Hello Retaining Wall, Goodbye English Ivy

OKAY. Where to start? This was by far our biggest DIY project to date.

Andy and I are fortunate to have a pretty large (by Atlanta standards) fenced in backyard. But when we moved in, the yard was just overrun with English Ivy. Now, I’m sorry if you personally enjoy ivy… it is definitely a successful ground cover, I will give you that. However, it is also a very invasive weed that climbs trees and saps the nutrients effectively killing them. And the last thing we need are dead trees falling in our yard (or house).

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(Notice all the ivy along the right side)

But when considering solutions to this landscaping fiasco, we were met with a several dilemmas – cost, time/effort, a sloping yard, and a giant wooden island smack dab in the middle of our yard. The above picture was taken before we moved in, and the actual state of the back yard had deteriorated even further by the time we were able to take action.

STEP ONE – Operation Kill All the Ivy

As I will mention in more detail below, my father’s yard is world renowned for it’s natural landscaping and native azaleas. Growing up, my favorite “chore” was working in the yard with my dad preparing for the annual tour of his yard. So, my dad is kind of an expert in the landscaping and plant arena.

This being said, I asked my dad for tips on killing ivy and he gave me the strongest weed killer he had and basically said “good luck.” I sprayed the ivy twice, and although a lot of it turned brown, it became very apparent that this was not going to complete the trick. So out came the hard rake. This was another one of those “this is your project, not mine” moments from Andy. So, with no help from him, I successfully (over the course of several days) raked up ALL of the ivy. This is literally back breaking work. As in my back was KILLING me after this was all done. But I did it. I won the war, and the ivy was finally gone. In it’s place I was left with a beautiful expanse of churned up Georgia red clay… Awesome.

STEP TWO – Game Plan

Which led us to the question of what the hell to do with it now? After a lot of consideration, and plan changes, Andy and I decided that a retaining wall was going to have to be put in along the right side of the yard due to the extreme slope from right to left. We had limited options due to financial concerns (rock retaining walls are expensive!) and the giant wooden island in the middle of our yard. So we decided to tie the new retaining wall in with the existing island by using 4×4 pressure treated wood from Home Depot.

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Unless you have a full size pick-up truck (and a full size man), you may find this part a little difficult. After calculations, we decided we were going to need around 22 4x4s… loading Andy’s truck to the max.  The hardest part, however, was probably moving the 4x4s from the truck to the back yard – I really needed two full size men for that job. Instead, I had to help with that. Nothing like a little (or a LOT) of physical labor to get you in the DIY mood!

STEP THREE – Let the Digging Begin

After acquiring (and hauling) the wood, Andy and I mapped out the trenches for the retaining wall with string and rebar posts. After successfully mapping out exactly where we wanted the wall to run, we began the digging process. And boy, what a digging process it was…

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STEP FOUR – Digging, Packing, Leveling, Repeat.

After the initial trenches were dug, we began the leveling process. In order to ensure that the wall would last way beyond our time, we packed the clay and then poured granite pebbles into the ditch and packed that on top. We would then use a long level and bullet level to ensure the ditches were level. We then started added the first layer of 4x4s. This layer is almost completely underground, but it is the most crucial layer to ensure level and consistency for the remainder of the wall. It was also the most time consuming layer. It took us about 2 days full days to complete this step. Luckily, we had a friend come help out for some of this step. I consider myself a very handy and strong female, but when it comes to pounding rebar through 4x4s into the granite and red clay… I’m useless.

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STEP FIVE – Finishing the Drill

After about 3 full weekends of work (we had estimated about 1), our retaining wall was finally nearing completion. The final steps required adding one more T-support behind the wall for support – bringing the total to two – and finishing off the top layers of the wall. The process may have been long and grueling, but the result was totally worth it!

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Landscaping and plant selection to follow soon! 🙂

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