One of the nicest accents to a home or home garden can be a retaining wall. They can be built from many different materials but most commonly are built with, brick, stone, sculpted block, concrete or landscape timbers. None of these materials are excessively expensive but the labor to have them installed can vary widely so unless you are going to do this project yourself, I recommend getting several estimates before hiring a contractor to do the work. Personally I never go with the least or most expensive contractor unless they come highly recommended. Always ask for references and ask to see work that the contractor has completed in your area. Ask to see recently completed work as well as work that was completed at least two to three years ago this way you can see how well this contractors work holds up over time.
If you opt to save some money and do this project yourself your first step will be to decide what type of material you want to use and you must define the parameters of your project. You will want to use a material that will match or contrast your home nicely. If you have a brick, vinyl sided or cedar sided home you can use landscape ties, stone or of course brick. If you have a stone exterior on your home you would probably stay with the stone look or use landscape ties. For a stucco home going with concrete block and then skimming with stucco to match is really your only option. Using stone, sculpted block or brick with stucco would not look right and using landscape ties while acceptable, to me...kind of cheapens the look of your home. Also keep in mind how much moisture is in the area that your wall will be constructed. If the area is exceptionally wet, you will want to avoid landscape ties, as they will rot if they are continually wet.
Once you have decided what material you are going to use, you must decide exactly where you want your wall. Mark this area out with marking paint before you begin. I am going to use landscape ties in my example because this method is cost efficient, relatively simple to install and looks fantastic.
Tools you will need are: 12" Compound miter saw or chain saw, shovel, (for larger excavations you may have to rent a bobcat or backhoe.) ground tamp or whacker, electric drill with 12" x 1/4" drill bit, 3 lb. hammer and 4' level.
Start at the lowest point of ground level and work towards the highest or deepest soil you wish to retain. Landscape ties measure 6" x 6" by 8' in length. Use either pressure treated or if available used railroad ties. You must first level out the area which the first row of ties will lay, and tamp thoroughly. This is very important. After your first row is in, nice and level, the rest is a piece of cake. I usually dig out about 12' in length at a time so that I have room to work. After you level and tamp each 12' lay your tie in place and check it with your 4' level. You may shim with small stones or excavated material if necessary.
Once you have your first course in place drill each tie every 2' and insert a10" galvanized spike. When you start your next course, cut a tie in half and stagger your joints. Drill each tie and spike into the tie below. If you turn a corner you must interlock ties so leave 6" of space available to accept the next tie going in any 90 degree direction. For every 18" in height you should add "deadmen" or 4' lengths of landscape tie laying horizontally into the area that is being retained. Spike these in your course of ties every 4' as you would any other tie and add spikes at the opposite end of the tie to grab dirt once backfilled. These "deadmen" will prevent your retaining wall from leaning forward over time. Continue building in this fashion until you reach your desired height. I usually taper each end piece on my top course and I step back 2-3' as my wall rises up to the level of the earth on a hill etc. I usually back fill as I go so I can keep the deadmen level. Once completed you can either leave the wall natural to weather or you can paint with a solid body stain to match surrounding structures etc.