a strong retaining wall?

Soil shifts. Take into account topsoil and soil weights. Build the wall in proportion to the amount of material that needs to be retained. To make a wall strong use well-compacted base material, calculate the required slope, and include a step-back design in the construction plan to “push” the wall against the soil.

Do you need drainage behind a retaining wall?

Yes, proper drainage is essential for all retaining wall designs. Groundwater needs to be directed away from the wall to avoid soil from swelling and putting pressure on the wall itself.

Do I need a concrete footing for a retaining wall?

No, a concrete footing isn’t necessary for a retaining wall. However, you do need a base or footing, but use a porous material such as a course stone aggregate or gravel to allow the wall to naturally shift with the ground.

How long do retaining walls last?

The longevity of retaining walls depends on several factors including the microclimate of the outdoor space, soil, and the quality of the wall materials used. Properly designed and constructed masonry walls, including a natural stone wall, can last for 100 or more years. Treated timber walls have a lifespan of up to 40 years. Walls made of concrete blocks or poured concrete walls have been known to last anywhere from 50 to 100 years.

What slope requires a retaining wall?

For a yard with common types of soil including granular and soil with low clay content, a slope over 35 degrees will need some sort of wall.

At what height does a retaining wall need to be engineered?

You will need to consult an engineer for a wall that is higher than four feet.

What do you use to backfill a retaining wall?

The best material to backfill a retaining wall is crushed stone or gravel. Start with the stone or gravel for the first foot of the wall, then use compacted soil for the remainder of the wall.

How do you landscape a retaining wall?

To landscape it without risk of damage to it, select low growing plants, small bushes, and medium height flowering plants. The root systems of tall trees and larger shrubs might push against stone walls or a concrete block wall, allowing water seepage and/or shifting soil to break through.

How can I make my retaining wall look better?

Improve the appearance of existing concrete retaining walls by applying a layer of stucco – for a color such as light blue, pale lemon, or peach, add oxide pigment to the stucco mix before applying it to the wall.

Grow a row of shrubs or a hedge the same height as the wall.

For a finished, professional look create a cap by attaching small slabs of flat, natural stone to the top of a wall made of stone, brick, or concrete. To add visual interest to a wood retaining install the cap made from a different wood or stained with another color.

Do you need landscape fabric behind a retaining wall?

Landscape fabric behind a retaining wall, whether the wall is made of concrete, brick, stone, or wood, creates a barrier between the soil and the blocks/wood. It is constructed of woven fibers that let water through, helping to extend the lifespan of the wall.

Why do retaining walls fail?

The number one cause of retaining wall failure is poor drainage. The second most common cause is improper construction methods. Miscalculations during the design process and the age of the wall are other top reasons.

What is the best retaining wall block?

Interlocking concrete block is ideal for DIY retaining walls. Since they come in a number of colors, sizes, and shapes, they are exceptionally versatile.

When should you build a retaining wall?

Build a retaining wall when:

  • Your yard is on a hill and you want a flat area for a garden, patio, or some other type of outdoor living space
  • The ground is uneven
  • A part of the front yard or backyard is too low to do anything with unless it is elevated
  • Soil erosion is subtracting from your curb appeal

Can retaining walls be built into other landscaping features?

Yes, wall designs with water features or with steps can be built to create a stunning outdoor space.

Do retaining walls require mortar to hold them together?

No, they don’t. There are many concrete and stone (interlocking blocks) products at an affordable price specifically designed for DIY projects that don’t require mortar to hold them together.

How high can my retaining wall be?

Without a permit or a licensed engineer, a retaining wall can be just under 4 feet. A wall higher than 4 feet typically requires a permit and adherence to local restrictions, regulations, and/or guidelines.

When should I call a professional?

When building a retaining wall is over four feet, you should call a professional. In most local regions and municipalities, a permit is required, and before one is issued, you’ll need to consult a licensed engineer for any wall designs that are four feet and taller.

About Joe Hats 132 Articles
Joe Hats is the founder of FreshPatio.com. Joe has been remodeling homes since 1997 when he bought his first fixer-upper. He has built many pieces of indoor and outdoor furniture with his own hands and has every DIY woodworking tool in his possession. Coming from an engineering background, he has designed and built many patio fixture plans. Following his wife's lead, he is also very passionate about home decor and together they keep track of the latest trends. When he is not remodeling or trying a new woodworking tool, he is busy gardening or designing a new outdoor plan.