Building stone walls in your garden can add a touch of graceful elegance to your property. Whether you’re constructing one to enclose a vegetable garden or to encircle a curved flower garden, stone walls provide a solid support structure that help keep your fertile soil from washing away during wet weather. Dry-stacked stone walls are an easy style for you to build and maintain, since they don’t require mortar and will shift when the ground freezes and thaws.
Develop a plan for your garden stone walls. According to Albert Jackson, co-author of “Popular Mechanics Outdoor and Garden Projects,” you should limit your wall height to less than 3½ feet to minimize chances of your stone wall collapsing. Sketch a general outline of your wall. Will it be a continuous wall or do you plan on having intersecting walls? How wide do you want your wall to be?
Collect stones for your walls. Look for wide, flat stones in a range of sizes, choosing colors that will fit with your current landscaping style. Allow plenty of time for this step, especially if you’re collecting stones from your own property. Consider having a “rock party” so friends and family can come together and help you collect and move your stones. If you don’t want to gather your own stones, you can purchase stones from landscaping and garden supply centers.
Prepare the bed for your stone wall. Use a garden hose to mark the location of your future stone walls, shifting it until you’re happy with the layout. Using a shovel, dig a 3- to 4-inch trench that is about 12 inches wide to mark the base of your stone wall; this is your wall footer, which provides needed strength to keep your wall based solidly in the ground. Fill the trench with sand or gravel, angling it slightly so the stones will tilt in just a bit toward your garden. Place a 1-inch layer of topsoil across the footer, packing it firmly again the sand or gravel that you used.
Position the stones in your wall. Lay the stones one layer at a time, using your largest stones first. As you place the first layer of stones, pack topsoil firmly into any spaces between stones with a hand trowel. As you build your stone wall, alternate the stones, placing the center of a stone on the seam between the two stones in the layer beneath it. Use an array of larger and smaller stones to increase the visual appeal of your stone wall.
Exercise care. As you lift the stones, especially the heavy ones, bend at your knees to reduce unnecessary stress on your back. Albert Jackson suggests that you keep your feet together and use your leg muscles to take the strain of the weight.