11 Retaining Wall Ideas to Maximize Your Outdoor Space

11 Retaining Wall Ideas to Maximize Your Outdoor Space

Better Homes & Gardens
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11 Retaining Wall Ideas to Maximize Your Outdoor Space
11 Retaining Wall Ideas to Maximize Your Outdoor Space
emily vanschmus headshot
stone wall and mortared stone steps join a garden house and spa
Credit: Edward Gohlich
Retaining walls keep dirt or soil in place, but they can also be used as a landscaping feature to section off an area of a backyard or patio. Often made from stone or concrete, these structures are both a functional landscaping element and an aesthetic design feature. Whether you're looking to install a DIY retaining wall in your backyard or fix up one that already exists, these retaining wall ideas will help you get the most out of your outdoor area.
Wooden chairs inside stone wall area
Credit: Matthew Benson
A retaining wall doesn't have to be tall to be functional. If you have a fairly flat area, a short wall might be your best option, and it'll likely save you money too. Since this outdoor patio area is set into the ground only a foot or two, the retaining wall doesn't need to be very high—keeping the cost of materials low. If you're working with a similar setup, consider having the inset area filled with dirt or gravel so you can spend less on the materials for the wall itself.
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stone fire pit in wall
Credit: Matthew Benson
As with most large-scale landscaping projects, building a retaining wall can get expensive fast. The easiest way to keep costs low when planning for an inexpensive retaining wall is to choose the cheapest material possible without sacrificing functionality. Typically, wood retaining walls are the cheapest in terms of materials, but they tend to be less sturdy. Sandstone blocks are usually the next cheapest option, especially if you use mismatched shapes and sizes, like the wall pictured here. Poured concrete is also fairly inexpensive, but specially-made concrete blocks are usually expensive, especially once you start to get specific about different shapes and colors.
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Interlocking Retaining Wall Ideas
retaining wall
If you're building a retaining wall yourself, interlocking blocks are the easiest option. You can buy several kinds of interlocking bricks that fit together and lock in place so you never have to worry about adding mortar or adhesive. This project will require a bit of digging and you can expect to get a full workout from lifting the bricks one-by-one, but you'll also save quite a bit of money by fitting the bricks together yourself rather than hiring it out. Follow our tutorial on how to build an interlocking block retaining wall in your own backyard.
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container gardens in aluminum planters
Credit: Rob Cardillo 
Concrete is a popular choice for retaining walls because it's sturdy and you can find concrete bricks in just about any size and shape. A concrete retaining wall is also an easy way to continue the design scheme of your home throughout your garden. This tall retaining wall doubles as a privacy wall, blocking off the backyard from the rest of the neighborhood. 
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stone wall and mortared stone steps join a garden house and spa
Credit: Edward Gohlich
Dryset stone retaining walls can look like a pile of mismatched pieces—and that's essentially what they are. But don't be fooled by their appearance. Although they aren't held together with mortar, these structures are very sturdy. Building a stone retaining wall is fairly easy. Because it uses gravel to hold the stones together rather than mortar (which can crack and crumble over time), these kinds of walls require less maintenance.
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Retaining Wall Ideas for Sloped Backyard
flower bed above retaining wall
Credit: Peter Krumhardt
Retaining walls are especially helpful for sloped areas because they can keep soil from sliding down. If you're thinking about installing one, we'll show you how to build a concrete retaining wall on a slope . Since this project is more functional than aesthetic, some digging will be required. You'll need to call your local One Call at 811 to have someone come mark all the buried utilities so you don't accidentally hit one while installing the wall.
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Patio Retaining Wall Ideas
outdoor dining with umbrella and retaining wall
While retaining walls are primarily used for containing dirt, they can also be a useful design feature. The curve of this wall creates a natural outdoor dining space that perfectly fits a table and chairs. You can also incorporate elements like a fire pit or pizza oven into the stone for an easy entertaining area that maximizes your outdoor space. 
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flagstone retaining wall and steps
Credit: Steve Pomberg
Flagstone is a sedimentary flat stone that's commonly used for paved walkways and patios, but it's also a popular choice for retaining walls. When you buy flagstone for an outdoor flooring option, it's typically cut to have straight edges, but smaller pieces with raw edges can be used to for retaining walls, similar to the dryset stone method. Here, larger cut pieces are placed on top of the smaller ones to create a matching set of steps.
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garden with fountain and retaining wall
Credit: Carson Downing
Use a retaining wall to separate your backyard (which can be used for play and entertaining) from your garden. Not only will this keep your garden area safe from children and animals, but it can create a cozy, relaxing space that feels almost like a separate room.
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Front Yard Retaining Wall Ideas
victorian house exterior
Retaining walls aren't just for the backyard. Keep your yard separated from the sidewalk with a front yard retaining wall that matches the exterior of your home. Whether it's a necessary landscaping element (like the sloped lawn here) or just a pretty design feature, a front yard retaining wall can also provide garden beds and distinction from neighbors.
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Mortared Stone Retaining Wall Ideas
stone wall garden
Credit: Kindra Clineff
A mortared retaining wall is one of the most sturdy options because the whole wall is solid (unlike dryset stone walls, which allow water and air to pass through). However, these are a bit more difficult to construct yourself (especially if you're after a specific look), so consider calling in the pros. One thing to consider when installing a mortared retaining wall is that you'll need to dig deeper than the frost line (at least 12 inches deep for a three-foot wall), otherwise the mortar will easily crack after a few seasons of weather change. Whether you tackle it yourself or hire professionals, you'll need to get buried utilities marked before starting this project.
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