Rock Wall How-To

How to build a manicured rock wall!

First: you're going to probably need double the rocks than you think you're going to need.  I can't possibly give you a calculation but you are going to need options... it's going to feel like a jigsaw puzzle.  

Determine the layout.  Use a hose or a rope to get the right look. Once you're confident with the layout, dig up some of the turf along that line.  This rock wall is going to take time and you won't want to lose your vision for the shape.  At your starting point, dig out some soil (and do this as you go) so that you can place your base layer 3 inches into the soil.  This also enhances the natural look.  Then begin placing the largest rocks.  All throughout this process, pay attention to rock color and movement - you want them to be staggered.  The largest rocks are for the base layer but still inter-mix some medium, even the occasional small rock, into the base layer.  What might work best is to keep your focus on one 2-3 foot area at a time.  Also determine how tall you want the structure.

It's so important that this rock wall structure is sturdy, secure, sound.  You don't want to invest time into this if it isn't going to stand the test of time and season-changes.  So you will need many supporting rocks behind the scenes to make sure there is enough support.  Crushed concrete will lend support behind the rock as you are going to need each and every precious rock you have. 

Now as you lay your rocks, place them slanted back on a slight angle. Rocks will always shift!  So tilt them back slightly and at least you can avoid them tilting forward.  Also, the rock wall should be level.  Measure often and get eye level to make sure the edges of the curvature are straight and linear.

Specifically notice the flat side on the rock. Did you know that most rocks naturally have one flat side?!  Usually you'll want to place this rock with the flat side down to make the structure sturdy.  But when you're finishing the top of the wall, you will want some of those flat sides smoothing out the top. 

As you build, keep it natural and not uniform avoiding dense concentration of the same color.  Treat as a puzzle. Turn the rock all different ways to see if it will fit and if it is sturdy. Take your time, don't rush, this is slow and meticulous and intentional work.  Stager the pieces. Cover your joints. Stagger and situate. Use smaller rock to fill in the crevices.  Stack and constantly make sure they are sturdy. Step back and admire often.  Don't go too far ahead of yourself.  Again, get eye level with the wall to see if it's flowing or if any are jutting out.  Once a wall is mostly completed, lay the thinner flat pieces of rock you might have on top.   Can you see why you need to plan on needing double what you estimate?! 


When you aren't working on your rock wall, you're going to start seeing rocks in a whole new light.  You might see a rock by a ditch that is just the right piece to your puzzle.  You'll pull over and get strange looks.  And this is ok!  Just don't get rocks from others' rock walls or landscaping or property!

We found some perfect additions from upstate New York ;)

And from this mountain hike :)


When the structure is mostly finished, add rocks along the top edge to make up for the different depths of rock, flat rocks will do the trick here. Fill soil to the top ridge of the rock. Be prepared to maintain the wall.  But mostly, enjoy the process and the end result. 

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