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Building a natural stone retaining wall is the perfect DIY project to add both functionality and beauty to your outdoor space.

Are you looking to enhance your sloped backyard without breaking the bank?

Building a rock retaining wall is a fantastic DIY project that adds both charm and functionality to your outdoor space.

Imagine a charming, rustic rock wall that not only prevents soil erosion but also creates a stunning focal point in your garden.

The best part?

You can achieve this with minimal cost, using small stones you might already have or can easily find for free.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the simple steps to build your own stone retaining wall, transforming your sloped yard into a picturesque and practical landscape.

Let’s get started!

Benefits of a Stone Retaining Wall

Building a stone retaining wall offers many benefits that enhance both the aesthetics and functionality of your outdoor space.

These walls provide crucial support for keeping soil in place, preventing erosion on sloped terrains, and effectively managing water drainage.

Small stone retaining wall in the fall.

The reason my parents chose stone for their retaining walls is the natural beauty it adds and a timeless, rustic charm to the landscape, blending seamlessly with the environment.

Not only have we used natural stone to build retaining walls, but we’ve also created steps on the sloped backyard.

You just can’t beat the natural beauty of stone.

In addition, stone walls are durable and low-maintenance, capable of withstanding harsh weather conditions for decades.

By using locally sourced or free stones, you can create a cost-effective and environmentally friendly solution that boosts your property’s value and curb appeal.

What is the Cheapest Way to Build a Retaining Wall?

The cheapest way to build a retaining wall involves using readily available, recycled, or free materials, combined with simple construction techniques.

Here are some cost-effective methods:

Using Natural Stones or Rocks

  • Source Locally: Gather stones from your property or nearby areas. Many people give away stones they don’t need. With the first 2 retaining walls we built, we sourced stones from a neighbor who no longer wanted them. For this retaining wall, we sourced stones from a local rock quarry. Anything you can carry is free!

Recycled Materials

  • Bricks and Pavers: Use leftover bricks, pavers, or concrete chunks from old projects. Often, these can be found for free or at a low cost from demolition sites or local classifieds.

Wood Timbers

  • Reclaimed Wood: Use old railway ties, reclaimed lumber, or logs. These materials are often available for free or at a low cost.
  • Simple Construction: Stack the timbers horizontally and secure them with rebar or long stakes driven into the ground.

Gabion Baskets

  • DIY Gabion Baskets: Create your own gabion baskets using wire mesh and fill them with stones or recycled materials. The materials for the mesh and fill can often be sourced inexpensively.

Concrete Blocks

  • Second-Hand Blocks: Look for used concrete blocks from construction sites or classified ads. These can often be purchased at a fraction of the cost of new blocks.

Tips for Reducing Costs

  • Plan Carefully: Measure your area and calculate materials accurately to avoid unnecessary purchases.
  • Utilize Free Resources: Check online marketplaces, community boards, local quarries and neighbors for free materials.
  • DIY Labor: Do as much of the work yourself to save on labor costs.

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Materials and Tools Needed

To build a simple stone retaining wall for free, you’ll need a few basic materials and tools.

The primary material is natural stone or small rocks, which you can often find for free in your area or even your own backyard.

As we stated earlier, we have sourced stones from a neighbor who no longer wanted them.

And for this stone retaining wall, we sourced stones from a local rock quarry that has a policy, if you can carry them they are free.

So all hands were on deck for this part of the project.

Neither of us have a truck, so our poor SUV’s are abused and used like trucks.

We even coaxed my nine-year-old to help us out, so he could earn a little extra money.

Basically we chose rocks we could lift ourselves and in our case, we’ll still be carrying them up the hill, so we don’t want them to be too heavy.

We did get a good amount of smaller rocks as well.

That will be great for fillers. 

To build our small retaining wall which is about 25 feet long it took 2 1/2 loads of rock.

The tools we used for this project include a shovel, garden trowel, rake, hose, spray nozzle and we also used a small tiller to loosen our hard clay soil.

And don’t forget work gloves, this type of work is rough on your hands.

With these materials and tools, you’re ready to build a beautiful retaining wall.


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Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Stone Retaining Wall

1. Planning and Preparation

Effective planning and preparation are important steps in building a successful stone retaining wall.

Start by assessing the area where you plan to build the wall.

Evaluate the slope of the land, soil type, and any drainage issues that need addressing.

This will help you determine the wall’s height and length.

In our case, we wanted an additional gathering spot in the backyard and would need to level off an area and create a retaining wall.

Our retaining wall is about 25′ in length and approximately 3′ high.

Once you have a clear design in mind, measure the area accurately and mark the layout.

Our desire was to have our rock retaining wall, blend into the natural environment, so ours will haves a gentle curve.

If you desire a straight retaining wall, mark the layout using stakes and string to outline the wall’s path.

Taking the time to plan and prepare properly will set the foundation for a strong and visually appealing retaining wall.

2. Excavate the Site

Now it’s time to excavate the site, with our hard clay soil we found it helpful to use a tiller to loosen the soil and then pull the soil with a landscaping rake.

This helped level off the area fairly quickly.

You’ll also find a shovel helpful in creating a gentle slope for the retaining wall.

A trench is dug into the dirt for the first row of rocks for building a retaining wall.

Next you’ll want to dig a trench along the marked layout of your stone retaining wall, ensuring it is deep and wide enough to accommodate the base layer of stones.

They should be buried about 1 inch deep for every 8 inches of wall height.

This provides strength and stability to your retaining wall.

As you excavate, remove any roots or debris that could compromise the wall’s integrity.

Slope the trench slightly backward into the hillside to enhance stability and aid in proper drainage.

This excavation work will provide a solid base for your retaining wall, helping it withstand the test of time and natural elements.

3. Placing Stones for the First Layer

Begin by carefully selecting the largest rocks for this bottom layer.

If a rock has a flat bottom all the better, but if not, use a hand trowel to dig a hole so it will be solid in the trench, as they will provide a steady and stable base.

First row of rocks are placed in a trench for the retaining wall.

Position each rock firmly in the trench, ensuring they fit snugly together with minimal gaps.

Placing the stones is a little like playing a game of Tetris.

You’ll have to try a couple of rocks in one spot to find one that fits just perfect with the previous rock you placed.

There’ll be some gapping in between the rocks as well, but you’ll want to find the one that fits the best.

First row of rocks are placed in a trench for the retaining wall.

Once you are satisfied with placement of a few of the rocks, fill in any gaps around the base of the rock in the trench with the fill dirt you dug out.

As you move along with the first row, this is where you might need to use smaller rocks to fill in any gaps. 

A orange bucket is filled with backfill dirt to backfill the first row of stones for the retaining wall.

Once the first row is in place, then you’ll also want to use the fill dirt to backfill behind the rocks almost at the top of each rock.

Then you’ll firmly press the dirt into place with either your fist or foot.  

Finally you’ll want to take a hose with a misting nozzle and wet the area to help the dirt settle and compact. 

As the dirt settles add more backfill into any area that needs it.

Once all of the dirt is packed, it’s time to move on to the second row.  

This first row will slightly be embedded into the trench to enhance stability.

Taking the time to precisely place each stone on the first row will create a strong, stable foundation that supports the rest of the wall and ensures its durability.

4. Additional Row of Stones

And we’re back to playing another round of Tetris.

This time, we focused on filling in the V shaped gaps in between the rocks of the first row.

It was exciting to find the perfect rock for each spot.

And we’d shout out “hey, it was meant to be!”

With this row, let the rocks rest back against that gentle slope.

Once we had a few rocks in place and tested them to see how stable they were, then we brought in buckets of fill dirt. 

Second row of rocks are placed and fill dirt is added to stabilize this row of the retaining wall.

We moved along, repeating this process for the rest of the row.

Continue checking for sturdiness and backfilling each subsequent row, and misting with water to compact it into place.  

Repeating this process to complete the retaining wall.

Stone retaining wall almost complete, just a few gaps that need to be filled in.

Use smaller rocks as you work your way up.

Keep that shovel handy because you may need to dig out a little spot to aid in your Tetris skills.  

And when that entire wall is installed, you’ll again, use the hose to settle and compact the dirt into place.

The completed stone retaining wall on a slope in a wooded backyard.

With the three of us working on it, we were able to install this entire wall in an afternoon. It really doesn’t take that much time to place the rocks.  

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Completed Stone Retaining Wall

Building a simple stone retaining wall is a rewarding DIY project that enhances both the beauty and functionality of your outdoor space.

Completed rock retaining wall with autumn leaves and a green plant.

No question, it’s a physically demanding job, but it’s so rewarding to see it come into fruition.

To complete our space, we added crushed flagstone for the base of our gathering area.

And towards the end of October, we were able use this additional gathering spot we created with our retaining wall for our family Halloween party.

With careful planning, preparing, and executing each step—from excavating the site and placing the first row of rocks to stacking subsequent layers, you too can create a durable and attractive feature in your yard.

Gathering area in the backyard with a rock retaining wall and a dining table and chairs.

This cost-effective solution not only prevents soil erosion and manages water runoff but also adds a rustic charm to your landscape.

Gathering area with a dining table in a backyard with a slope and a small retaining wall.

Is this a project you’d like to try for your outdoor space?

For more ideas for your backyard, take a look at these ideas:

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PInterest image a DIY Stone retaining wall on a slope

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