Retaining Walls

Whether you are a do it yourselfer laying blocks or stones yourself, or you are paying a professional to install one for you, you need to make sure you are using high quality materials. You have many options, both regarding types of stone, and types of block. In this article I will be going over some of the basic info, and pros and cons of each type of wall.

If you have a sloped yard, retaining walls can be a huge benefit. They can provide the structure needed for a patio, garden, a flat space for lawn, all the while helping to control rainwater drainage. All that being said, a retaining walls core purpose is to prevent erosion and hold back soil. As soil is heavy, that fact needs to be considered when choosing a material.

Retaining Wall Blocks

Blocks are by far the most popular material used in retaining wall construction. They come in several different sizes, so be sure to pick the correct one for the size of your wall. The smallest blocks are best use as edging around plant beds or short, low walls. Larger blocks can be used for longer and taller walls. Retaining wall blocks are made of poured concrete, and you have probably seen them everywhere. Blocks may be solid or hollow, for the hollow you will need to fill them with gravel once stacked. The benefit of the hollow blocks is a lighter weight.

There are two primary methods used to get the blocks to stay together, lips and pins.

Lips are the most common. For blocks with lips, the bottom rear has a lip that locks with the block below when it is placed on top of another block. This is a very effective method of connecting the blocks, but results in a sloping wall, as opposed to a vertical wall.

With pins, the blocks have small holes, and pins are used between two blocks to keep them together. Pins are great for the fact that they make vertical walls possible, but because the holes are pre-drilled one must be careful to ensure no debris gets in the holes.

Despite being quite heavy, the built-in connection systems of blocks make them the easier choice to work with.


Pros: Retaining wall blocks are easier to use and cheaper. With a wide variety of color choices, you can likely find the perfect block for you tastes. With a variety of locking systems, there is more choice in slope of wall. If properly installed, they are reliable at their primary purpose of controlling soil.

Cons: Corners, curves, and decorative walls are more difficult to create, as special pieces or cutting is required. Blocks are very heavy and labor intensive. As blocks are most common, they are not the choice for someone looking for something unique.

Natural Stone Retaining Wall

The other primary option is natural stone retaining walls. Just as the name would suggest, these are walls built with natural stone. They could use boulders, a mix of boulders and smaller stones, or cut stone. Boulder walls use landscaping fabric to help hold back the soil. Mixed or “rubble” walls use gravel to fill the gaps between stones. Cut stone walls are created by cutting larger stones into thinner pieces that are then stacked. As each stone is cut slightly differently, cut stone walls can have a unique look.

Due to the weight of the stone, locking systems or mortar are not required, assuming proper attention is given to selecting the correct stone for the correct spot. When building a natural stone wall, you must choose a stone that fits the spot each time you lay a stone. This can be quite labor intensive for walls using boulders.

Natural stone walls take patience and creativity to make sure you are choosing a stone that not only looks good but fits well. Patience is also required due to the weight of the stone; each layer needs to be finished and filled before moving on to the next.

Pros: Natural walls are more unique, and can handle any situation in regard to curves, height, length, without the considerations required with blocks.

Cons: Natural stone is heavier and more expensive. Straight corners or straight vertical walls are out of the questions. Patience and creativity are required to make sure you are using the correct stone for the spot.

If you are considering a natural stone retaining wall, it is probably best to leave it to the professionals. We can install natural stone retaining walls in the Brainerd lakes area including Brainerd, Baxter, Nisswa, Crosslake, Pequot Lakes, and beyond. Call us today for a consultation!

Call: 218-316-6387