Level Your Yard with a Retaining Wall

While a sloping yard can look great it isn't always useful or functional. A sloping yard can make it difficult to build a garage, patio, deck or even a kid's play area and steep slopes can be hazardous to walk on when wet.  Adding a retaining wall can create a level section (or sections) in your yard giving you a smooth, level area that you can really use.  While many different types of building materials can be used to create a retaining wall the concept is always the same - the retaining  wall cuts across the slope creating a level area behind it and a vertical drop off on the other side. Here's how to build a simple wooden retaining wall.

A few words of caution word of caution before we start

  • While a wooden retaining wall is adequate when the slope in the yard is relatively gradual, wood shouldn't be used to build a wall higher than 3 feet and keep in mind even pressure treated wood won't last indefinitely so will eventually rot out.
  • If your property is substantially sloped or you need a retaining wall higher than 3 feet, consider using concrete building blocks or installing a cement wall, both of which are stronger than wood and will last longer.

Building a simple wooden retaining wall

  • Since a retaining wall requires digging the first thing to do is contact your local utilities and have them mark the location of their facilities on your property, It's also a good idea to find out if a building permit for your retaining wall is required in your area.
  • Lay out the line of your retaining wall using wooden stakes and a string line or even a garden hose stretched across your yard then mark the line with spray paint or flour.
  • Now comes the hard part, make the "cut" by digging down along the layout line. If you're going down a full three feet a small, rented digger will save a lot of work.
  • In a simple wall,  4 X 4 timbers can provide the vertical support for your  wall. Dig post holes 4 feet apart and going down below the frost line in your area. Set the posts ensuring they are plumb and fill the holes with concrete, then give it a few days to set up. 
  • Once the concrete has set, dig a trench between the posts about 8" deep then fill and pack the trench with about 6" of gravel topped with 2" of sand. This will provide some drainage under you wall and help prevent the wood from rotting out.
  • Fasten strong, pressure treated boards (2 x8, 2 x 10, 2 X 12?) to the outside of your posts using carriage bolts (bolts are much stronger than screws or nails).
  • Fill the area and level the space behind your retaining wall starting  with 6" of gravel topped with earth you removed when digging your "cut". 
  • Plant grass seed or lay sod to cover the fresh earth and your job is done.


Murray Anderson is an experienced freelance writer whose work has appeared on numerous web sites, in newspapers and books  in both the US and Canada. He is often cited as an expert on home related topics.