Terracing is small yard landscaping at it's best! It's perfect for the postage stamp lot sizes of tract homes, especially ones built on a gentle slope, or into a hillside.
Terracing will make all your back yard projects more architecturally interesting, and if designed properly, can help with drainage.
Planning is key, especially for garden layouts and edible landscaping. One thing to keep in mind with garden beds is that you need to be able to reach across or gain access by climbing up to the higher levels, without trampling or packing down the lower ones.
The upper terrace to the right uses 6" x 6" railroad ties set vertically as a retaining wall, and below that are lots of raised garden beds. Use arbors and trellis to support climbing vines and take advantage of vertical growing space.
One idea that can turn an ordinary flat lot into a beautiful terraced back yard is building walled beds around the perimeter of your patio. This works best when the beds are about two feet in height so you can easily view plantings while seated.
Walls can be made out of interlocking pavers, which come in a wide variety of styles. Another idea is to use concrete blocks with stucco or stone facades attached, or pour curved concrete walls and finish with stucco.
Using a stone cap on your wall at least twelve inches in width is a decorative touch that can also provide additional seating. Combine container gardens, arbors and trellises to add more interest and depth.
A terraced back yard is the perfect solution for a sloping lot. Not only is it more interesting to look at, but you get more usable patio space too.
Proper grading and drainage are essential before you take on any back yard projects, because water can damage foundations and seep into basements or crawl spaces. Make sure patios and dirt are sloped away from the house and consult a professional before changing your landscape grading to make sure it's being done correctly.
If you have to rely on drains, design a large enough system that can handle 100 year storms, and then keep them clean. If you use mulch, buy the largest size so it's less likely to float toward drains and clog openings or fit through grates and clog them.
This is where hiring a professional is the smart way to go, because retaining walls also have certain requirements for safety, such as using rebar for reinforcement when they are over a certain height. This is especially important on a slope where you have a lot of pressure from earth and water behind the wall.
When you get the urge to hire a handy man, or the guy who cuts your grass for a task like installing a retaining wall, or grading your yard, DON"t! Getting the job done right is more important than getting it done cheap and a lot can go wrong even with the best of intentions. You don't want to mess with with the forces of nature.
Don't do what I did by hiring the "super nice" lawn guy because he needed the business. That mistake cost us dearly. Everything had to be redone by a professional because the wall leaked, the pitch of the patio was off and all the new irrigation controllers leaked and had to be replaced. NEVER AGAIN!
For terraced back yards with retaining walls, your best bet is an experienced, licensed, masonry contractor, or landscape architect. Although the landscape guy is probably going to sub out the wall building/concrete pouring part, they're coming up with the design, whereas the masonry guy may not be strong in the design department.
If you already have a vision of how you want the yard to look, a simple sketch or photos of other yards you like can help everyone understand the direction you want to go.
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