DIY Stacked Stone Retaining Wall – Part 2

Yeesh!  Nothing will make you appreciate a Buffalo winter like building a two-layer DIY stacked stone retaining wall in July!

It’s been hot, hard, heavy work; but we’re really happy we did it. 🙂  A bonus: Mr. DustandDoghair and I worked on it together AND we’ve both lived to tell the tale!

Not a bad month’s work for this headstrong pairing (well, actually, it took about two weeks of part-time work from start to finish).

If you missed Part 1, this is Mr. D&D’s project and I am his charming and able assistant.  He has great vision on these landscaping tasks, and every year has a special project for us to tackle.

I’m usually best at inspecting watching with my hands on my hips, and reminding the two participants that they are no longer spring chickens, lol…but this has been very hands on for me as well!

My last post left off at this point, and I added arrows to the photo this time to point out these stakes:Use posts to string a line level

We added them to each end (where possible) so that we could string line levels across the area.  Line level

These walls look so much nicer when they are somewhat level…”somewhat” being the operative word. Yards slope, ours does A LOT, and sometimes level isn’t even possible.  But the guide string helps in selecting which rocks go where, and when a thicker one (or a stacked combination) might be needed.

Now we were ready to start stacking and building.

We chose larger rocks with long edges to put in the front as our foundation stones, and filled in the back with other “puzzle pieces” of a similar thickness. We placed them directly on top of the landscape fabric and tried to keep everything tilted ever-so-slightly forward for drainage.

begin to lay out stones on top of the fabric

Although this intended to be decorative, it is also a retaining wall, so one thing we did differently this time is add vertical rocks every so often that are dug into the hill.  Again, we’re amateurs not engineers, but we think that will give us extra stability.

Here’s another section along the first layer.  We filled in the back, again, with smaller stones (and sometimes with several). If they were bricks, they’d all have thicknesses that are nice and even.  Nature makes rock differently.  You have to level things out a bit before adding the next course.

put down the first layer of stone

This time we accomplished that by adding pea gravel.  This was a new step for us, and I loved how much easier it made things.

Here’s a section where it was a big help.  We had a pretty sizable rock in front, and added a few small rocks to the back, but they were nowhere near the thickness of the big rock in front.

So we added a layer of pea gravel:add pea gravel to level layers

and when that area was level, we added another smaller rock to the back, which fit perfectly:

add another layer of stone

Then we added more gravel to finish leveling it with the front rock (if you haven’t figured it out yet, I use the words “stone” and “rock” interchangeably.:

add more pea gravel to level

We also used them as a stabilizer and leveler between the rocks. See that big rock toward the bottom of the photo below:

fill spaces with pea gravel

Can you see how varied in depth the stone is?  Much higher in the front than the back?

This is one of the tricky things about choosing which rocks go where.  Some are vastly different on the left than they are on the right (or front and back)…so the puzzle isn’t just which stones to put next to each other.  It’s also “what will get stacked on top of what”?

That’s why I loved the pea gravel so much!  It really helped address that problem and minimized wobbly layers (which would otherwise eventually shift without the gravel.)

Pea gravel, pea gravel, pea gravel!  And then, on to the next layer 🙂

As hobbyists, we started and stopped in sections and worked both rows at the same time. Sometimes we’d get a little frustrated by a problem area on the right, and go work on a section on the left.  Again, it was like a big, three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.keep building

Remember (in the last post) when I complained about the tiny and small stones when we were sorting all the rocks by size?  Well, they turned out to be very useful: as shims on the front…

Shim stones were a big help

and as filler in the back…

Backfilling the wall

Some of the smaller, weirdly shaped, super thick chunks were very helpful bolstering the stones against the hill.  Who’d have thought!?

When we first sorted, we’d set aside a layer of larger stones to cap off the top (once we were happy with the height).  And remember that line level we’d strung across the area?  Well, after tripping over it one too many times, we took it down.  We did, however, extend the string occasionally to see how we were doing.  It was level enough for us. 🙂DIY Stacked Stone retaining wall

There were varying tutorials with varying opinions on backfilling with drainage stone and/or placing a small perforated pipe behind the stone for drainage.  Each of our walls were only about 12″ to 15″ tall, and though there’s a small possibility we may regret it and might have to address it later, we just backfilled with drainage stone in any major gaps between the wall and the dirt.

Drainage stone

Then we backfilled the top area with soil, so any plant material could grow.

These two walls, with a combined length of about 60 feet, used two and one-third pallets of stone.  Mr. D&D ordered extra knowing we’d have places to use leftovers (and that’s where the REAL jigsaw art occurs).  Having the extra pallets gave us more stones from which to choose, which minimized problem solving.

Sometimes, when a stone was almost right, we were able to chop off pieces using a hammer…which was also a big help.

SO…are you ready to see the finished product?

We went from this:pachy berm

to this:

diy stack stone retaining walldiy dry stack stone retaining wall

and while we didn’t plan it this way, it blended pretty nicely with hastily stacked leftover rocks (to the left of the tree) from last year’s hosta garden project.

diy dry stack stone wall

We’re looking forward to smoothing out the dirt and adding plants, but that’s another post for another day.


  • Those flat-stone retaining walls and the rock path look AWESOME! Love the use of gravel to un-wobble the stones. The compass pillar is a nice touch!

    • EmDirr

      Hi, Mike, welcome and thank you for your comment! The gravel made such a difference!
      Btw, we’ll be losing the big tree in the middle to EAB… If you were closer, we could hire you🌳


    Very clear photos that are easy to follow.