How to Build a Small Retaining Wall for Landscape

A retaining wall project will utilize all the functions of the outside space and increase the attraction in your landscape. It is the perfect way to control soil erosion, provide a secure place for your home, reduce steep slopes or problems caused by hills to add more unique planting bed designs, and create the focal points for your landscape garden. Building a retaining wall might seem simple to install and be reasonably priced with high maintenance, as well as a variety of colors, textures, ideas for almost all homeowners to choose to make use of their outdoor living space. Whether you want to do it yourself or hire professional constructors, in some steps of installation, a retaining wall will require professional engineering to keep its shape.

concrete retaining wall

When planning to build retaining wall blocks, you should find out what to do before going to any physical works. Learning thoroughly all the techniques and skills to plan and build retaining walls and steps is required because this process is in the intermediate complexity level and will need a couple of days to finish. If you want to figure out how to build a retaining wall step by step, keep reading and this article would be all you need for your striking design.

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The first thing you should do is to check the local codes for requirements and check whether there are any underground utility lines before going to any steps of building the retaining walls. In case you’d like to hire a landscaper instead of DIY, make sure this address also has the permit from your local area.

underground utilities

Keep checking the water runoff and drainage in mind during this project and ensure that the water systems from your house will not be puddled and reduce the endurance of stairs. Call 811 – DigSafe to ask about the local utility before you plan to dig anything up. Then determine whether there are any underground lines and mark the exact locations to avoid it during the process.

Required Tools

To build a retaining wall DIY, make sure you have these right tools. The process will be easier for you and save your time with them:

  • Round point shovel: This is useful for moving plants, excavating, and establishing a foundation.
  • Square blade shovel: It’s ideal for laying down materials like gravel or sand and grading the region.
  • Tamper: Helpful to tamp down the area.
  • 4 ft. level: Check to see if the work area and the rows of retaining walls are levels.
  • Drilling Hammers: To drive stakes into the ground, a mallet and a 5-pound maul may be useful.
  • Adhesive and caulking gun: If you wish to attach finishing caps or add steps, these supplementary materials will come in handy.
  • Block chisel
  • Tape measure
  • Circular saw
  • Transit level

In addition, you should prepare safety glasses and a dust mask to protect yourself from physical harm.

Required Materials

You should plan a list of which materials you need to buy ahead of time you go shopping. This will help you save a significant amount of money and time. This list will include:

  • Retaining wall blocks: there is a catalog of each manufacturer that you can opt for your different options of style, color, size, and pattern. Take a firsthand look and compare the prices.
  • Paver Base
  • Concrete blocks
  • Concrete adhesive
  • Concrete pavers
  • Sand and gravel
  • Landscape fabric

When you prepare all the tools and materials along with you, the next part will show you how to build a retaining wall DIY step by step.


Step 1: Determine the number of blocks required

Use the tape measure to determine the length of your wall. Then divide this number by the length of each block you plan to use for your project. In this way, you’ll probably know how many blocks you need to use per row. And to determine how many rows are in your own project, divide the length of your wall by the height of the block.

measure the length of wall

Step 2: Prepare a good foundation

Only when your retaining wall has a strong foundation system, your project will maintain its longevity. Dig the trench where you plan to install the wall with at least 4 inches in depth and 24 inches in width. For the sloped area, you’ll want to level the trench to have space for keeping the stone blocks. For the stacked-block retaining walls, provide an area of at least 4 inches for adding the crushed rock behind the wall to keep it settle.

dig the trench

Step 3: Tamp down the paver base

Use a hand tamper to tamp down the paver base which you added into the trench. Tamp it until it’s below the tops of the stakes about 1 inch. Then, use a garden hose and spray the paver base down to compact it into the soil.

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Step 1: Level the first row

It’s time to install a retaining wall with the first layer. The first course of blocks must be installed on a flat sand base, if not, the rest of your retaining wall will be unlevel too and unattractive.

install the first course

Before going to place the blocks, use the 4 ft. level to ensure the gravel sand below the first course is even. Use a hammer and block chisel to cut blocks and check the levelness from front to back.

Step 2: Fill the first row of blocks

To install the first course of blocks, you will use a straight row with a taut string line. Set the first block in the lowest location of the trench and always check for levelness. Then, continue to lay the next blocks which will be even with the first one.

fill the first course

Step 3: Start the second row

When finished installing the first row, to keep the wall in place, pack native soil to grade level on both sides of this course.

masonry blade

Use a masonry blade to cut blocks for the second row of a retaining wall and then put them into the position against the first row. You can use the concrete adhesive to stagger the blocks to each other and between the first row of blocks and the second ones.

Step 4: Finish the retaining wall

The backfill also works as a tree root barrier and offers a quick channel for water drainage. You’ll probably put a pipe behind the wall for drainage to avoid the underground water damaging your retaining wall.

install the pipe

Once you finish installing the drainage pipe, place crushed gravel as the use for backfill. Crushed gravel, as opposed to smooth gravel, holds together and helps drive backfill pressure downward (rather than outward).

build the wall block

Moreover, you can install the cap blocks, and to secure them, use two 1/4-in. beads of concrete adhesive. Cap blocks can be put flat with the wall face or with a small overhang or backset.


Building a retaining wall for our home is not such easy work that you can finish it within a few hours and with little experience. In case you want to design a retaining wall but you’re not sure about what to begin, the best thing you should do is to find a professional, in this field to help you. They have experience and the right tools for each work of this project. Search the information on the Internet and find an address around your location. They will probably prepare the tools and materials for you, as well as from the design work to the physical one.

Green Arbor Landscaping

Green Arbor Landscaping is the top ranking in the landscaping field in general, and the retaining wall installation field in particular. With 35-year of quality service in landscaping,Green Abor is the superior choice for all of your outdoor living needs. We can inform you that we provide a variety of services which vary from yard clean up to garden maintenance for your different choices. You can search for other clients’ comments about the Green Arbor service site which will absolutely satisfy your expectations with their experiences and enthusiasm.

Treame Liam:“The team from Green Arbor Landscaping & Maintenance went above and beyond to install a gravel barrier around my foundation to keep mice out (turns out they will burrow shockingly far down). The result looked great and was exactly to spec. The team addressed minor hiccups flawlessly, and even helped me store the removed soil for a future garden bed and cleaned up the hedge adjacent to the job site so everything looked extra good at the end.”

review of Treame Liam

Mei Fuoce:“Green Arbor Landscaping & Maintenance have provided me with excellent maintenance on my very complicated garden twice a month. They is responsive, communicative, pays attentions to the details, and always timely. They also prepped our house for sale and did a beautiful job! Highly recommend.”

review of Mei Fuoce

To contact Green Arbor for a free quote estimate here is some information that you might need:

5 thoughts on “How to Build a Small Retaining Wall for Landscape

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