If you have a hilly, uneven yard that is experiencing drainage problems and is generally unusable, revamping the surface and installing retaining walls to make a series of flat terraces is important. These walls and terraces will give you usable space that does not require mountain-goat tendencies to walk through. However, those walls are good only if they are planned well. You can't just slap one in your yard and pile dirt behind it. With good planning and taking some characteristics into consideration, you can transform your yard into a pleasant garden space.

Walking and Reach

One consideration you'll have to address when planning the walls is how you'll reach the dirt and any plants on each terrace top. Sometimes, if you have a single row of low terraces surrounding the yard, it doesn't really matter. But in a very hilly yard where you may have a series of retaining walls and terraces forming steps, you have to make the tops of the terraces walkable. That means ensuring the soil will support your weight or that there are paved walkways that you can use. The weight of the people using those walkways or walking over the soil will place extra stress on the whole structure, and that affects how the soil should be divided and packed in.


You can't put up a wall and expect drainage to automatically be perfect. When you and the landscape engineer design the walls, you have to figure out where rain will drain away from your yard. You may have to install French drains to direct runoff around your home to the storm drain on the street, for example.

Soil Stability and Quakes

If you're in a quake zone, you have to sink the walls into the ground and stabilize them without fail. You do not want a quake knocking the walls down and creating a landslide. The ground under the terraces and walls must be relatively stable (no air pockets that could collapse, for example), too.

Material Protection

Once the walls are up, you need to be able to protect the material from the elements. For example, if you use concrete for the walls, it needs to be sealed so that rain and humidity don't absorb into the concrete. In cold weather, that moisture can turn to ice and expand, causing the concrete to crack. Sealing helps stop that. But that's only one example. Wood needs to be sealed as well, and vinyl may need protection against stains.

Retaining walls and terraces can be really helpful, providing you with growing space and walking space in a yard that used to be just a bunch of dirt. But you need to have good landscape designers and engineers working on the project to ensure everything goes smoothly. For more information, talk to an engineer at a company like Down Cape Engineering Inc.