11 Retaining Wall Ideas to Maximize Your Outdoor Space

Whether you want to install a DIY retaining wall in your backyard or repair and update one that already exists, these examples will help you make a plan.

stone wall and mortared stone steps join a garden house and spa
Photo: 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.

01 of 11

Small Retaining Wall Ideas

Wooden chairs inside stone wall area
Matthew Benson

A retaining wall doesn't have to be tall to be functional. If you have a reasonably 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.

02 of 11

Inexpensive Retaining Wall Ideas

stone fire pit in wall
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 a retaining wall idea is to choose the least-expensive material possible without sacrificing functionality. Typically, wood retaining walls are the least costly, but they tend to be less sturdy. Sandstone blocks are usually the next most cost-effective option, especially if you use mismatched shapes and sizes, like the wall pictured here. Poured concrete is also reasonably inexpensive, but specially-made concrete blocks are usually expensive, especially once you specify shapes and colors.

03 of 11

Interlocking Retaining Wall Ideas

retaining wall

If you're building a retaining wall, interlocking blocks are the easiest option. Several kinds of interlocking bricks are available 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 someone to do the job. Follow our tutorial on building an interlocking block retaining wall in your backyard.

04 of 11

Concrete Retaining Wall Ideas

container gardens in aluminum planters
Rob Cardillo 

Concrete is popular for retaining walls because it's sturdy, and you can find concrete bricks in many sizes and shapes. A concrete retaining wall is also an easy way to continue your home's design scheme throughout your garden. This tall retaining wall doubles as a privacy wall, blocking the backyard from the rest of the neighborhood.

05 of 11

Stone Retaining Wall Ideas

stone wall and mortared stone steps join a garden house and spa
Edward Gohlich

Dry-set stone retaining walls can look like a pile of mismatched pieces—and that's essentially what they are. Although they aren't held together with mortar, they're sturdy. In addition, building a stone retaining wall is pretty easy. Because gravel holds the stones together rather than mortar (which can crack and crumble over time), these walls require less maintenance.

06 of 11

Retaining Wall Ideas for Sloped Backyard

flower bed above retaining wall
Peter Krumhardt

Retaining walls benefit sloped areas because they can keep soil from sliding down. If you're considering 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 mark all the buried utilities so you don't accidentally hit one while installing the wall.

07 of 11

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 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.

08 of 11

Flagstone Retaining Wall

flagstone retaining wall and steps
Steve Pomberg

Flagstone is a sedimentary flat stone 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 for retaining walls, similar to the dry-set stone method. Here, larger cut pieces are placed on top of the smaller ones to create a matching set of steps.

09 of 11

Backyard Retaining Wall Ideas

garden with fountain and retaining wall
Carson Downing

A good retaining wall idea is to build one to separate your backyard (which can be used for play and entertaining) from your garden. This will keep your garden area safe from children and animals and create a cozy, relaxing space that feels almost like a separate room.

10 of 11

Front Yard Retaining Wall Ideas

victorian house exterior

Retaining walls are for more than just 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 a pretty design feature, a front yard retaining wall can provide garden beds and separation from neighbors.

11 of 11

Mortared Stone Retaining Wall Ideas

stone wall garden
Kindra Clineff

A mortared retaining wall is one of the most sturdy options because the whole wall is solid (unlike dry-set stone walls, which allow water and air to pass through). However, these are more difficult to construct yourself (especially if you're after a specific look), so consider calling in the pros.

One thing to remember when installing a mortared retaining wall is 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 changes. Whether you tackle it yourself or hire professionals, you must get buried utilities marked before starting this project.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles