Gravel Board Retaining Wall – Yes Or No?

Retaining walls serve a great number of purposes. They offer a pretty focal point for your garden landscape, reduce soil erosion, and more! A common choice for them in recent years is a gravel board retaining wall. A gravel board is a wooden, concrete, or composite board placed beneath fence panels and on top of the ground. They protect your fence from wet soil, insects, and debris, essentially extending the viable lifespan of your fence. So the question is whether or not a gravel board retaining wall is a good idea – but you’ll have to keep reading to find out.

Gravel board retaining walls are a good choice to improve the lifespan of your fence, but there are a few caveats to that statement, so stay tuned.

There’s quite a bit to break down here, so let’s dive right in, shall we?

Gravel Board Retaining Wall – Basics

First things first, how exactly do gravel boards work? We already know that they sit beneath your fence and can improve its lifespan – but how? In short, they help prevent moisture from making its way up the fence from the ground. This prevents your fence from rotting or warping as quickly (though not entirely). They also add a bit of height to the fence, making its purpose doubled – improve lifespan and increase privacy.

What are the basic forms that gravel boards come in?

Wooden

This is the most common gravel board material. They’re generally made from treated hardwood or cypress and are easier to install than some of the other types. It’s wood, after all – that means your usual fence-building steps apply here.

Add in that they’re the most affordable form of gravel board, and they’re looking pretty nice right about now, huh? Well… not so much. Because it’s wood, that means that the gravel board is more susceptible to rot, warping, and waterlogging – the things we’re trying to avoid. Essentially, if you opt for the cheaper, wooden option, you’ll need to replace it in a few years. Sooner if you’re in a highly humid or rainy environment.

Concrete

This is pretty simple. Instead of wood, the gravel board is made from concrete. This makes it stronger, more resistant to moisture, and generally longer-lasting. The primary downside, however, is that it’s concrete. That means that it’s heavy and quite a pain to remove.

Composite

This is the nice, happy middle ground. They’re generally made from a combination of PVC and composite wood (plywood), though it varies on the make. Their primary upside is that composite is very light, so it’s easy to install and remove.

It’s also pretty much immune to rot and waterlogging, though it can warp in extreme temperature changes. It’s generally more expensive than wood or concrete, but not by much – it’s still pretty affordable.

Gravel Board Retaining Walls – Pros and Cons

Now we’re getting to the really important stuff – what are the actual benefits and costs of using gravel board retaining walls?

Pros

The three largest benefits of a gravel board retaining wall are its coverage, weight, and durability (depending on the material used). If using wood or composite, it’s going to be relatively light and easy to install, and it can be easily cut down to the proper size. This means that you’ve got a bit more adaptability than concrete.

Concrete, on the other hand, is hard to install. Its primary benefit is that concrete is strong. That means you won’t be stuck replacing it any time soon, and it’ll hold up well in wet environments. Additionally, concrete can support more weight. That allows you a bit more freedom with what goes atop the retaining wall.

Add in the fact that they can be customised to add a bit of personality to your garden, and they’re looking pretty good right about now.

Cons

There are really only two major downsides to gravel board – cost and lifespan. The first applies to all materials of gravel board, while the latter really only applies to wood walls.

In terms of cost, none of these is going to really break the bank. Realistically, it’s just another section of fence to add – that means you’re paying more to install it. If you’re doing it yourself, this really shouldn’t be a factor, though, as the material costs are minimal.

Lifespan, on the other hand, is specifically related to wood gravel retaining walls. Yeah, they’re cheaper than concrete, but you get what you pay for. Wood rots and warps when exposed to moisture, which is exactly what we’re trying to avoid. On the plus side, you won’t have to replace the whole fence – just the retaining wall.

Other Considerations

A good retaining wall does one job very, very well – it keeps everything where it should be. In other words, it provides a permanent and sturdy addition to your garden when used to control soil. That means you won’t be stuck constantly reworking your garden to accommodate for soil movement – a major plus.

It also helps control moisture and runoff in your garden. This will simultaneously prevent your plants from getting waterlogged (if done properly) and allow proper drainage. While a traditional brick wall can achieve the same thing (sometimes at a much cheaper overall cost), there are a few caveats. First and foremost, masonry doesn’t do well with moisture unless properly treated. Add in that you’ll likely want to hire someone to lay the brick, and that’s just more added cost that you don’t really need.

Finally, gravel board retaining walls work great in gardens and yards that have minimal space. You’re able to organise the area in an aesthetically pleasing manner. While it costs more than just leaving your garden alone, a gravel board retaining wall has a lot of very good benefits and only a few downsides.

Final Thoughts

Gravel board retaining walls are becoming increasingly popular in modern gardens, and for good reason. They’re sturdy and provide good soil drainage, preventing runoff and soil erosion. And when paired with a fence, a good retaining wall can drastically improve the fence’s lifespan. Instead of having to replace an entire section of fence, you can just replace the retaining wall – though that may not even be necessary.

Really the only downsides to a gravel board retaining wall are cost and ease of installation. They’re an additional thing to do, which will cost money. But if your other option is soil erosion and a messy garden, I feel like the decision is pretty clear. If you don’t want to install it yourself, you can always find a landscaper to do it for you (though that also costs money).

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About the Author Harry Thompson

Involved in home renovations throughout his life, Harry is an expert in everything to do with home and garden DIY. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking and tending to his garden.