DIY Garden Tips for Building a Retaining Wall

An outdoor retaining wall with lighting can increase your homes value by highlighting decorations, flowerbeds, lily ponds and the like, thereby improving the aesthetics of your garden. However, it is important to do the job right. An old saying about DIY jobs, such as building a retaining wall, is that anyone can do them. All too often, unfortunately, the results reflect this, showing poor planning and unconcerned execution. If you are thinking of building a retaining wall, do it the right way. Start out by making a clear plan and proceed using the right tools.

If you want to build a stacked block retaining wall with attractive light fixtures, the first thing to do is to consult the utility companies, as there could be electricity cables or gas pipes where you want to dig the trench for your wall. The next step is to make sure you have the right equipment. In addition to heavy trousers, work gloves and safety glasses, you should have the following close to hand:

Bosch Drill


  • Wooden stakes and string (or a garden hose if these are not available)
  • Tape measure
  • Shovel and pickaxe
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Soil tamper
  • Torpedo level, two-foot level
  • Block hammer
  • Brick chisel
  • Drill and masonry bits
  • Spirit level
  • Van vault tube


  • Interlocking landscaping stones
  • Landscaping fabric
  • Gravel
  • Electrical conduit
  • Light fixtures and wiring
Retaining Wall

Step 1. Use the string and stakes or the garden hose to mark where you want to build the retaining wall. After measuring the length of cord or garden hose, you will know how long the wall will be. Decide how many blocks high you would like your wall to be and divide the length of the wall by the length of the blocks you will use. Then round the number up to the nearest one and multiply by the number of levels. It is a good idea to buy a couple more blocks than you think is necessary, just to be on the safe side. Buy enough landscaping fabric to cover the soil where the blocks will lie to prevent the growth of weeds in and around the wall.

Step 2. Dig your trench a few inches deeper than the depth of one block. Then add gravel and firmly tamp down the base. Add more gravel if necessary so the first row of blocks will be level and completely underground.

Step 3. Next, lay the first layer of blocks. The blocks should sit level, so check each block and, if necessary, strike the high end or corner with a block hammer until it is level. On completing the first row, make sure that it is level by using the spirit level. You can stagger the blocks by offsetting them half a length from those in the row below to create an attractive effect. Break the end stones in half with the hammer and chisel so they will fit.

Step 4. If you are going to add outdoor lighting to your retaining wall, you will need a brick chisel and a drill with masonry bits to run your wiring and attach your fixtures. The easiest way to do this is to buy lighting with pre-attached wiring.

If you are going to run a large quantity of conduit, a van vault tube is a handy way to carry the conduit to your project and keep it safe until you use it. If you do not have any experience installing wiring, it is recommendable to contact an electrician to make sure the job is done correctly.

Date Created: 18-Jan-2011
Last Updated: 1-Apr-2017
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