Building a Small Landscape Retaining Wall

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Building a small landscape retaining wall is something that you can do in three different styles depending on your preferences. Build a small landscape retaining wall with help from a landscape designer in this free video clip.

Part of the Video Series: Landscaping Materials & Techniques
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Video Transcript

Hello, my name is Thomas Lowe, and I live in Atlanta, Georgia and I'm a landscape designer here. Today's title is, building a small landscape retaining wall. One of the first things to think about is, what type of material, maybe budget that you want to do, when it comes to building a small landscape retaining wall. I'll talking about three different styles. First of all, I want to talk about one that is really popular. This is a pre-fabricated landscape block, there's lots of different names for this, Allan Block, Windsor Wall or Castor Block, Landscape Block. Their designs, on the bottom of them, where there's a lip and it actually locks into place, so that it won't fall forward. So, the first thing when installing this landscape block, is know that these 12 inches across and they're four inches thick. So, this really makes calculating a lot easier, when you're trying to figure how many to buy. Obviously, if you want a 30 foot long wall, you'd buy 30 of those,and if you wanted it a foot tall, you'd buy three of those halved. So, you know, the reason to calculate, because they're four inches thick and 12 inches across. Now, I also recommend and as talked about in some of the other videos, this is a great landscaping tool, it's a rectangle shovel with a flat end. First of all, what you would need to do, is figure out where you want your wall to go in, with some spray paint, or some sand and make a line. And then, you'd want to go in and you'd want to trench down in the ground at least an inch and dig out a lot of your dirt and pile behind this. Because you actually use this to back fill, to use this dirt behind this retaining wall. So, on you've established where the wall goes and you've dug out an area, I recommend this rectangle shovel, it's great in many different jobs. And what you'd need to do is, is go in and it makes easier if you use some paver sand. Depending on the size of the wall, you're going to need several bags of paver sand, they're sold in, anywhere from 40 to 60 pound bags. So, you take your paver sand and you go in and you would just dump maybe an inch to two inch layer of paver sand in your trough. That way, it's a lot quicker and a lot easier to level these blocks. I recommend, when you level these blocks, to use a string or even just a really long level that actually sits on the blocks to level these. And the sand, also that way, you can use the sand to level the blocks, you can also use this gardening trowel to move the sand about, to make the sand a little less or make it a little more. So that the blocks are adjusted to the right height, so that it is level. It is very important that you get these blocks leveled and they don't have to be perfectly leveled, but pretty close. So, as you're building up several more blocks high, it doesn't look off. Also, so that these landscape blocks are adjusted properly in the front, measure this little triangle that's created when you set the blocks on here. If it's the right width, then you know that the wall's not going to look curved as you build along your wall. So, once you go in and you set this here, you an use a garden trowel, then you'd measure the back to get it really close to the same width. Then, once the lower level is leveled, then it becomes a lot less tedious to do, it becomes a little easier. Then, you go back and remember, this actually has a lip on the back, you actually, you go back and you stagger the blocks, and you pull it forward a little bit, so it's snug. Also, you want to make sure that the middle of this block is right in the seam. So that when you get to the end of your row, it's really close. Now, if you get to the end of your row, and one of these blocks is over-hanging, you can use a masonry saw to cut the end of the piece. Now, also, once you get everything built on top, where you get to your very last block, rather, if you only did too high or too tall. There also is a cap that is sold, so this cap actually just goes on the top of the block. And you also want to stagger this cap, this is called a cap. See, that way if you stagger this piece, and also some people choose to have it flush,most people tend to have to do an overhang. Then, if you do an overhang, this, on here, then what happens is, it creates a little bit of a shadow, so aesthetically you have more of a line just on there. Now, one material that I use to at least fasten this cap to the last retaining block, is constructive, construction adhesive. This construction adhesive is sold in home centers, you cut the end of this off, there's a little membrane in here, you puncture. And this is a caulk gun, you just take the caulk gun and you just put like, maybe three quarter size droppings on here. And then, go back and you take the cap and you put onto here. It takes a couple days to really dry, or firm, I mean, you could move it maybe in a day, but I would wait at least two to four days before you start to sit on this wall or move it around a lot. Once this wall is built up, then you come back with some top soil and back fill right behind it. Another approach to building or choosing a small landscape retaining wall, is using old rail road timbers. A lot of these are sold as landscape timbers for retaining walls, small retaining walls or tall retaining walls. This is probably a little bit less expensive than the prefabricated blocks, just talked about a little earlier. The way to install the landscape timbers, is first of all, as you can see here, you would want to go in and dig down in the ground. These aren't exact the same thickness, they're within a few inches of being the same thickness. But you want to dig down at least half way to almost 80 percent down in the ground to establish a good foundation. Then, you can go back with another landscape timber and put right on top of the base, landscape timber. Also, the joints that are in here, you may want to make sure that there's not also a seam or a joint in between the one below. You want to stagger these joints, so if I was going to build a wall, it was one more timber taller than this. I would actually go the timber over this joint, so it becomes locked in a little bit stronger. Now, the way to hold these together, so these don't move, two ways to go about it. You can use a large landscape nail that you can get in most any home centers. One problem with the nails, is that they may not be long enough to go all the way through to attach to the timber below. So, in that case, I highly recommend this rebar, this is called a Rebar, it's a steel rod. Now, the way to install this rebar or steel rod, is to choose a heavy duty drill and you'll want the drill bit, it's very, very important. You'll want the drill bit to be the same size, preferably a little bit smaller, the drill bit to be smaller in diameter, than this rebar or steel bar. That way, this rebar goes in with a really tight fit and it makes the wall much more secure. And also, you'd want t drill, some of these timers have little holes in them. So, you'd want to you know, get more of the thicker part of the timber. So, you'd drill the hole right, not here on the edge or here, but in the center. Then, you would go back in that hole and then, take a small sledge hammer, not a hammer, a hammer would take too long. A small sledge or even a medium size sledge hammer and start hammering this and then, just hammer this spike all the way through, till this is actually flush with the top of this. That way, if you put another retaining wall or another landscape timber on top, that it's flush. Another wall that we'll talk about is the stone wall. Stone walls are much more intricate to build, it's maybe a little challenging for homeowners to build these walls. So, if you have this bidded out, these are generally more expensive to build than your block retaining walls, or your landscape timber retaining wall. And the way to go about building a small fieldstone, some people call this fieldstone, gray fieldstone, is the first thing, it's the most important thing to do when building a flagstone wall, is you need to dig down at least four to eight inches below this. To go in and to pour concrete foundation, and you'll need to let the foundation set up for several days. So that it cures and it's set up enough to hold the weight of the stone. The next piece you'll need to do, is to pick out stones that usually they're more consistent in thickness, the better. You know, they'e natural stones, they're not going to be perfect. So, what you need to do is, is go in and pick out what nice stones that you'd want to sit in here. You can be really artistic with this and put in unique pieces of stone, have some fun with it, with the different colors and different sizes. And then, you would, once you've poured your foundation, you would go back in and put in some concrete blocks on the foundation. And it's important that you dig the foundation wide enough to encompass the four inch or eight inch thick cinder block. Then, you'd want to make sure that you have the proper depth stone, so that it encompasses the width of the foundation. Now, it doesn't have to be perfect because you want to have a little bit of a gap between, so that you can pour concrete. Now, once you've poured your foundation, set your concrete blocks and then, going in, I recommend not building up all at once, but building all the way across. Then, going back to the end, building across again, going back and building across. That way, it builds a lot more securely, if you do that. And then, once you build up about half way, there's a pocket between the cinder block and the stone, you can pour concrete for extra security. Also, this is a cap similar to the cap on the Allan Block wall that we talked about earlier. You may want to put a cap on top as well. And also, retaining walls that are built anywhere from about 18 to 24 inches are great for a sitting height. So, you can also make it multi-functional for like a sitting wall. I hope this video has been some help for you and thank you very much, have a great day. My name is Thomas Lowe, and I'm a landscape designer in Atlanta, Georgia.


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