Retaining Walls – Adding Beauty and Diversity to Your Landscaping
When you hear the word “retaining walls,” many people first think of a very utilitarian project which is done on property to help support the leveling off of steep property.
While this is essentially correct, there is much more to it than that. Professional landscaping companies are using them more and more as ways to add diversity and layers to a yard.
In addition, since you can use a wide range of different materials and styles when building them, you can really have a lot of flexibility in design plans.
When to Use Retaining Walls
There are many different situations where you can effectively use retaining walls both to add support to your landscaping ideas, and also just to give a more aesthetically pleasing look and feel. If you’ve got a large yard with a significant slope to it, you’ll likely want to add in one or more retaining walls in order to create a more tiered look. This is especially true if you plan on making a path or stairs to help you to get from the upper area to the lower.
Combining this type of wall with a walkway creates a very beautiful and formal look which most people love.
Using either identical materials for the wall or a complimenting set of materials you can really tie together the entire look of the yard very well.
If you have a more level yard, but would like to create additional dimension, you can add a wall like this in to achieve that look.
Even shorter retaining walls can make a big change in the look and design of your yard. These are excellent for dividing out different areas for either different landscaping choices, or just different uses.
Material Options for Retaining Walls
Like every choice you make in a landscaping project, the materials you use for creating a retaining wall is very important. Each option comes with different benefits, and a very different look.
Which one is right for you will depend on many factors including how much maintenance you can perform, the look you like, and even which types of plants, flowers and trees you plan on using. This is not a decision that should be rushed, so take your time and understand which option you should go with.
Pre-Cast Concrete Stone – A pre-cast concrete stone retaining wall is an excellent choice since you don’t need to worry about placing them perfectly or using mortar correctly. Each piece of the wall locks together like a jigsaw piece, giving it both great continuity and also additional strength. This material is mostly maintenance free, but is only typically used for walls up to three feet high.
Keystone Blocks – If you’re looking for a wall with more depth and design, keystone blocks might be for you. They are fairly easy to install since they lock together, and they are also excellent for creating curved walls. There are keystone blocks which were designed specifically for retaining walls so you won’t have to worry about much maintenance. They can also come in a variety of colors and patterns for additional flexibility.
Segmented Concrete Blocks – These are one of the best choices for those who want to perform their own installation of a retaining wall. This is because the segmented concrete blocks are much lighter than other options, and easier to work with. They do not require the use of mortar, and they come in a wide range of colors. There is some limit on the size and weight the wall can hold so make sure that won’t be an issue in your case.
Concrete Masonry Block – This is one of the most common materials used for retaining walls. They are very solid and stable, and require virtually no maintenance for many years. This is one of the best choices for people living in areas that get a lot of rain since they will have little effect on these blocks.
Wood – If you’re looking for an inexpensive option you can go with treated lumber. Due to the fact that you can cut the lumber to any length you want, this is an excellent choice for making curved walls. You can also make walls of varying height by adding or removing layers of this wall. While treated lumber will last a long time, it will eventually start to rot without additional treatment.
Landscaping Options with Retaining Walls
Whether you’re adding a retaining wall because you have to in order to provide the needed support, or just because you like the way they look, you’re going to want to make sure it is properly landscaped to complete the look. One of the most popular things to do is to add in a section of flowers in front of any wall. If you’ve got multiple retaining walls in the yard you can use a different species or colored flower to give your yard greater variety.
If you’re using a retaining wall near trees it is important to make sure you consider the root growth of the trees. This is especially when the wall is in an area lower than the tree since the roots will attempt to continue to grow which can cause damage to the wall. When done properly, however, it is possible to use retaining walls to help save trees and add enough support to the ground around them to ensure they can thrive.
Building a Retaining Wall
You can take a stab at building a retaining wall yourself. Here’s a video giving you the basics.
If you don’t have the tools or experience necessary to build a retaining wall properly than you will want to hire someone to either do the installation themselves, or help you to make sure it is built right.
While in concept these walls are fairly straight forward, they do need to be built properly or they won’t be able to hold up as much weight, or last as long as they should. Virtually all landscaping companies in your area should be able to install a retaining wall for a very affordable price, or you can hire a general contractor who may have this type of experience as well.
Remember, a well built retaining wall should last for decades, but if it is built improperly it will not last nearly as long and can even be a hazard.
These walls will be holding up thousands of pounds of Earth so don’t take any chances by trying to do it yourself if you’re not sure about what you’re doing. It will be much easier, and even less expensive, in the long run if you make sure it is done right the first time.
Tim is an ex-landscaper who now owns a Houston landscaping service where he connects customers with reputable contractors.
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