42 Retaining Wall Ideas to Keep Your Garden Together

A retaining wall can be a beautiful addition to your garden or backyard landscape. It serves the practical purpose of holding back soil and creating a terraced or raised bed area. Retaining walls also provide aesthetic appeal and can even increase your outdoor living space. With so many potential benefits, it’s no wonder retaining walls are a popular choice for homeowners looking to enhance their outdoor space.

When planning your retaining wall project, there are numerous design factors to consider such as location, size, material, and visual appeal. We’ve gathered 42 fantastic retaining wall ideas to inspire your garden design and keep all that lovely soil in place. From practical and budget-friendly to lavish and modern, there’s sure to be a retaining wall design that fits your style and needs. Read on for gorgeous garden retaining wall inspiration!

Classic Brick Retaining Walls

The classic red brick retaining wall never seems to go out of style. Brick has a timeless look and blends well with many garden designs. It provides a formal, elegant touch. Brick retaining walls are also very strong and durable. Here are some lovely ways to incorporate brick retaining walls in your yard:

Stacked Brick Retaining Wall

A stacked brick retaining wall has a clean, uniform appearance. Stacking the bricks tightly without mortar between the joints creates a seamless line. This type of brick wall has a refined yet casual vibe. Mixing brick sizes and colors adds visual interest.

Brick Terraces

Multiple short, stacked brick retaining walls can create beautiful terraced beds in your garden. The staggered levels make an attractive backdrop for flowers and plants. Brick planter boxes along the walls are perfect for herbs and trailing greenery.

Curved Brick Retaining Wall

Gentle curves soften the look of brick retaining walls. A curved brick wall lends a graceful flow and charm to the landscape. Use curving walls to border planting beds or frame focal points in your garden.

Brick and Stone Combination Walls

Pairing brick with natural stone creates an organic yet structured look. Consider mixing stone slabs, loose rocks, and bricks to make a harmonious blended wall. Using brick as the top border helps contain the soil.

Natural Stone Retaining Walls

Retaining walls made of natural stone have an earthy, rustic feel. The irregular shapes and multi-toned colors of stone look perfectly at home in nature-inspired gardens. Stone suits a relaxed, casual style. Here are some stunning ways to include natural stone in retaining wall designs:

Dry Stack Stone Retaining Wall

A dry stack stone wall uses stones stacked tightly together without mortar to hold them in place. This type creates a rugged, natural look. Larger flat rocks stacked on the bottom help stabilize the wall.

Mixed Size Stone Wall

Using a random assortment of stone sizes and shapes makes for a charming, eclectic wall. Mixing small and large stones together adds visual interest. Place larger blocks on the bottom with smaller ones on top.

Stepping Stone Retaining Wall

Turn a slope into a pretty cascading wall with staggered stepping stones. Allow planting pockets between the stone steps to create a lush, overflowing garden feel. This works especially well for shorter retaining walls.

Stone and Timber Retaining Wall

Combining stone with wood adds warmth. Use large stones on the bottom portion with a timber cap on top. You can also alternate stone and wood layers. The contrast provides a striking, rustic-chic look.

Elegant Poured Concrete Retaining Walls

Poured concrete makes a refined, contemporary statement in landscape designs. The fluid curves and smooth finish of poured concrete complement modern architecture and minimalist garden styles.

Curving Poured Concrete Wall

A gently curving poured concrete retaining wall has an airy, sculptural look. The sweeping lines make a striking focal point. Use curves to edge planting beds or border water features for a serene oasis feel.

Textured Poured Concrete

Creating a textured finish on poured concrete, such as exposed aggregate, imparts visual interest. Pair the textured concrete with sleek planters and architectural plants for a modern vibe. Bold plant colors pop against the neutral backdrop.

Stacked Concrete Blocks

For a budget-friendly option, stacked pre-cast concrete blocks make tidy, uniform retaining walls. The modular blocks stack neatly like Lego bricks. Leave gaps between the blocks for easy drainage.

Concrete and Wood Retaining Wall

The sleekness of concrete combined with the warmth of wood creates a pleasing dynamic. Use poured concrete on the bottom with a wide timber cap on top for contrast. Mixing materials works with the modern farmhouse trend.

Practical and Budget-Friendly Retaining Walls

Not all retaining walls need to be elaborate stone or brick constructions. More humble materials like timber, cinder blocks, or gabions can also be attractive and affordable options for DIY walls. Simple doesn’t mean boring.

Log Slice Timber Wall

Stacking horizontal log slices creates rustic retaining walls with natural texture. The log cross-sections interlock securely. Over time, the timber ages gracefully to a silvery grey patina.

Cinder Block Retaining Wall

Standard cinder blocks do the job for basic retaining walls. Stack blocks in a crisscross or pyramid shape for stability, filling interior gaps with gravel for drainage. Paint them an attractive color for a more polished look.

Gabion Retaining Wall

Gabions are wire cages filled with rocks that make intriguing retaining walls. The varied rock shapes create sculptural silhouettes. Over time, plants can grow through the mesh for a lush, living wall effect.

Pallet Wood Retaining Wall

Recycled shipping pallets can be deconstructed and reassembled into budget-friendly DIY retaining walls. Use pallet wood to edge vegetable beds in cottage gardens. Customize with a fun painted finish.

Low-Maintenance Retaining Wall Options

Some retaining wall materials are better choices for low-maintenance landscapes. Homeowners short on time will appreciate these easy-care, durable options.

Concrete Block Retaining Wall

Concrete block walls require almost no maintenance once installed. The modular blocks connect tightly together. Concrete won’t rot or warp, making it ideal for neglected areas. Simple to DIY.

Stone Veneer Panels

Faux stone veneer panels attach to retaining wall frameworks for a natural stone look without the weight. The lightweight panels won’t crack or deteriorate like real stone. Super easy installation.

PVC Retaining Wall Panels

PVC retaining wall panels are completely weatherproof and maintenance-free. The molded panels are fade-resistant and easy to install. PVC is suitable for curved or terraced walls. Lots of color options.

Composite Timber Retaining Wall

Composite timber made from recycled plastic and wood won’t rot, split, or attract pests like real timber. The fake wood gives an authentic look with zero maintenance. Use for straight or curved walls.

Creative Retaining Wall Designs

Sometimes you need a retaining wall to do more than just hold back soil. With clever designs, retaining walls can provide extra functionality and visual drama in your landscape. Get creative with these unique options:

Multi-Tiered Planting Retaining Wall

Create a spectacular vertical garden with a stacked retaining wall design. Each wall tier provides space for plants. Try cascading flowers or rail-trailing succulents. The lush greenery softens the structure.

Retaining Wall With Integrated Bench

Combining a retaining wall with a built-in bench doubles the function while taking up minimal space. Use the bench to enjoy views across your landscape. Curved benches work well for corner walls.

Retaining Wall With Water Feature

Give your retaining wall decorative appeal by integrating a water element. Use spouts to create small cascades down the wall. Or add a channel to direct rainwater into a catch basin. The soothing sound adds ambiance.

Decorative Retaining Wall Finishes

Add visual interest to plain retaining walls with decorative finishing touches. Options include tile accents, etched patterns, art mosaic tiles, or attached planter boxes. Get creative with colors and textures!

Best Materials for Retaining Walls

With so many options to choose from, how do you select the right retaining wall materials for your yard? Here are important factors to consider when comparing materials:

  • Durability – Select strong, long-lasting materials that can withstand the elements in your climate. Concrete, natural stone, and steel tend to be the toughest.
  • ** Drainage** – Good drainage prevents buildup of moisture behind the wall, so choose permeable materials or leave gaps between blocks. Avoid completely solid walls.
  • Weight – Heavy materials like stone and concrete are sturdier but may require equipment to install. Lighter wall systems are easier for DIY projects.
  • Appearance – Pick a style that fits your landscape design aesthetic, whether natural stone, refined brick, rustic wood, or modern concrete.
  • Budget – Simple cinder block and pre-cast concrete are budget-friendly. Natural stone and brick are higher end. Recycled materials like timbers and gabions offer low-cost options.

Key Questions to Ask Before Building a Retaining Wall

Constructing a well-built retaining wall requires careful planning and preparation. Before getting started on your wall project, here are some key questions to ask yourself:

What Purpose Will the Wall Serve?

Consider how you intend to use the space created by the wall. Will it edge a planting bed, hold a slope for a play area, or provide yard access? The purpose will inform placement and dimensions.

How High and Long Will the Wall Be?

Measure the total rise and length of your planned wall to determine the approximate base size and materials needed. Higher walls usually require a wider base for sufficient support and leverage.

What Kind of Soil and Drainage Exist?

Know your site’s soil type and drainage conditions. Heavy, compacted clay is harder to build on than gravelly alluvial soil. You may need French drains behind some walls.

Is There Existing Infrastructure to Work Around?

Look out for pipes, wires, septic tanks, or other utility lines already buried where you want to build. Adjust the design to avoid damaging infrastructure.

Do I Need Engineering Designs or Permits?

Most walls under 4 feet high and not supporting loads don’t require an engineer. But check your local building codes for permit requirements based on wall size and proximity to property lines.

How Will I Terrace or Finish the Retained Soil Area?

Consider how the newly created space above the wall will be used and finished with proper drainage and plantings to stabilize the soil on the hillside.

DIY Installation Tips for Retaining Walls

Building a retaining wall is a challenging project, but lots of options like stackable landscape blocks or timbers are feasible for DIY homeowners. Follow these tips to ensure your wall is structurally sound:

  • Excavate a wide trench to below frost line and add a gravel base for drainage. Compact soil well before building.
  • Start with a buried footer course to give the wall a solid foundation to rest upon. This prevents settling and bulging.
  • Use wall blocks with an angled or notched lip to keep upper rows stable and interlocked. Stack rows evenly.
  • Incorporate perforated drainage pipes near the bottom to divert moisture from behind the wall and prevent hydrostatic pressure.
  • Fill gaps between blocks loosely with free-draining gravel, not compacted soil. Avoid soils that retain moisture.
  • Slope soil on the hillside upward away from the wall at a minimum 2:1 ratio. Add plants with deep roots to hold the slope.
  • Cap the wall with patio blocks, timbers or coping stones to allow space for drainage between rows.

Following these basic retaining wall installation guidelines will help create a structurally sound wall that lasts. Consider having an expert evaluate the site and plans if attempting a large or high wall. Proper drainage and soil stability are crucial.

FAQs About Retaining Wall Projects

Still have questions about how to plan and construct the perfect retaining wall for your yard? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

How much do retaining walls cost?

Retaining wall costs range hugely from $10 – $50 per square foot depending on the materials, height, contractor fees, and other site conditions. Simple DIY timber or cinder block walls start under $10/sq ft while natural stone is $35+ per square foot installed.

What is the maximum height for a retaining wall?

It’s recommended DIY homeowners limit retaining walls to 4 feet or less. Higher walls up to 6 feet are possible but require advanced engineering and reinforced materials to prevent overturning. Check local building codes for the allowed max height without permits.

Should backfill behind a retaining wall be compacted?

No, compacting backfill behind retaining walls is problematic because it doesn’t drain well, causing moisture buildup issues. Use loose, granular backfill materials instead. Proper drainage is key.

How far should a retaining wall be from a fence or property line?

Retaining walls within 2 to 3 feet of a property line or fence often require a permit. Local codes vary but having at least 2 feet space makes construction and maintenance access easier while allowing utilities through.

What kind of soil should be used behind a retaining wall?

A free-draining granular fill like crushed stone or gravel makes the best retaining wall backfill. Sand and non-compacted topsoil also work well. Avoid heavy clay soil or compacted fill.

How do you prevent a retaining wall from bowing or tilting?

Proper drainage and foundation are key. Excavate a footing trench and add gravel base before building. Use drainage pipe and permeable backfill materials. Allow a setback from the top of the wall to prevent lateral soil pressure.

Final Thoughts on Building Garden Retaining Walls

Adding a well-built retaining wall is one of the best ways to create usable flat yard space on a slope while preventing erosion issues. With so many attractive design options now available, retaining walls can transform your landscape aesthetics too.

Hopefully these retaining wall ideas and tips have inspired you to consider adding one to your own garden. Retaining walls open up new possibilities for gardens on terraces and hillsides that allow planting beds, play areas, and outdoor living spaces where none previously existed.

While a large retaining wall is best left to the pros, simple DIY timber or modular block walls up to 4 feet high are feasible projects for motivated homeowners. Just be sure to plan carefully and build on a solid, well-drained foundation. Soon you’ll be enjoying beautiful new garden rooms thanks to skillfully designed retaining walls.

Related Questions

What plants grow well on a retaining wall?
Trailing succulents like burro’s tail or sedum work well cascading over retaining walls. Other good options include trailing lantana, ivy, primrose, and purple fountain grass. Choose plants that can tolerate the reflected heat off stone or concrete.

What can you put on top of a retaining wall?
Flat capstones or pavers make a nice finished top for low retaining walls under 2 feet high to sit on. For taller walls, use railings, fences, or hedges along the edge for safety. Avoid heavy structures directly on retaining walls.

How far apart should drainage pipes be in a retaining wall?
Spacing drainage pipes every 8 to 10 feet along the base of a retaining wall is ideal. Use 4-inch perforated plastic drainage pipe wrapped in gravel. Closer spacing may be needed for wet climates or heavy clay soils prone to moisture accumulation.

Can you make a retaining wall out of old tires?
Technically yes, used tires filled with dirt can be stacked to make inexpensive retaining walls. However, tire walls tend to bulge and degrade over time. Also, the black rubber fades and looks unsightly. Better DIY options are stackable landscape blocks, timbers, or mini cinder block walls.

How do you attach plants to a cinder block retaining wall?
To dress up a boring cinder block retaining wall, insert a piece of welded wire or chicken wire between blocks while stacking the wall. Then, fill behind the wire with soil for planting pockets. Set plants in the pockets to create a living green wall effect.