Monday, May 2, 2011

Oh, Oh, Do We Need a Retaining Wall?

We got our yard tilled, and afterward, the man who did it said we should drive a car over the dirt to pack it down or else put in a foot high retaining wall.  He said when it rains, the loamy soil will wash away.  We thought we could get by with putting the little fake bricks around like we have in our other flower beds.  What do you know about such things?  Larry said the easiest thing to do would be to get railroad ties.  Are those considered safe for gardens these days?  What would you put there?  It needs to be something we can do.  We don't have great skills, like Randy, who is building a bottle wall does.

The plan is to have a sitting area where the tree used to be, and plant flowers all around it to create a somewhat private little area.  The tarps have more mulch and dirt in them.

You can see the slope from the east side.  Larry and I got our little Mantis tiller out yesterday, and tilled shallowly in most of the area to get the grass out and keep the cost of the tilling down.  I wish we would have done it all over.  He did not get as deep where the grass was.

There is a lot of dirt in the stump grindings from the raised bed Larry's dad had put around the tree.  We want to make the area more level.  We planned to shovel it into the lower area after the tilling was done, but the guy said we should not do that, but should have it hauled out.  I'm thinking if we do the retaining wall, it would be OK to go ahead and shovel it into the lower area.

The robins have been enjoying the fruits of our labor.  Hey, I saw my first monarch of the season yesterday!  It was on a baptisia that's in bud.  I saw one today, too.  I don't know if it was the same one, but I either saw it twice, or else saw another one.  I wasn't able to get my camera yesterday, but today, I went for it, but the butterfly was not in sight when I went back out.

Spring is in full swing here!  I have enough lettuce to eat every day now.  I hope things are well with you.  I would appreciate your ideas and knowledge about retaining walls.  Here, I was hoping to start planting today.  I'm putting "trees" as one of my labels, since it's a continuation of the events of losing the tree.

Added later in the evenng:

Thanks for the suggestions.  Larry decided we should go ahead and spread the dirt and mulch around the whole area, even though the tiller guy said not to.  I am thinking I'll need to be sure to fertilize, because I'm thinking fresh wood chips like this take nitrogen from the soil.  I have a full bag of Coop Poop that I'm sure I'll use all of.  Larry also wants to check into untreated railroad ties.  I was thinking about just using the kind of supports like we have next to the steps.  Whatever we do, I hope to do it soon.  I took more photos after we finished for the evening.  There is still lots to do, and I am really wanting to  get the area planted so it won't be so ugly in the front yard.

I compared these to the first set of photos, and can't see a whole lot of difference, except for the mulch being over all of it.  There was dirt in there, too, and it is a bit more level.

I took this photo from the porch.  The yellow flag is where the sprinkler head was before they broke it grinding the stump.  There are still lots of big roots that are going to make it difficult to level the area out.  For now, we are just going to put some circles from the tree branches on the mulch for the sitting area.

 I'm thinking we can cap off the broken sprinkler head, because we won't need to water anything there.


  1. You don't necessarily need a retaining wall. The major worry about soil washing away is because it's all exposed right now with no vegetation holding it down. I notice in one picture the neighbor has an even greater slope that isn't retained, it's got grass holding it together.

    So, a cheaper and easier alternative would be some landscape cloth. That plastic mesh you sometimes see showing through bare patches of lawn. It will help hold the soil in place until new groundcover grows in. Also it would be easy to cut away in the areas to turn into garden beds later. If you expect any really heavy storms it would still be best to cover it over with tarps to make sure you don't lose soil.

    Or you could just cover the bare soil with tarps while you layout and pave the new patio and then plant the flower beds.

    If you have to do a retaining wall railroad ties are fairly easy, but make sure they're untreated redwood. Treated ones can leach some terrible stuff into the soil. Also there many pretty CMU blocks for retaining walls now that don't require mortar. If you get the right size and stay under the max. height you can do it yourself.

    Oh and your city might want you to get a permit for any wall.

  2. I can't answer your question about the retaining wall, but I would just seed it.

    I'm anxious to see how it grows.

  3. Sue,
    I agree with everything Mary said on her comment.

  4. Don't know. It really depends upon the flow of the water from the top. If you have roof gutters and downspouts sending the rainfall around the area, then it will be probably be fine. If, however, the downspouts send the water across the loose soil, it will wash. Other ideas from the commenters are good.

  5. You have done lots of work. I hope it turns out as beautiful as you dream it to be.

  6. My vote would be to plant the very bottom edge where the grass starts with some fleshy rooted plants like daylilies to start catching the soil before it washes.

    Have you googled 'retaining walls' and 'how to plant a slope' to see what and how much trouble? Check your county's web site to see what rules there are.

    I'm big on stone but if you haven't a yard full of stones they are right expensive.

  7. Dear Susan, Rather than one retaining wall at the bottom of the slope, I would prefer two. One wall half way down and one at the bottom. The walls would be low and would look great if you used similar stone to the stone on your porch. They would be dry-stone walls, with no mortar, so you could do it yourself. The end result would be like too giant steps, and both areas would be quite level. The cost would be for a pallet of stone.

    I don't know if this makes sense, but I can see it perfectly in my mind.I am not so concerned with the erosion, but with the design. But, whatever you choose, Sue, I know with your lovely plantings it will look great. P x

  8. Hmm, I think there are lots of possibilities here, Sue. You could build walls, and I especially like the way Pam described two rows of them. That would look really nice. Or, you could just form an oval or other 'shape' with the stones, stacking them 2-3 high, and then plant within the area with whatever plantings you wish. Then you could put mulch over all the remaining soil, both inside & outside of the planted area. That is basically how my whole backyard is and we have a deeply slanted yard that used to get 'rivers' through it before we planted, used rock, and mulched. It can get kind of costly though, to use rock. A pallet of rock here is close to $300 and we have added two this year, and every year before this we've added some. So, I'm not sure that's something you would want to do right now...If not, can you plant a couple of small flowering trees and put in some small shrubs to help with wash-out?

  9. I agree with Pam. I think if you want a setting area a flat surface would be nice. If you build two retaining walls you could do a terraced look with the seating area at the top portion which has been flattened.
    Anxious to see what you decide.

  10. how absolutely exciting!! Can't wait to see what you'll come up with!

    I personally LOVE stone. I like that you can move it around, and nothing is really too permanent when you're dealing with relatively low walls. I'm moving more around right now.

  11. Thanks for the suggestions and encouragement. I am thinking that if I get some plants in there, it should help. I don't think we are going to do a retaining wall after all, but Larry thinks we need more than the fake bricks. He wants to check into untreated railroad ties or supports like the one we have by the sidewalk.

    I am going to tell Larry the idea of 2 retaining walls, though. We could do the wood supports there, too. Like some of you mentioned, I was thinking we'd probably have to involve the city if we did a retaining wall.

    I added 3 photos from after we worked tonight. We did decide to rake the dirt and mulch into the tilled areas. It's still not level, but we think it looks a bit better.

  12. You've already had some great ideas Sue. I look forward to seeing how it works out. I've got landscape stone all around our garden. I love it for edging beds and am gradually adding it as I can afford it.

  13. I ditto Jayne. You've got some great ideas and I look forward to seeing what you come up with. Good luck. It's looking great.

  14. I agree with Pam also on doing two layers of retaining walls. I just like the layered look and you could carry a different 'theme' on one of the layers and possibly have a ground cover trail down over the top layer. We just tore out our railroad ties today. They had formed a sitting area on a slope in our backyard and were rotten, and when I say rotten, I mean ROTTEN, and full of bugs. Ours were treated and, after all these years, still had the smell of creosote in them - they didn't stop anything from growing. We are replacing them with landscape stone from Menards. We are getting the hollowed out ones, as they weigh 30lbs and will be easier to handle. We are starting with the rectangular pavers at the bottom for the base, then the stones on top of them. We are hoping to get it done this week, before new rain has a chance to start a mudslide in the yard

  15. I can't wait to see what you decide to do. You've gotten so many great ideas. It'll be fun to watch the progress.

  16. I was going to make the same suggestion that Pam did, of two retaining walls, kind of a terraced effect. I hope you don't use landscape fabric, it isn't good for the soil, and is a pain to plant through. Plants will keep it from washing away, also terracing will help too. I also like Nell's suggestion to use something like daylilies to anchor the bottom level.

    I have also heard that wood chips rob the soil of nitrogen when they decompose, but then I have also heard that the effect isn't that bad. But whatever you plant there will probably benefit from some fertilizer.

    It's going to look great. Looking forward to seeing it planted up.

  17. I also think a terraced effect would look super, especially if you introduced a nice sweeping curve into the design. Instead of a retaining wall, you could use hollow blocks (terraforce) and those can then also be planted.

    Whatever you decide I'm sure you'll have fun playing around with different ideas.

  18. I would do like Nell recommended, plant the lower slope first....daylilies is a super idea. Get a few ground cover types that spread rapidly. I wish you were closer and you could browse my that comes to mind is Hyperion.

    You might consider terracing the soil toward the front. I have done that successfully before...without using a wall. Also that gives you a flat planting area.

    A note on the tree stump area which may be why he told you not to remove the soil: All those roots and chips will break down eventually leaving a sink hole of sorts.

    I know the rocks or timbers would also look good, but can get very expensive to use. I also always choose the most natural looking way.

    Good luck, Sue; I know with Larry's help you will come up with a beautiful new garden out front.

  19. The possibilities are endless here. I look forward to seeing what you decide too.

  20. Sue, There are some excellent ideas! I like the idea of fleshy plants and a retaining wall...You have space for a few delicious native shrubs that would anchor the look and even a few evergreens that all gardens can use a bit of! Be sure to include curves~They help our square yards very much. gail

  21. Spread some straw down on your seeds and let nature take over. I hope you don't have a lot of settling where the tree was.

  22. I agree with Mary, I don't think you need a retaining wall, but you could build one if you wish. Just don't use the creosote coated ones. The last owners here used them, and we've had to remove them, and replace contaminated soil. For a do it yourself wall, there are the free standing blocks, but honestly, if it were me, I'd just work with the contour to provide height to the front garden, and once there are plants and mulch over the soil, I think it will be fine. Don't drive on it though! You'll compact the soil. You can tamp it with a hand tamper if it's too fluffy, and simply watering it down will help it to settle. Can't wait to see how the front garden becomes transformed!

  23. oooh oooh! You could set up a drip irrigation system from that broken sprinkler head!

  24. Oh, what a mess of decisions you have ahead of you..and it can be so annoying to have to wait for the decisions to be made and the other work to take place BEFORE the fun stuff (like planning and planting gardens!!) can occur. Wishing you patience, wisdom, and good luck!!

  25. What a fun summer project you've got going! I'd love to sink my mitts into your loamy soil. My clay soil is hard as a rock. My whole property is on a slope. We dig depressions in it so water is captured rather than running of. Oh, I wish I could remember what those run-off tools are -- they look like straw snakes. I hide them under the big perennials and they do a great job of preventing soil erosion.

  26. Hi Friends, Thanks for more comments and suggestions. Larry and I went to a couple places looking at materials for retaining walls. The things we considered all would take time, lots of work, and money to implement. When we got home, I went around taking the larger fake bricks out of where they were, and put them in front of the garden. Larry made fun of me because they are not straight. I didn't want them to be straight. I have a number of phlox to plant on the lower part, and some candytuft and a couple other ground covers in the yard I can move to there. I figured the edges could be planted with the lantana and other annuals I had planned for the area, and I'll put perennials in the middle of the lower area.

    I couldn't find a list of plants for slopes. Most of the information I found was for those with steep slopes. I may go ahead and get more daylilies. I have lots I could transplant, but they always look bad for awhile when they get moved at the size they are now. I am tired of the area looking so ugly. I am planning on starting the planting tomorrow, unless we decide we are putting a fence up. I had planned on putting one up like what we have on the bed on the east side, but Larry said he didn't like it. I decided not to put a fence up at all, but then, Larry looked at them at Menards and asked if I wanted to put one up. Oh, dear, I don't know if I can handle further delays. Do you get impatient to get your plants in?

    I will put rocks around. I read somewhere about partially burying them to hold the soil. I can also put the circles from the tree's branches around. I am hoping these things will keep the soil in place so we don't have to put a retaining wall up.

  27. Hi Sue,

    Thank you very much for leaving the lovely comments. It's always so nice to have comments, isn't it.

    You were askinga about the liatris. I just love it. It was one of the very few things that were on the property when we bought our home and I'd never seen it before. I split it last fall and also bought a white (which I think might be taller, but it didn't grow very much last year). I haven't seen any signs of life yet, but I think they are one of the later ones to start growing. The rabbits do not seem to bother it! Thank goodness. I only really lose crocuses to them.

    I have a master plan about that though....I'm trading some crocuses for some squills with a friend tomorrow! I might do a post about it. ;)

    Happy Gardening,

  28. I forgot to say good luck with this project! It's going to look fantastic. I will be interested to see it progress over the summer.


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