Building a retaining wall in your yard is easy with a bit of planning, the right tools, some dirt and gravel, a level, interlocking blocks and a bit of patience.
Retaining walls provide support, structure and aesthetics to landscapes. An easy way to build a retaining wall is to use interlocking blocks. These blocks allow the flexibility of building a straight or curved wall, and come in different colors and styles. Home building supply stores and garden stores, as well as businesses that sell stone are great places to look for bricks to match your desired specifications.
Some things to consider before building your retaining wall are: how high is it going to be, where do you want the edge, what kind of weight is it going to need to hold, and how stable is the ground where you are building the wall?
In cases where the wall is going to be over 5′ high consider adding rebar or calling a contractor. This article does not cover walls over 5′ high.
For a wall below 5′ first, remove any plants, trees or bushes in the area.
Preparing the ground for a water garden
Step 1: Level the ground where the wall and upper pond will be built and tamp it down to make sure it won’t give when weight of the stones are added. You will want to have a minimum of 6 inches around the edges of the pond for plantings, wires, and rocks to cover up the preformed pond to provide a more natural look.
Leveling the ground for the first layer of bricks
Step 2: Use a 50/50 mixture of paving dust and gravel to create a base for your first layer of interlocking blocks, as this will help with drainage and protect against frost heaves. Take a small shovel of the mixture and with your “gloved” hand, spread it in the area you want your wall to start, and then place your first block on top of it. Place your level on top of the block and make sure it is level both from side to side and from front to back. If it is not level, continue to add more of the “dust” mixture to level it up.
Lay subsequent blocks ensuring level front and back
Step 3: After the first block is level, put the next block next to it, again laying down the “dust” mixture and level it to the first. If you want the wall to be curved, you can set the second block at an angle, ensuring the corner’s of each are touching, or if you want a straight wall, then set just the tips of the front and the back of the block, together.
Fill in the hole between the two blocks with a mixture of dirt, and “dust” mixture, packing it in tightly. Continue going around the same way until you get to the end of the first row. Step back and admire your work. C’mon, you deserve it! And besides, provided the first row looks level, the rest of the tiers will be a piece of cake.
Second layer of retaining wall for the water garden pond
Step 4: Adding the second layer to your retaining wall. Step in the second layer so that it overlays the first by about 1/2 of the first block, (so the second layer will be positioned at the middle area of the lower layer). This helps provide stability.
Make sure the “locking edge” of the second layer butts up to the back of the lower layer. Notice that as each layer is added, the wall begins to angle towards the back of the block. Continue to back fill behind the blocks and between them, pressing the dirt in firmly.
Fill the pond, add the dirt, level it, and soak it before attempting to lay rocks for waterfall
Step 5: If you choose to put a pre-formed pond in the area, set that in before you fill the hole with dirt. Setting the stones for your waterfall should be done after the pond is put in, and filled, because settling will occur. Completely fill the hole with dirt, tamp, soak, and then repeat if the dirt sinks in before setting the waterfall as it is likely to move a bit and settle and it will take time to get the waterfall to flow correctly, and not backwards underneath the top pond, eroding the dirt.
Author’s note: Size does matter with water gardens. I’ve built mine three times, and I’m going to modify it again this summer, each time, making it a bit bigger. I love the nature that the pond brings to my yard. It brings me and my guests’ countless hours of pleasure, and although it is a bit of work, I have found it to be unequivocably worthwhile.