18 Cheap Retaining Wall Ideas Using Affordable Materials

Retaining walls serve an important function in landscape design. They hold back soil on a slope or raised bed and prevent erosion. Building a retaining wall can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. There are many affordable materials that can be used to build an attractive, functional, and budget-friendly retaining wall.

What is a Retaining Wall?

A retaining wall is a structure designed to hold back soil, either on a slope or to create a raised planting bed. The wall prevents the soil behind it from slumping or sliding away under the forces of gravity. Retaining walls are made from a variety of materials including concrete, blocks, stone, wood, and even old tires. The type of material used depends on the project budget, the height of the wall, and aesthetic preferences.

Retaining walls serve both practical and aesthetic purposes in landscape design. On a slope, they prevent erosion and allow the creation of usable flat areas for gardens, lawns, patios or other structures. Around raised beds, they keep the soil in place for planting. Well-designed retaining walls can also be an attractive landscape element themselves, adding color, texture and form to the yard.

Benefits of Building Retaining Walls

There are many good reasons to build a retaining wall:

  • Prevent erosion on slopes
  • Create usable flat areas on a grade
  • Hold back soil for raised beds
  • Add visual interest to the landscape
  • Increase property value by improving the yard
  • Provide privacy and sound dampening when built high
  • Long-lasting structures, with proper drainage and construction
  • Available in a wide range of heights and lengths

Factors to Consider When Planning a Retaining Wall

Building a sound, attractive retaining wall requires some planning. Important factors to keep in mind include:

  • Site conditions – Consider the slope, drainage, amount of direct sunlight and exposure to weather. Examine the soil type in the area as that impacts wall design.
  • Wall height – The height determines the pressure exerted on the wall. Most affordable DIY walls are 0-4 feet tall.
  • Length of the wall – The longer the wall, the stronger it needs to be. Long spans may require thicker construction or reinforcement.
  • Surcharges – Any loads behind the wall like a driveway, building or tree can add pressure and require extra reinforcement.
  • Drainage – Proper drainage behind the wall is key to preventing buildup of hydrostatic pressure. Include drainage materials, weep holes or drains.
  • Appearance – Choose materials that suit the existing landscape aesthetics and home style.
  • Permits – Most retaining walls over 4 feet tall require permits. Check local regulations.

Thinking through these elements helps create a wall that handles the stresses over time and suits the landscape design.

18 Affordable Retaining Wall Ideas

There are many budget-friendly options for DIY retaining walls using materials that won’t break the bank. Here are 18 great ideas:

1. Stacked Stone

This classic look provides a natural, organic feel. Use locally sourced stones or pavers for lowest cost. Include drainage gravel behind the wall. Stacked stone works well for short walls up to 3 feet tall. Mortar between stones is optional, but adds strength.

2. Interlocking Blocks

Blocks designed to stack together provide one of the easiest retaining wall options. Many types are self-aligning and require no special skills. Look for a textured face for visual appeal. Install these on a compacted gravel base with drainage fill behind.

3. Used Bricks

Check architectural salvage yards, classified ads or Facebook Marketplace for low-cost bricks. Clean off old mortar before stacking bricks with fresh mortar joints, if desired. A rebuilt brick retaining wall gives a sense of history and charm.

4. Gabion Baskets

Wire mesh baskets filled with rock create gabion wall sections. Stack the cages and fill with gravel or stone for a natural effect. Gabions are sold in varying sizes to build walls of different heights.

5. Stacked Flagstone

Irregular flagstone pieces stacked tightly together make an attractive and inexpensive option for short garden walls. Use smaller pieces at the base and larger pieces higher up for stability. It creates a mosaic effect.

6. Poured Concrete

Building a form and pouring a concrete retaining wall is budget-friendly but requires more DIY skill. Insert pieces of colorful tile or glass shards in the wet concrete to dress it up. This works very well for long spans.

7. Cinder Blocks

A classic, inexpensive choice for raised beds and garden walls up to 3 feet tall. Lay blocks flat or stand upright in a running bond pattern. For visual interest, alternate blocks with upright bricks. Mortar is optional for added strength.

8. Landscape Timbers

Rot-resistant wood timbers provide an organic look and are widely available.Overlap corners like Lincoln Logs and drive spikes through pre-drilled holes to secure in place. Use timbers up to 3 feet high maximum.

9. Cast Concrete Blocks

Mass-produced blocks, often scalloped or textured, are manufactured for retaining walls up to 3 feet high. The uniform blocks stack easily. Look for versions with a hollow core to insert steel rebar for reinforcement over 30 inches tall.

10. Green Wall With Rail Ties

Used rail ties cut in half lengthwise provide the support boards for an eco-friendly planted wall. Stack and secure them, then fill with layers of soil mix and plants. The greenery helps camouflage the ties.

11. Stacked Slate

Slate roofing tiles, remnants or seconds add lovely shades of grey to garden walls. Stack varying sizes tightly, using small pieces to fill gaps for a natural effect. Use slate pieces under 2 inches thick for low walls. Mortar as needed between uneven pieces.

12. Log Sections

Cut logs offer organic, casual appeal for short garden walls and beds. Use pressure-treated 4-6 inch logs. Stack securely in an overlapping pattern and drive rebar through pre-drilled holes for stability.

13. Rubble Wall

Also called grotto walls, these picturesque walls use irregular stones stacked closely. Smaller filler stones secure the larger ones in place. Include drainage gravel behind. Most suitable for walls under 2 feet tall in concealed areas due to rustic appearance.

14. Urbanite

Reclaimed concrete pieces like broken sidewalk slabs, patio pavers or cinder blocks form creative mosaic patterns. Stack tightly and allow some irregularity. Use smaller filler pieces to secure uneven urbanite chunks.

15. Planted Retaining Wall

Alternate courses of block or timbers with courses of planting soil to create a living wall. Tuck small, trailing plants into the soil layers that cascade over the edges. Use grids to hold the planted sections in place between support wall courses.

16. Ecoblock Walls

Interlocking blocks made from recycled plastic provide durability and a smaller carbon footprint. The hollow blocks allow soil backfilling and planting. Ecoblocks come in earthtone colors to blend with their surroundings.

17. Used Tires

Old tires packed tightly with gravel or soil createinstant raised beds or terraces. Overlap tire sidewalls slightly to help them interlock. This eco-friendly wall option keeps tires out of landfills.

18. Bin Blocks

These clever blocks made from upcycled blue storage bins stack together securely like giant Legos. The bright colors add whimsy to garden spaces. Fill bins with soil or gravel for instant planting pockets or drainage.

Tips for Building Budget Retaining Walls

Follow good construction practices when building retaining walls from affordable materials:

  • Dig a solid, compacted footing in a trench for stability.
  • Use a level to ensure the top courses are even.
  • Follow any manufacturers instructions for assembly.
  • Overlap wall corners for strength.
  • Add reinforcement rebar or grids if over 3 feet high.
  • Include 4-6 inches of gravel backfill behind the wall for drainage.
  • Direct water flow away from the wall with proper grading.
  • Check that the bottom courses are buried well below ground.
  • For natural stone walls, place larger stones below with smaller up top.

With smart planning and DIY determination, it’s possible to build an attractive retaining wall that won’t break the budget. Carefully choose affordable materials that suit the style of the yard and landscape. Stack and secure the sections properly, allowing for drainage. The end result will be a wall that holds back soil effectively while adding new dimension to the outdoor space.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the most affordable materials for a DIY retaining wall?

Some of the most budget-friendly options include stackable landscape blocks, poured concrete, bricks, urbanite, cinder blocks, timber logs, flagstone, and gabion baskets filled with stone.

What’s the maximum height for a DIY retaining wall?

Most affordable DIY retaining walls should be kept under 4 feet tall. Going above that height increases the pressure and requires reinforcements like rebar that may necessitate professional design.

Do I need a permit for a short retaining wall?

Most municipalities don’t require permits for walls under 4 feet tall, but check local regulations to be sure. Building near property lines may also require approval.

What kind of base is needed?

Lay a compacted gravel base extending 6-12 inches wider than the wall width. Crushed stone works well. Compaction helps prevent settling.

How do I make sure blocks or pavers stay level?

Check each row with a 4-foot level as you stack courses. Shim with small stones or landscape fabric as needed to keep blocks even.

What about drainage?

Proper drainage behind the wall is crucial. Include a drainage zone of gravel behind the wall, angled slightly downward. Weep holes also help relieve hydrostatic pressure.

Can I build a retaining wall with a curve?

Yes, many materials like interlocking blocks and poured concrete can create curved retaining walls. Use tighter radii circles toward the ends and larger radii toward the middle.

What plants work well on a retaining wall?

Trailing plants like ivy, vinca, and sedum cascade nicely over wall edges. Plant pockets or gaps can also hold more upright plants like grasses, herbs and small shrubs.


Building an affordable yet attractive retaining wall is a project within reach for motivated DIYers. With a little planning, creativity, and sweat equity, it’s possible to construct an eye-catching, budget-friendly wall using stacked stone, bricks, blocks, timbers, or other inexpensive materials. The end result will add function and beauty to the landscape design. Just be sure to follow sound construction principles, incorporate proper drainage, and choose materials suitable for the wall dimensions and site conditions. With some clever ideas and elbow grease, you can achieve stunning retaining walls without breaking the bank.