How to Build a Retaining Wall

A retaining wall is used for supporting soil and allows you to maintain soils at two different levels. While retaining walls are considered structural, there is no reason they can’t be an attractive element in your landscape. These walls can be constructed from different materials, such as pressure treated timbers or segmental blocks. A basic block retaining wall relies on its own mass to hold back the soil behind it. A lot of block options have a lip on the back that allows for the wall to set back into the hillside for additional strength of the wall.

How to Build A Retaining Wall - Patuxent Nursery

You can build a retaining wall yourself but there are a few things to consider before starting. Depending on the height of the wall and where you live, you may need to get a permit to build a wall. Check with your local government agency to see if a permit is required.

Tools Required to Build a Retaining Wall

There are a few tools you will need to complete your project, which you can easily rent from your local tool rental store. You will need the following tools: shovel, tape measure, hammer, chisel, carpenters level, stakes, string line, safety glasses, hand tamper and square. Depending on the size of the project you may also need: excavator, skid loader, vibratory plate compactor, guillotine splitter and masonry cut off saw.

Steps for Building Your Retaining Wall

Here are a few of the steps to follow to build a retaining wall:

  • Dig a trench approximately 24” wide and deep enough to bury the first course of block. Walls over 4’will require additional block to be buried and should have plans approved by a structural engineer.
  • Use a compactor or hand tamper to compact soil in bottom of trench and then compact 6” of CR-6 base material.
  • Remove lip off of the back of the wall block using a hammer or chisel. Place the first course of block on base material. Level each block side to side and front to back using a level and rubber mallet.
  • Level each additional base block with the block next to it. The key to a strong beautiful wall starts with the base course. Spend the time to make the base course correctly. If you don’t the wall can lose structural integrity and each course will show more and more of the flaws.
  • Lay each additional course of block making sure to stagger the joints. Back fill with washed gravel as each course is installed. Install a sleeved perforated pipe behind wall and continue to add drainage rock behind wall. The pipe should outlet every 50’ and at end of wall.
  • Fill remaining area behind wall with native soil and compact every 8”.
  • If you need partial blocks you will need to split with a hammer and chisel or a guillotine splitter.
  • Building a retaining wall can give you more useable space and also create a more exciting landscape.

It can be a big project but can be done with a little research, imagination and muscle. If you would rather have the project completed by our experienced crews at Patuxent contact our Custom Landscape Department.
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