ideas for top of retaining wall

northtexasSeptember 20, 2010

Does anybody have any ideas on what I could plant along the top of my retaining wall? I was thinking a small shrub of some sort. I would like it to get thick enough so I don't have to worry about the grass up there any more. This spot will be full sun and is only about 10 inches wide and right next to the fence. You can see some of the rocks sitting on top of the wall that I have been digging out of our yard while planting things this summer. We have very rocky soil! I live in Keller just north of Fort Worth Texas.

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gardener365(5b Illinois USA)

Lavender would be a nice option. You could use different species and colors.


    Bookmark   September 21, 2010 at 7:24AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

how wide is the actual planting area ...

i wonder what vines might work in your zone?????


PS: why dont you just roundup the grass.. as i see a lot of weedwhip damage on the fence already .... and you might want to stain it one last time.. before you plant anything there ... while you dont have to worry about the plants ....

    Bookmark   September 21, 2010 at 9:00AM
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It is probably 90 feet long but only about 10 inches wide. Good point on the staining, I hadn't noticed the weed whip damage.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2010 at 12:21PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

10 inches.. yikes ... so.. you can plant 5 inches from the stone.. to be 5 inches from the fence ....

what direction does the wall face ... how hot will that stone get???

with a 10 inch soil area... and the big heat sink ... you may have a hard time keeping the soil cool enough.. or wet enough to plant anything ....

but that should not stop you from trying ...

WAIT!!! i changed my mind.. round up the grass.. add some mulch to suppress weeds.. then develop a 4 to 6 foot bed in front of the stone.. and plant the bed where it should be ...

IMHO ... you just arent going to get anything to thrive in 10 inches of soil ...

good luck


    Bookmark   September 21, 2010 at 12:34PM
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That wall faces south. For what it is worth I planted a hardy hibiscus on top of that wall that I can see from our kitchen table back in June and that thing has doubled in size so it is doing great.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2010 at 3:01PM
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I think vines are a good idea, and would cascade over and climb up. Clematis like their roots cool so that would be tough but there are tons of options. I also think sedums and ornamental grasses would look great and do well (if you pick the right grasses, like blue fescue). Moss phlox (Plhlox subulata) would do very well and give fantastic colour once a year.

Cotoneaster is great and tough and will climb up and cascade down but shrubbily. It is not a vine.

Another option, fun to try, would be a juniper or two. Yes, it is only ten inches but up here on the Canadian Shield you have very cool junipers that grow in tiny cracks in granite walls. Start small and see what happens.

I think you should be thinking "alpine plants" that will thrive, and not just survive, in that spot, and I bet their is an association near you that would have all sorts of suggestions.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2010 at 9:22AM
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Dave in NoVA • 7a • Northern VA

I think anything planted in there will be somewhat difficult to weed unless it's very dense. Even then, grass may grow in from other side.

I would probably use a good weed block material and then cover over with crushed rock or pebbles the whole length. This will take some work but will eliminate any weed/maintenance issues. THEN, if you want to plant a few more upright shrubs here and there (to sort of soften the fence a bit), cut through the weedblock and plant.

For what it's worth! Everyone will have a different opinion.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2010 at 3:06PM
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NHBabs z4b-5a NH

What is on the other side of the fence, which I assume belongs to a neighbor? If it is grass over there, it will grow into whatever you plant on top of the wall unless you put in an edging at the base of the fence to prevent the grass growing under the fence and onto your property. I do think that it will be difficult to install edging close in under the fence, though not impossible. At least around here, weed cloth with anything over it will also have the grass growing into it within a year or less if there is grass on the other side. On the other hand, it also means that you don't have just 10 inches of soil, so that your plants have a larger, cooler root run than the 10 inch wide bed would make it appear.

Is there any likelihood you can convince your neighbor to put in an edging on his side of the fence a few inches out? (Your reasoning can be so that he doesn't have to trim along the bottom of the fence.) Then he can put in a few inches of gravel between the fence and the edging after killing the grass at the base of his side of the fence. You can then also kill your grass the the top of the wall and plant.

I am wondering whether your goal is having plants in front of the fence to have a garden or to decrease the maintenance of the narrow strip of grass. Realistically, without some way to keep grass from growing under the fence you will be creating more not less work for yourself, since I know of no plant that will grow densely enough to shade out grass in a southern exposure. If your goal is low maintenance, the grass is your best bet as long as grass can grow in from the other side. Trying to keep grass out of a garden where there is not a barrier is high maintenance. Having a mix of grass and large shrubs will be less maintenance, but you have to be careful with the string trimmer to not shred the bark at the base of the shrubs. If your main goal is to have a garden in the fence & wall area and you can't install edging along the fence to keep out the grass on top of the wall, I'd suggest making a deeper bed at the base of the wall (edged from your lawn) and plant tall things in it (small trees, large shrubs, and vines, though not so densely as to block the wall, which is quite nice. Leave space to walk along the back of the bed at the base of the wall to maintain the grass at the base of the fence.

I realize that this may not be what you wanted to hear, but grass won't respect your fence.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2010 at 10:15AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

can we have a pic of the whole backyard ....

and i am still wondering why you cant work IN FRONT OF THE WALL .... instead of on top of it ...

its a mystery.. wrapped in an enigma.. coated in marshmallow ....

fess up ...


    Bookmark   September 26, 2010 at 3:43PM
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On the other side of the fence is bermuda grass. My main reason for wanting to plant on top of the wall was for the simple reason that I thought it would look nice. I do have one dynamite crape myrtle planted in front of the wall plus a skinny dragon maple. Here are a few pics of the back yard.

Fire Dragon Shantung maple I planted two weeks ago

Fire Dragon again with nellie stevens hollies and italian cypress I planted in June

Fire dragon and regular shantung maple which shows more of the wall in the background

lawn back in July

other side of lawn back in July


Skinny Dragon by the wall

    Bookmark   September 27, 2010 at 11:13PM
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Cher(6 SW OH)

Dax gave an excellent suggestion for Lavender and it would do well in the location and is evergreen so you would have year round interest. The problem is like others have said, you are going to have that grass growing under the fence onto your side and need to put in a barrier there or get out the roundup a couple times a year and carefully spray it behind the plants.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2010 at 7:25AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

wow ....

i was afraid you had a 5 foot alley and JUST HAD TO USE THAT SPACE ....

what a primo yard ... and what a spectacular wall ... why in the world you are fixating on that 6 inches of soil is beyond me ...

be the wall .. love the wall ... kill the grass ... repaint the fence... and then move that lounger [the word is escaping me.. lol] .... and turn it with the wall to the back of your head .... and enjoy the rest of the yard ...

fool around with your little planting space.. and somewhere down the line.. you will find something that works ...

good luck


PS: a lot of the plants around the yard/fence.. are planted way too close to the fence .... they should be out 3 to 5 feet .... so you have the ability to work on the fence.. and so the plants are free of it.. and also so the plants dont negatively impact the wooden fence in 5.. 10 .. 15 years ...

    Bookmark   September 28, 2010 at 1:15PM
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Thanks Ken, we have been in the house three years but the yard was barren until this last May.

Our second daughter was born in late April and my mom planted the larger shantung for us for her birth. For whatever reason I really enjoyed watering that tree and it got me interested in trees and shrubs. Since she got that tree for us I have planted 18 different things this summer.

The plants around the yard by the fence may be deceptive in distance due to my photography. I planted them all around 40 inches away and I mow weekly behind them so the gas mower fits in the space. The little skinny dragon is closer than that to the wall though. I do wish I had gone out 6 feet though on the rest instead of only three and a half. Those Nellie Stevens hollies can get huge!

    Bookmark   September 28, 2010 at 5:19PM
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Why don't you think about thin window boxes or oblong planters?
You could just sit them in front on the wall itself, and on the grass too, and plant anything you want not having to worry about the grass at all.
You could put little vining things that love sun like purple wintercreeper in a box and also stick litle flowering things in like portulaca, or petunias,(which might not die for you over the winter), in the fall you can plant pansies in some of them.
Price around now, everything is on sale, and buy a couple boxes and see how it goes.
When you get sick of the plants, you can change them out whenever you want.
Nice yard, good luck to you!

    Bookmark   October 11, 2010 at 12:06AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

It looks the perfect spot for all the Mediterranean herbs. Lavender, as already mentioned, but also a trailing rosemary cultivar which would cascade down, sage, phlomis, thyme, satureja etc etc. Plus some Helianthemums or cistus, aubretia, dianthus and maybe Convolvulus cneorum. All would grow to dense clumps and a bit of grass between them would not matter at all. There are hundreds of other trailing plants suitable for a sunny retaining wall. I think Ken is maybe used to his rolling acres and is not used to the constraints on people with small gardens who want to utilise every square inch. I would certainly be gardening that strip intensively - it's a great opportunity to grow a variety of beautiful plants.

Here is a link that might be useful: Trailing rosemary

    Bookmark   October 12, 2010 at 6:37AM
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I have the EXACT same retaining wall, with the exact size soil area...and have the EXACT same problem...however...I am wanting to try to plant some type of shrubs or small trees for privacy on the wall. The neighbors behind our house are on a hill, so although we can't see in THEIR yard, they literally have a bird's eye view into our entire backyard....I had tossed around the idea os American Holly Shrubs, Little Gem Magnolia Trees and Nikko Blue Hydranga Shrubs.....any thoughts and or suggestions?

    Bookmark   April 17, 2011 at 9:37PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

if you have a wall/fence that will need maintenance .. painting .. whatever ..

then you should plant big privacy planting in front of the wall ... not in 6 inches of soil ...

otherwise.. how will you ever work on the fence???

in this case.. the builder built a functional wall ... he did not put it there as a platform for growing large plants ... though that is what you now want to make it ...

i just think you are going to have a hard time winning that battle ...


    Bookmark   April 18, 2011 at 8:07AM
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kvenkat(5a Colo)

I think planting in the strip on top of the wall will end up being more a hassle than it is worth. I would go with the idea mentioned above about putting potted plants up there, maybe with trailing specimens. Planting in front of the wall is a good idea too. Maybe do a combo of both.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2011 at 12:19PM
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