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Building a retaining wall

Building a natural stone wall at the back of your flower garden not only gives your yard character, but it also makes your garden seem larger, granting a feeling of depth and value. Whatís even better is that this can be accomplished by two people, as a weekend home improvement project, and itís incredibly light on the finances.

Before you start on this project, you will want to ensure that you have all the tools that are needed for this job. While not all are necessary, you will find that the proper tools will make the job easier, faster, and help reduce the risk of injury. The suggested list includes:

- a length of rope or hose, the approximate length you want your wall to be

- spray paint or marking chalk

- sod cutter

- round shovel

- tamper

- level

- mallet

- wet saw or a circular saw, equipped with a masonry blade

- safety glasses/goggles

- paving base or levelling sand

- limestone planterís blocks

Once youíve made sure you have all the needed tools, you may begin. The first step in creating a new garden (or enhancing an existing one) is to plot it all out. This is where your rope (or hose) will come in handy. Take it and stretch it out, using it to mark where you want your wall to go in and how you want it shaped. Remember to keep it interesting - you donít want to go for just a straight, boring wall, but you also want to be sure to avoid tight curves as well. These are not only hard to build, but they also tend to make your wall unstable. Instead, try to give your wall a gentle curve or, if it better suits your property style, a wall with a few interesting angles can also work well.

Use your spray paint or marking chalk to map out the contours of your wall on the grass, once youíve figured out where you want that wall to be. When that is done, you can then put your rope up and out of the way, so there is no risk that you might trip over it. You wonít need it again for this project.

Since you wonít want to be trampling them, your next step in this project is going to be removing your greenery. If youíre improving on an existing bed, you will want to remove them completely from the garden, ensuring to leave a large root ball, with plenty of dirt, on each plant. If you do that, most plants will do just fine, out of the ground, for a couple of days. To reduce the risk of stress and further damage, set them into the shade and be sure to mist frequently, to make sure they arenít drying out.

At this time, you will also want to strip the sod away from the immediate area and roll it back to give you some work space. While this can be done with a shovel, youíll find it much neater, easier to work with, and professional-looking to use a sod cutter. Roll your turf back and give yourself ample room to work around where the wall is to be erected.

Now youíre ready to start working on your wall. Once youíve determined the elevation that you want the base of your wall, dig a trench roughly 6 inches deeper and wide enough for the blocks to set into. You will want to use your level as you do this, in order to ensure that you have an even and balanced base to work with. Once you have this levelled trench, pour your paving base into it and, firming it with the tamper, add or subtract whatever base is needed, in order to keep it nice and level.

Our limestone slabs, called planterís blocks, usually come in 3 foot sections and will need to be cut into smaller, more manageable bricks. This can be done using a circular saw, equipped with a special masonry blade, or a wet saw. As you cut them into 12Ē-16Ē blocks, be sure to wear your safety glasses, in order to avoid risk of eye injury from stone chips.

Lay your stone blocks, tapping each into place gently, using your mallet. Once this first course is laid, the remaining blocks are easily stacked atop them. The main rule to remember is to stagger each level, so that the joints are covered by the blocks above it, just like if you were laying brickwork.

Low walls are generally easy to erect. Taller walls, however, may require a bit more care to ensure they are well-stabilized and cannot be toppled over by drainage water or the elements. Additionally, taller walls may run into difficulty with zoning codes, so itís always a good idea to look into that, prior to erecting any wall over 3 feet in height. This information can usually be found at the city hall or at your local cooperative extension office.

Once your wall is in place, you will want to remove any excess soil from the bed, ensuring that it is nice and level. This excess soil can then be used to stabilize the wall by raising the grade on the opposite side of the wall, until it is level with the top of your planterís blocks. This will help to prevent your wall from shifting, offering it additional stability.

Now move uphill of the wall and carefully roll your sod back into place. This is a fairly easy task, the most important thing to remember being to ensure that, as you roll it back, there are no large gaps remaining, between your pieces of sod. Fitting it back together neatly will enable it to grow together and patch up the small gaps with ease, once more restoring your lawn to its natural state.

Take this opportunity to improve the quality of your garden soil, if need be, as well. This can be done by adding fertilizers or, if you choose to do so, you can lay down plastic or layers of newspaper to help with weed control. Plants should be returned to the garden either before or after the heat of the day and watered deeply. This is also a good time to lay down mulch, if this is your intention.

Adding a retaining wall to the back of a flowerbed is an excellent way to brighten up a dark and dreary spot, add character to your landscaping and provide a bright backdrop for your beautiful blooms. Sure to capture attention, this is an excellent family project and is sure to provide a new accent. The best part is that this project is light on the wallet, but will make your yard look like a million bucks!


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