If you are a homeowner considering improvements to your property involving land grading, raised planted beds, cosmetic or functional improvements to your landscaping, any if which might involve a retaining wall(s) then you may find some helpful considerations here. First of all, what do we mean by retaining wall? Wikipedia provides a fairly straightforward definition:
“Retaining walls are relatively rigid walls used for supporting the soil mass laterally so that the soil can be retained at different levels on the two sides. Retaining walls are structures designed to restrain soil to a slope that it would not naturally keep to.”
I’d give that definition an A+ if only it hadn’t ended in a preposition - my seventh grade teacher, Ms. Riddle, would be horrified! In any case, retaining walls basically hold back soil, but soil retention is only half the story.
Before rolling out our top ten reasons you may need a retaining wall, let’s briefly consider some wall types typical to residential landscaping.
From ancient times to this day, there have always been dry-stacked, natural stone walls, built with boulders, field stone, “cut” wall stone or any kind of stackable rocks found on earth. Next, there are poured concrete walls, and then mortared/cemented walls of stone, brick or block. Popular a few decades ago, but less so these days, are tie walls made of treated wood; these have given way to less degradable segmental retaining walls (SRWs) which consist of prefabricated concrete blocks that stack and lock together.
There are literally thousands of retaining wall combinations and options available! The type of wall suitable to any given application will be affected by many factors, including but not necessarily limited to: the structural and load requirements of the wall, the desire to match or complement the existing architecture on the property, the available materials, the skill of the installer, the imagination of the designer, site limitations, and the least popular factor - the reach of the budget.
So, there’s a lot to consider, which is why it’s nice to have professional help, from the wall design, to product choices, and through installation. Having said that, without further adieu, you may need a retaining wall if…
You have a failing wall that needs replacing, a.k.a. it’s falling over, probably because it wasn’t constructed correctly. If your existing wall is made with natural stone or SRW blocks, it may be re-buildable with the existing materials (installed properly) saving you at least some expense.
Your backyard is sloped and you want to level it out so that: - It can be safely traversed and safely mowed - You have a usable play or garden space - The crocodiles no longer have easy access to your backyard (Florida residents)
You’d like to create some raised beds, which are fantastic for: - Keeping the bunnies out of your munchables - Deterring grass from encroaching into the beds - Easier weeding and care without stooping to ground level - Informal, convenient seating throughout the garden
This one may seem counterintuitive, but perhaps your yard is very flat and rather boring. Retaining walls can be used to create different levels and add interest and height to your outdoor space.
If you have a hill that ascends up from your house, as in your house is at the bottom of it, or your house is located on a hillside, perhaps you’d benefit from carving out a level space into the side of a hill, to create, for example, a storage or seating area.
Walls can eliminate unsightly grade drop offs. The most frequent application in view here is a bed or lawn that stretches across the front of a house and at one end of the house the grade drops away, leaving several feet of house foundation visible on the corner. It’s a very common and often unappealing look, but easily remedied with a decorative retaining wall supporting a nicely landscaped bed.
If you want your beds to really stand out, a low bed-bordering wall may be ideal, and also practical for delineating beds from lawn.
If you’d like to break up a hill into usable, or plantable sections, retaining walls are great for tiering.
We already talked about replacing a failing wall, but there may be cause for a new wall if an existing wall is just plain ugly! A tastefully designed and skillfully installed retaining wall enhances the look, feel and value of any property and can be a wise investment, whereas an ugly or shoddy wall is an overall detractor.
You’d like to have a lovely entertaining area right out your back door, easily accessed without hauling your stuff up and down stairs - a retaining wall can elevate the patio to door level.
I could go on, but that’s ten, and you probably get the gist by now. Retaining walls are utilized as much in landscaping for creating various elements of interest and aesthetic appeal as they are used for structural retention of soil. As in everything landscaping related, there are many layers of purpose. Given the numerous material, design and structural considerations, it’s very useful (and smart) to talk things over with a professional before a spade ever pierces the ground. That’s where we come in! If you're in the St. Louis, MO area, click here to request a consultation with our landscape experts.
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