Building Retaining Walls

Building wooden retaining walls… as easy as 1…2…3… or is it? Find out below. During our first gardening and landscaping makeover, we were fortunate to have had a decent slope in the backyard so when we decided to build a pool, the natural choice was to build an above ground pool into the yard slope.

Step by Step Retaining Wall Instructions

In this section I explain how to build a wooden retaining wall for an above ground pool application, however the instructions can be modified for any application such as a retaining wall to help against soil erosion.
We first measured the diameter to make sure that a 16 ft. round above ground pool would fit in the space. Sadly, we had to cut down a beautiful Maple tree. Digging out the roots was another big problem. This took quite some effort.

Using a Bobcat

Using a rented bobcat, we excavated the side of our yard slope, approximately 1/2 of the above ground pool diameter…the part that would be built into the slope. We added another 30 inches onto the excavation measurement in order to give the space needed to build the wooden retaining wall.

Next we poured an 18 inch x 1 foot thick grade beam of concrete to help support the wooden retaining wall circular structure. It is important not to disturb the base ground too much.

Outside of the Beam

On the outside of the grade beam we dug a trench to incorporate a weeping tile all around the poured concrete grade beam and topped it with a 3/4 inch down gravel. While very few people would do this, we thought it was important to have a way for the water to evacuate in case of a drastic water leak/break.

Inside the Beam

On the inside of the grade beam we dug holes approximately 3 ft. deep in the ground at 5 ft. on center. In the holes we placed 6 inch x 8 inch preserved wood 8 ft. poles. These were held in place by 1/4 down gravel. We selected 1/4 inch down over concrete because 1/4 inch down over time becomes as hard as concrete, yet it affords the water the opportunity to drain.

We then applied, on the outside of the buried 8 ft. poles, 2 x 6 preserved wood stringers . Once this was complete the entire circular wooden retaining wall structure became very strong and protected the above ground pool or on-ground pool from any exterior damage.


The other 50% of the circular structure (when completed) was covered by large retaining-wall-built-near-chicagoboulders (cemented), giving a very rustic look. Prior to cementing the boulders, we placed a black protective water barrier to the outside of the wooden retaining wall to add longevity to the 2 x 6 preserved wood stringers.
Once the boulders were in place we created the above ground pool landscaping.

Planting the Shrubs

We planted various shrubs like the Butterfly Bush, Dwarf Blue Spruce, Lodgepole Pine, Ninebark Shrub, Dogwood Shrub, various Lilies, Meadow Rue and tall Brandon Cedars. We planted various shrubs alongside the stairs such as the nesting Blue Spruce, Mugo Pines, Junipers and the Ninebark shrub. At the base of the stairs and to the right, I planted my favorite, the Siberian Larch Tree. We also installed all of the interlocking bricks and the cedar deck surrounding the above ground pool.

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