Top Tips for Building Your Own Retaining Wall for Your Garden
Your home’s garden is one of its most important spaces, but gardens often go overlooked and get overgrown. There are many things you can do in a garden to reshape it to your liking and to better suit your needs, and many people find that a retaining wall in their garden will help define the space and give them an area they can use for raised planting or for socialising and sunbathing.
Building a retaining wall may seem like a big job, but it is actually simpler than you may think and you can save a lot of money and learn some new skills by doing it yourself. Here is our simple guide to the basics of building your own garden retaining wall. With the right planning and preparation, anyone can enjoy laying brickwork and building a retaining wall that will last a lifetime.
First You Need to Dig a Trench
If your retaining wall is going to stand the test of time, and be sturdy and safe enough to retain earth for planting, then you are going to need to give it a deep foundation.
You will need to dig a trench of between six to eight inches of depth for your base material, plus enough depth for at least one course of brickwork beneath the ground level. When you dig the trench, the base should be level and compacted to give your base material a solid footing for you to build upon. This gives you the perfect surface to put your base material on so you can begin to build your wall.
Use the Right Material for Your Base Layer
The base layer provides a foundation for you to begin laying your brick courses on. Getting this step right is important if you want your retaining wall to be safe and last a long time.
Crushed stone is a much better material to use than gravel, though it is a little more expensive. This type of stone, between half an inch and three-quarters of an inch in length, gives the best drainage which is important for the life of the wall. Water causes the most damage to brickwork, and if your wall does not have adequate drainage, it will be affected by the freeze and thaw that comes with the changing of the seasons and become unstable over time. Once your base layer has been compacted, it is ready for you to begin laying brick and crushed stone compacts much better than gravel.
Take Your Time with Your First Course of Bricks
The first layer of bricks you lay is the most important. Not only are they a functioning part of your retaining wall’s foundation, but they will also give you a template which your other courses of bricks will follow.
Spend some time making sure each brick is level, as this will help to ensure that all the other bricks you lay above it are level too. Use a plastic or rubber mallet to knock the bricks into the right position. Your spirit level is your best friend here, and you can use it horizontally to make sure the bricks are flat, and vertically to make sure the bricks are straight. The course of bricks will take the longest amount of time to lay, but be patient. Mistakes you make here will be felt in all the subsequent layers and can make a wall unsafe or unsightly. Invest some time at this stage and you will save yourself time later.
Keep a Clean Working Area and Sweep the Wall Between Layers
You will need to keep your course of bricks clear of debris and pebbles that can prevent your bricks from laying on top of one another level and flush.
You can help prevent this by keeping a clean and clear working area when you are laying your brickwork courses. A clean working area can also prevent soil, dirt, and stones from contaminating your mortar and reducing its effectiveness. Sweep the surface of your bricks between laying courses to make sure they are clear of debris and you have a clear and level surface for you to build upon.
Plan for Drainage
Good drainage will ensure that your wall will still be standing in years to come. If you ensure that your wall has adequate drainage, by giving the water that runs across and down your wall somewhere to go, then your wall could stand for decades.
Incorporate drain gates and drain tee fittings every five metres or so along the base of your wall, depending on how much annual rainfall you expect. You may need to cut down some bricks in order to fit in the drain gates and fittings, and you should make sure they are well sealed within your wall so they can do their job properly.
Which Bricks or Stones are Best for a Retaining Wall?
Most exterior bricks are suitable for retaining walls. The biggest factors influencing your decision will be cost, availability, and aesthetics.
The most inexpensive and widely available bricks are standard house bricks and imperial house bricks. These are very similar in size but do not have the same dimensions. The chances are the walls in your home or in your other garden walls will be constructed from one of these two types of brick, so making a retaining wall in your garden from these bricks makes the most sense. You can make a retaining wall from large stone bricks, but these will have to be cut down and shaped in order to fit your space requiring a lot more time, skill, and equipment. They are also more expensive.
To work out how many bricks you will need for your retaining wall, you will need to use a brick calculator. Use this brick calculator tool from Armstrong Supplies website where you can also source the bricks themselves. This can help you to work out how many bricks you will need for your whole wall, and from there you will be able to work out how many bricks per course will be required.
Make Sure You Stagger Your Bricklaying
Have you ever stopped to have a look at a brick wall? One of the first things you should notice is that the layers of brick are staggered, so that joins between bricks sit on the middle of the layer underneath.
This creates a much stronger wall. If the vertical joins between bricks were on top of one another, the wall would be much less stable, and would be easy to push over or be toppled by earth or landslips. Doing this is called creating a line of weakness, and it will eventually topple your wall. When you lay your brickwork, make sure your layers are staggered throughout your wall to ensure it will be secure for years to come.
Retaining walls can be used to great effect in any garden. You can add an extra dimension to your space by adding a new level for you to plant your own vegetables or flowers, or you can use your raised area as a socialising space or for sunbathing.
With the right amount of planning and preparations and the tips in our guide, anyone can build a retaining wall in the garden regardless of their skill level. Why not have a go, and you may surprise yourself with your hidden bricklaying skills!