How to Build a Retaining Wall

A sloping landscape is pleasing to the eye. However, it limits what you can do in your yard. Uneven ground can be dangerous for children and difficult for holding parties. It also exposes your land to erosion. To correct uneven ground, you can build a retaining wall on your own with just a few tools.

Different materials can be used for the project. Some of the more commonly used materials are timber, interlocking blocks, stacked stone, bricks/blocks, or concrete. The material recommended for those unfamiliar with construction is interlocking concrete blocks. The material makes it easier to assemble the wall.

You will need the following materials and equipment for digging and backfilling:

  • interlocking concrete blocks
  • shovel and digging tools
  • tape measure
  • wooden stakes and string
  • 4” PVC drain pipe
  • level
  • wheelbarrow
  • soil tamper
  • gravel
  • landscaping fabric
  • work gloves and safety glasses


Steps in Constructing a Retaining Wall


  1. Determine the area where the wall needs to be built. Check the spots where water runoff is causing the soil to slide, or where a downhill spot is losing soil support. You should also check local building codes if a permit is needed and contact local utility providers to make sure you don’t cut through any of their lines. Mark the area for the wall with stakes and string.
  2. Dig the area for laying the wall’s foundation. Be familiar with the frost depth and the type of soil before you dig. Soil expands and contracts when water in it freezes and thaws. Frost depth is the part of the soil where this begins to happen. The type of soil will tell you how saturated the soil will be. How deep you have to dig for the foundation depends on these two main factors.
  3. Concrete walls need foundations below the frost line. For non-mortared walls, you should build a trench at the level below frost line and fill it with gravel. If you live in a non-freezing region and your soil drainage is good, you can just dig the topsoil to serve as foundation. Where you may have problems with drainage, it is best to install a drain pipe.
  4. Backfilling: Lay down landscape fabric before adding new gravel to replace the original soil. Use gravel, which is no smaller than 3/4 inch in diameter, and a shovel in a four-inch layer of gravel. This should slope one inch for every four feet. Then, lay your four-inch PVC drain pipe.
  5. Start laying the interlocking blocks and make sure they are evenly placed. Cut a block in half to be used for interlocking at the end of the first tier. Lay the succeeding levels in the same way. You can run a string between two blocks to check if they are level.
  6. Continue laying the blocks; shovel in the backfill as you build the wall, one tier at a time. Make sure you interlock them and use a half stone at the start of each tier.
  7. When you have reached the desired height, finish the backfilling. Tamp the soil in place and put the landscaping fabric behind the wall. Since retaining walls will hold a lot of pressure, the ideal height is only between three to four feet, with about a foot and a quarter in width.
  8. You can now add topsoil and plants on your leveled yard.

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