One of the most difficult challenges in landscaping is working with a sloped yard. While gentle to moderate slopes may create interest and actually help with some design goals, steeper slopes can create frustrations when planning for normally straightforward projects such as planting trees or building a patio.
Despite these difficulties, creative solutions to sloped backyard landscaping can result in unique, beautiful and functional outdoor spaces.
The most effective approach for a sloped yard usually involves both earthwork and one or more retaining walls. The number of walls and extent of earthwork needed depend upon several factors, including the size of your yard, the degree or severity of slope, the activities or uses you have in mind for your yard and the presence of existing trees or other features that should not
Retaining Wall Materials
The construction of retaining walls allows you to create relatively level spaces. These might be used for planting beds, patios, lawns or any other outdoor feature.
Several different materials are suitable for retaining wall construction, including wood, stone, brick or precast concrete units or blocks. Generally speaking, stone walls and concrete retaining wall blocks are the most cost effective over the long term. If installed properly, they will last for many years with no deterioration.
For less severe slopes, interlocking concrete units provide an attractive, effective retaining wall that is relatively easy to install. Concrete wall blocks come in a variety of styles and colors. Many of them are designed to look somewhat like natural stone. Choosing the right block for your wall is largely a matter of personal preference.
For more severe slopes, armour stone is often a better solution. These are very large stones, somewhat rectangular, but with some variation in size and shape from stone to stone. The size and weight of armour stones makes them very dependable for large wall projects.
Wall Design Ideas
Most retaining wall systems allow for some design flexibility. Walls can either be straight and linear or curved and flowing. Straight walls will often have a more formal appearance. Generally it works best to follow the natural contours or shape of the land.
For significant changes in grade, a series of two or three terraces is often an elegant solution. A couple of smaller walls usually looks better than one tall wall, and creates more level space that you can use. With any material, steps can be incorporated into the wall.
If it is necessary for your wall to be over four feet tall, your specific site conditions should be evaluated by a design professional- definitely don’t try to do this yourself. Factors such as the type of soil, drainage behind the wall and the slope of the area at the top of the wall need to be considered.
Construction Costs and Access
The length and height of your walls, materials used and ease of access to your yard will all influence the cost of your retaining wall project. Sometimes smaller walls are more expensive because of the manual labor involved.
Larger walls can be constructed with backhoes and other machines doing much of the work. This is often more cost effective, though there has to be enough room for machinery to get into your yard and maneuver around the project area. Eight feet of clearance is a typical minimum requirement.
Using Planting to Soften the Look
Remember to add plant materials as part of your sloped backyard landscaping project.
Perennials, shrubs and other plants can soften the look of hardscape elements and add more depth to your yard. They can make it look like the retaining wall exists for decorative purposes- not to remedy your property’s grade issue.
The final result should be a retaining wall that blends into the landscape and provides you with more usable space in your backyard.
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If you’re considering a retaining wall to create more useful space in your back or front yard, contact us for a consultation and quote.