10 Retaining Wall Ideas to Upgrade Your Backyard

Retaining walls serve the primary function of stabilizing slopes and holding soil. Some serve simple purposes, such as creating raised planting borders around the edge of your backyard. Others make it possible to build homes and create flat, usable space where there was once a hillside. In some cases, a retaining wall may be the only thing keeping a hillside from destroying homes.

When properly constructed, these strong barriers can last for decades – or even centuries. This, of course, means that proper construction is paramount, but it also means that you may be looking at your new retaining wall for a very long time. So, while the function of your retaining wall is the top priority, the look of your wall is also important and should be a cohesive part of your overall landscape design.

Your wall will likely be a focal point – whether you like it or not – so, make it an attractive focal point that enhances the visual appeal of your outdoor living spaces by choosing a material, color, and design that resonates with you and complements your landscaping design. Commonly used materials include wood, concrete, paving stones, metal, boulders, stucco, bricks, blocks, and river rocks.

In most cases, retaining wall installation should be left to professionals. A semi-handy homeowner can install a simple, short retaining wall to create a raised garden bed and may be able to install short, wood retaining walls. However, unless you are well versed in footings, weep holes, drainage and grading, you need a contractor for any wall serving a serious function, such as stabilizing soil. In some cases, such as with walls taller than four feet, you will need both a contractor and an engineer.

Retaining walls can be used for many types of barriers in landscaping and can serve more than one purpose. Here are 10 retaining wall ideas you might want to consider for your property.

retaining wall ideas backyard

1. Stabilize a Slope

This is the most obvious use for a retaining wall. If you are concerned about erosion and runoff on a slope, retaining wall installation may be the answer to your problem. But don’t let your creativity stop there. Since you likely need to build a barrier wall anyways, incorporate it into your overall hardscape design and expand its function by creating usable space on the freestanding side of the wall.

terraced paving stone walls

2. Create Usable Space on a Seemingly Unusable Slope

An experienced contractor can work miracles on a slope that looks unusable to the rest of us. He or she can use grading and retaining walls to carve out a driveway curving between hills or to create an expansive outdoor living area with a pool and patios where there was once a hillside.

Sloping yards may seem unusable, but retaining walls can completely change that. You can transform sloping land into a terraced backyard with different levels for gardens, seating areas or play areas. You can use short retaining walls to transform a gentle slop into small steps with room for a large lawn area and entertaining areas, which will have far more visual appeal than a slope leading to your home or in your backyard.

As you have surely seen many times in coastal California, you can even use a retaining wall to help create enough space for a house pad and an entire yard.

Plus, retaining walls can make even steep grades usable. For example, a series of retaining walls can be used to create a switchback walkway to the top of a steep hill or create narrow planting beds along the hillside accessible by a walkway.

retaining wall backyard

3. Create an Island Flower Bed

This is a retaining wall installation that most homeowners can do on their own. In the case of an island flower bed that is just one to two feet tall, most folks can watch a couple of videos online and see how to lay out the paving stones or attach the wood in a way that will successfully hold their soil and withstand the test of time. If you are not particularly handy or want to ensure that your flower beds stay together, you can always have a professional install your walls for you.

retaining wall bench

4. Create a Sitting Wall Around Your Fire Pit or Patio

If you plan to use a retaining wall to carve out an area for a fire pit or patio, consider using the retaining wall for seating as well. A short wall can be designed to also be used as a bench. If your slope requires a taller wall, consider installing a bench in front of it so that the upper part of the wall can act as a backrest. This is an easy way to increase seating options for outdoor living areas.

wall bench

5. Define Spaces in your Outdoor Living Areas or Backyard

As you design the hardscape for your backyard, consider using retaining walls to define spaces within your yard. This might be to create some scattered, more intimate seating areas or to separate your vegetable garden area from your outdoor living areas.

raised planter

6. Create Raised Garden Beds or Borders

Much like creating an island flower bed, you can also use retaining walls to hold the soil for raised garden beds or borders along your fence line. Some designs may call for professional retaining wall installation, but this is another one that many homeowners may be able to accomplish on their own.

retaining wall

7. Build a Raised Patio

Aside from creating planting beds, we have mostly discussed how to use retaining walls to transform sloping property into usable space. But even flat land can be improved with the use of retaining walls. For example, you can increase visual interest by using a retaining wall to create a raised area for a patio or outdoor kitchen.

retaining wall ideas backyard

8. Turn a Sloping Lawn into a Flat Grass Area

Another way you can use retaining walls with the intention of adding dirt instead of taking it away is to create a flat lawn where there was once a slope. In this instance, you would install your wall at the edge of your future lawn, and then build up the lower part of the slope by filling it in with dirt. Once you have created a level area, you can plant your lawn or have a low-maintenance, artificial grass lawn installed.

water featuer

9. Combine a Retaining Wall and Water Feature

You can make your retaining wall an attractive focal point by adding a water feature, such as a waterfall, wall fountain or pond. This also allows you to save space by combining two landscaping features in the same footprint, so you can get the wall you need and the waterfall you want all in the same space.

outdoor fireplace

10. Combine a Retaining Wall with a Fire Feature

Another space-saving retaining wall idea is to include a fire feature in your wall design. If the design of the wall allows, you may be able to build an outdoor fireplace into the wall. If the wall is short, you may be able to incorporate a fire feature on top of the wall.