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Stone wall construction

Add permanence and beauty to your landscape with a stone wall. -- By: Justin Hancock
  • Add a decorative hardscape to your landscape

    Stone walls have something of a magical quality&#8212;when looking at one, you can rarely tell if the wall is a year old or a hundred years old. Popular in areas of New England and Canada, mortarless, or dry, stone walls can be structural or decorative hardscape elements. <br>Weatherproof and insectproof, stone is available in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. Whatever your setting or the architectural style of your home, you'll find a type of stone just right for it. <br>(On the slides, we'll show you how to build a dry stone wall. This project is moderately difficult; depending on your skill level, you probably could build a 4-foot-tall wall that is 15-20 feet long in a weekend.)<br>

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Materials

    Stone* <br>
    Stakes <br>
    String <br>
    Shovel <br>
    Soil tamp<br>
    Gravel <br>
    Level <br>
    Mortar <br>*Native stone usually looks the most natural in landscapes; it generally takes about 1 ton of stone for every 3 feet of wall built 4 feet high. The more regularly shaped the stones, the easier it will be to build the wall.<br>

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Stake it out

    Identify where your stone wall will stand. This structure is not easily moved if you later decide it would work better in another part of your yard. To help decide where to build the wall, insert a stake into the ground at the proposed wall's start and another at the wall's end. Run a length of string from one stake to the other the same height as the top of the wall.

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Dig a trench

    Once you've selected the best site for the wall, dig a 6-inch-deep trench that is as wide as your wall will be. You'll need the base of your wall to be about a foot wider than the top, depending on the type of stone you use. Tamp the soil down well (a soil tamp is helpful), and fill the trench nearly to the top with gravel. Then tamp and level the gravel. The gravel-filled trench creates a good foundation for your wall.

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Plant your wall

    Stone walls add structure to the landscape, and they can also add another palette to your plantings by giving you a place to grow crevice plants.<br>To add plants to your stone wall, fill small gaps between stones with a mixture of soil and compost. You may find nontraditional gardening tools, such as teaspoons or funnels, helpful for this. If you're planting your wall from seed, blow or place seeds in the soil-filled gaps. Keep the soil moist, but not wet, while seeds germinate.<br>If you're placing plants in the gaps, add soil around the roots, and tamp the soil down with a stick, butter knife, or spoon. Keep the plants watered well while they become established.<br>

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Plant choices

    Excellent plant choices for walls include:
    <br>Alpine pink (Dianthus alpinus), Zones 3-8<br>
    Hens and chicks (Sempervivum spp.), Zones 4-10<br>
    Moss campion (Silene acaulis), Zones 3-5<br>
    Moss phlox (Phlox subulata), Zones 3-8<br>
    Rock cress (Arabis caucasica), Zones 4-8<br>
    Sedum (Sedum acre), Zones 4-9<br>
    Thyme (Thymus serpyllum), Zones 4-9<br>
    Yellow corydalis (Corydalis lutea), Zones 5-8<br>left: To soften the look of this 4-foot-high retaining wall, a traditional English-style border was planted above and below it. As a general rule, make your border as deep as the wall is tall. Plantings in this border include purple sand cherry, petunias, dusty miller, 'Carefree Wonder' roses, and Russian sage.<br>

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Build a solid foundation

    Select wide, flat stones for the bottom layer of your wall that sits on top of the gravel-filled trench. As you lay the stones, make sure they don't wobble; you may need to use stone fragments or small stones as shims to make the bottom of your wall secure. If possible, use tie stones (those that are about as wide as the wall) at the ends of your wall and every 5 or 6 feet in between. These tie stones help give the wall its permanence and stability.

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Build up the wall

    Start the next level of stones. Lay them end to end like the bottom layer, but avoid placing stones so that two stones on the second layer meet directly above the spot where two stones meet on the bottom layer (the joints between two sets of stones should not be directly on top of one another). This will make your wall more stable. A mantra of stone-wall building, "one over two, two over one," helps you accomplish this. Repeat this process with each layer of stones.

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
  • Top it off

    Because not all stones will sit perfectly and may need to lean together, make your wall more secure by having the stones lean into the center axis of the wall instead of toward the outside. Keep the spaces between the stones as small as possible, filling gaps between stones with stone fragments, gravel, or small stones. Use narrower stones as you get to the top of the wall&#8212;if the wall's base is a foot wider than the top, your wall will be more secure.<br>Give your wall a finished appearance by using wide, flat capstones at the top secured by a small amount of mortar. If you do a good job with your wall, this will be the only mortar you need to create a charming and permanent structure.<br>

    Date Published: April 13, 2012
    Date Updated: April 30, 2012
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