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Wood Retaining Walls

preasure treated timber retaining wall

Wood retaining walls can be substituted for retaining wall blocks construction more cost effectively if the wall is relatively small (no more than 2-3’). Pressure treated lumber of several dimensions can be used to create a wall, planter box or garden border. Steps can be integrated into wood walls quickly. Concrete or brick pavers can be used as step treads. Pressure treated timbers create a more rustic landscape design and are often used on a project where the wall is not seen regularly.

Taller 3”+ timber retaining walls should follow engineering guide lines. Dead men or purling must be used on the soil side to hold taller wood retaining walls in place. Buttressed walls can be used when there is no room on the soil side for dead men. Buttresses are supporting beams or boxes on the open air side of the wall that add strength. They are often disguised as planter boxes and integrated into the design. Without these features, wood walls will lean, bulge and eventually fail.

timber wall example
wall construction

Wood walls need to be designed and built to the correct engineering standards to ensure the walls will not fail prematurely. A large part of the correct standards is building in the anchoring structure known as “dead men” or perling. This picture illustrates how a wall should be built.

Treated timber walls should have dead men anchored as deep into the soil behind the wall as the wall is tall i.e. A 4’ tall wall should have a 4’ dead man false wall anchored behind it. The forces pushing on the wall then have to pull the false wall through the backfill soil before the wall can fail and blow out. This wall was added to a 5yr old existing wall. We had to remove several extra timbers to find solid wood to anchor to so our dead man structure was even more important.

timber walls

Timber retaining wall construction projects is something do-it-yourselfers can tackle if they have the right tools and time. See our how to build retaining walls page for tips and suggestions.

aging wood wall

A correctly engineered and installed treated timber wall will last 10-15 yrs. This picture shows that even a well built wall will begin to fail and pull away from its anchors as the wood ages and becomes softer. These walls are less flexible from a design stand point and do not weather as well or last as long as other choices. Due to engineering requirements for taller walls and the associated material costs, taller timber walls quickly become as costly as segmental retaining walls and still won’t last a life time. Most customers choose block retaining wall systems once the advantages are brought to their attention.


Sea walls or waterway walls can be a great way to control erosion and stabilize the soil in the waterline. Treated lumber is an excellent choice for this application. Verticle pilings can be driven into the bank or concreted. The timbers or even treated boards can be placed between the pilings and soil and backfilled with rock or soil. Cap the wall with a board wide enough to stand or sit on for a finished look. In this application, we even ran out door lighting along the top of the wall. Let us create a plan to beautify and stabilize the bank of your waterway project. Contact us here to get your free estimate.

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Blaze C.
If you want expertise, experience and long-term return on investment of any landscaping, drainage and/or outdoor living project, Burt Young and Landscape Innovations is the only quality resource to consider. Burt has my highest recommendation and sincerest gratitude for the value proposition his company provides. Looking forward to the next project with this company.
Nic G.
Burt built a beautiful paver patio w/sitting wall and a fire pit ring in our backyard. It has transformed the yard into a gathering space that we will enjoy for years to come. We look forward to finishing up with Burt in the spring with Phase 2 -- new sod!
Michelle H.
Burt and his team did a great job for me on a fairly large job of grading, new sod and a retaining wall. I am very pleased with the outcome of the project and would highly recommend him for any landscaping projects small or large. He takes pride in his work and works hard to meet his customers expectations. I will be using him again for a smaller job in the next few weeks.
Lane P.
Burt just finished putting in a large retaining wall for me. The work was done perfect and I love the end product. What I value the most was his insight and advice. He could have just built what I told him, but instead he advised me to make adjustments. His suggestions were an improvement and actually cost less than what I asked for. Its refreshing when someone gives you advice that will save you money when he could have pocketed the extra profit! Love working with him.
Alicia A.
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