How To Build A Retaining Wall For Cheap

If you have a hill on your property that needs to be terraced, is eroding, or simply needs a natural-looking wall to prevent it from sliding, you might be tempted by the prices and appearance of stone retaining walls. But unless you’re experienced in building retaining walls—and have access to the right machinery for lifting and moving them—you might consider a cheaper solution: using cement blocks. In fact, using concrete masonry units (CMUs) is one of the most affordable and practical ways to build a long-lasting retaining wall. Not only can this project be done affordably if you do it yourself, but it also doesn’t require heavy machinery either. So grab your shovels and hard hats! We’re about to get started building an attractive retaining wall that will endure for years by transforming concrete blocks into beautiful stone.

Step 1: Materials List

Materials List

  • 2x4s: 8, 10, 12
  • 1″ x 8″ boards: 2
  • 5/8″ marine grade plywood or OSB (optional)

Tools List:

  • Sawhorses and sawhorse clamps (if you don’t have these yet, make sure to grab them from the hardware store)

Safety gear list:

  • Eye protection (safety glasses or goggles)

Materials needed for this step:

  • 8 – 2x4s at 10′ long each. These will be used as the main support of your wall.
  • 2 – 1″ x 8″ boards at 6′ long each. These will be cut into 4 pieces to serve as cross braces on top of your retaining wall. This adds strength and stability to your design.

Materials needed for final step (optional):

Step 2: Mark Out The Area

Marking out the area is a crucial step in any construction project. If you don’t do it right, your building will look sloppy and unprofessional.

Use a tape measure to mark out the area. Be sure to measure both length and width of the area with great accuracy; otherwise, your wall may not line up correctly with the rest of your yard or garden space. Be sure to measure in straight lines (not curves) as well; otherwise, your wall structure will be crooked and won’t look good when finished.

Step 3: Dig Foundation Trench

With the trench dug, you’re ready to lay your stones. The first step is to check that your trench is deep enough and wide enough for the wall you want to build. It should be at least 18″ deep and 4-6″ wider than the stone on either side. If it’s not, you’ll need to dig out more dirt or add more soil in order for the retaining wall to be stable once it’s built up with stone.

Once you’ve made sure that your foundation trench is as deep, wide, straight and level as possible (and hopefully all four of these things), move on to mixing up some concrete so that you can begin filling it back in with gravel or sand mixed with cement mortar mix (just like when building a sidewalk).

Step 4: Lay Base Material

The base material is the layer of material that rests on the ground, such as soil. The base of your wall will determine how sturdy it is and how long it will last. You’ll want to use a combination of gravel, sand, organic matter (such as cocoa bean shells or crushed leaves) and soil to create a good base for your retaining wall.

Gravel helps provide stability to retain walls by increasing the weight of materials below it so they don’t settle over time. The more stable your footing is at its base—in this case, your retaining wall—the less likely it is to shift or collapse under heavy pressure from above (such as snow). Sand adds weight along with size; larger particles help prevent erosion by stabilizing against wind currents in addition to providing space for water drainage during rainstorms or periods without precipitation so that moisture doesn’t pool around plants’ roots when they need moisture most! Organic matter like cocoa bean shells or crushed leaves absorbs excess moisture while also providing nutrients back into soils through decomposition processes (which happen naturally over time). Soil acts as both drainage mediums where water can flow through freely underneath layers upon layers until reaching an impermeable surface such as concrete blocks below ground level.”

Step 5: Lay Your First Layer Of Rocks

Now that you have built your first course, it’s time to lay the next course. This is where things get a bit more complicated and you’ll need to make sure everything is straight.

Use a level or line (or both) to make sure your rocks are straight

If you want to add some extra stability and strength, use spirit levels and laser levels (or plumb lines if you don’t have access to these tools).

Step 6: Repeat Until You Reach Top Of Wall.

Building the retaining wall is pretty simple. Just repeat steps 5 and 6 until you reach the top of your wall. Make sure you leave enough room to walk behind the wall and keep it straight by using a level or spirit level when you get close to being finished.

Step 7: Add Gravel Behind The Wall.

Now that your wall is built, you need to add gravel behind it to prevent erosion and plant roots from breaking through. This step is optional but recommended if you plan to use the retaining wall for landscaping purposes.

You’ll want about 4 inches of gravel behind your wall, which will be enough room for plants or shrubs without being too deep for them to grow in. If you have a lot of trees on your property, consider using 6 inches of gravel instead so the roots can grow deeper into the soil beneath them (but still not too deep).

Step 8: Fill The Gap Behind The Wall.

Once you’ve filled your gap, use a tamping tool to compact the gravel into place. Be sure to keep an eye on how high up you’re compacting so that it’s level with the top of your wall.

Step 9: Top With Soil.

After the wall is complete, it’s time to top off your creation with soil. Depending on where you live, there are a few things you need to know about the soil you use for this part of the project:

  • The top of your retaining wall should be level with or slightly below ground level. If your wall is higher than ground level, water won’t drain away from it as easily as if it were at ground level—so make sure that any area behind or underneath your retaining wall has drains in place to prevent water from pooling up and causing erosion.
  • The soil used for this final layer should be compacted down firmly into place using heavy tools such as sledgehammers or small bulldozers (if they’re available). This helps ensure that future rainfall runs down over the outer surface of your retaining wall rather than washing away large chunks of dirt along its sides. Once compacted properly, allow some time for settling before watering again; if possible wait until after a good rainstorm has hit so that any excess runoff can carry off excess sediments in an even manner throughout all portions of your new structure’s foundation

You can save money by building your own retaining wall

You can save money by building your own retaining wall

Retaining walls are a great way to add extra space to your yard, block off unsightly views, and put a stop to erosion. They’re also really easy to make if you have the right tools and know-how.

The cost of buying one can be prohibitively expensive, but it’s possible to build one yourself for much less. You’ll want to consider using materials that are cheaply available in bulk or at discount prices from suppliers who sell used products. The internet is also full of DIY tutorials on how to build everything from small retaining walls all the way up through large ones with steps—so if you’re not sure what type of wall would best suit your needs, simply search for “retaining wall” on YouTube or another video platform (or even Pinterest).


By following these steps, you will be able to build your own retaining wall for cheap. This can save you money over hiring an expert to do it for you. You may want to seek the advice of a professional if this is your first time doing any kind of landscaping project.

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