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How To Build a Retaining Wall with a Terrace

Integrate stone steps and a stone retaining wall into a challenging backyard slope to make the space more usable.

More in Outdoors

stepping stones and boulders added to the hillside
  • Time

    Several Weekends

  • Price Range

    $5,000 - $10,000

  • Difficulty

    Moderate to Hard

Highlights:

Step 1: Stack the Steps

First, determine the rise and run of the steps and marks these areas with landscape marking paint. The steps for this project have a 14-inch tread and a three-foot landing at the door.

Begin digging the area for the steps from the bottom so that there will still be ground to set them into. Then, tamp the area and place the step. Because these steps are very heavy, rent a compact utility loader for the day (Image 1), which costs about $150 per day to rent. A ball cart is also a good option for moving heavy round items like stones and root balls.

Use a landscape bar and shovel to maneuver the step into the exact position and check to make sure it's level (Image 2). Stack the next layers of steps, maintaining the 14-inch tread (Image 3).

Step 2: Build the Retaining Wall

The retaining wall, made up of wall stones, can be built around the steps. The first course starts halfway down from the top of the stone. The stones are placed as closely together as possible (Image 1).

Check to see if the first course is level. Then begin the second course, staggering the joints at least four inches from the joints on the first course. Use a rock hammer or chisel to shape any stones that don't quite fit (Image 2).

Step 3: Add Layers of Dirt, Gravel and Mulch

Backfill the dirt around the stones to secure them in place (Image 1). Also add stone gravel to backfill the area about six inches from the wall to create better drainage. After the area has been backfilled, spread a layer of mulch.

Step 4: Make a Landing on Top and add Plants

To make a flagstone landing at the top of the retaining wall, for a grill area, they first make sure the area is flat. Flagstones need a flat foundation to avoid breaking. They place the flagstone pieces in a random pattern (Image 1). Flagstones can be broken to fit a given space.

Finally, plant boxwoods along the retaining wall up by the house. Set more stepping stones and boulders into the hillside and create planting beds around them for the hosta, ferns and hydrangea (Image 2). The stone retaining wall, steps and landing make the slope much more usable and attractive.

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Resources

  • Tools from Porter-Cable Corporation
  • Tools from Porter-Cable Corporation
  • Iron-Clad Gloves
    Website: www.ironclad.com

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