Building A Stone Retaining Wall

(Last Updated On: March 2, 2017)

The principle purpose of a retaining wall is to hold back soil – either in a planting bed, on a slope or at a hillside. It can be built out of just about anything, from stone to wood to poured concrete. It can significantly enhance the contours of your garden or landscape. The following guidelines cover a low, un-reinforced stone or brick wall. For anything stronger you’ll need professional help, which we provide. Please come in and talk to us before starting any project so we can help guide you to a successful completion!


  1. Figure out where and why you want a wall. Must it be at the bottom of a gentle slope to create a new planting bed? Should it be between two beds to provide contour and definition?
  2. Decide on what building materials you’ll use. Brick gives a formal elegance and stone provides a European air. Don’t forget to check out the ever-increasing options in blocks we have available for you to use.
  3. Use a trowel, shovel or grub axe to chop out the cut (a combination of ditch and ledge) where your wall will start.
  4. Pile the brick or stone so that it leans inward slightly (to counterbalance the weight of the soil that will be behind it) and use the soil to pack around the bottom layer. If you’re using stone, use the biggest ones on the bottom and then pick and choose, fitting them together like puzzle pieces to build stability into the wall.
  5. Backfill with soil.



  • For low walls, you can usually have a dry-laid wall (no mortar).
  • For added stability, use 1/2 inch of mortar between bricks (more between stones) and allow to dry and cure for a week before backfilling.



  • If your yard has drainage problems, you’re probably best off consulting with us before doing anything. Whatever you do, make sure water doesn’t drain toward the foundation of your house!
  • A retaining wall is much like a dam. The higher the wall and the heavier the soil behind it, the greater the pressure on the wall. Most retaining walls over three feet (two feet in some areas) are thus subject to some kind of permit process; this is taken more seriously in areas of seismic activity, where walls must be able to withstand shock loads in addition to everything else. Be sure to check your local regulations before you start!

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