Easy Landscape Block Wall and Mulch
The front of our houses has stayed exactly the same for as long as we have owned it. It’s just a concrete porch with 4 bushes in front. It looks like there used to be some mulch underneath the bushes, but it’s all gone now. Replaced with just dirt, which turns into grass.
Not the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen.
We decided that it was finally time to start looking at different ways to update the front of the house. We realized that the thing we needed most was some type of edging and mulch. The edging would add a nice transition between the landscape area and the grass. Our options for edging were:
- wood planks
- plastic rolled edging
- metal edging
- concrete blocks
We didn’t like the look of wood planks or the rolled plastic edging. They seemed cheap and didn’t match the front of the house. So we ended up deciding to use concrete blocks.
Here’s a video of the entire process of upgrading the front of our house with block walls and mulch. It was basically 1 long day of work, but we are really happy with the final result.
Easy Landscape - Block Wall and Mulch
Full Version - http://youtu.be/9S5CMXwZumg
Short Version - http://youtu.be/6MbI2B6wtv4
Karrie saw an ad in the paper one day from Menard’s. They were selling concrete retaining wall blocks for $1.19 each. Unfortunately we don’t have a Menard’s close, but we wondered if Lowe’s would price match it for us. We had previously looked at the concrete blocks at Lowe’s and liked them. Although they were priced at $2.50 each.
But we went to the store with the ad and talked with the manager at the counter. Luckily he said that since we were only buying a small amount they would price match it for us. Even though it was technically a different brand of block.
The other two things we needed were mulch and a weed barrier. Again Karrie saw an ad in the paper for Lowe’s which had mulch for $2.00 a bag. Typically the mulch is $4-$5 each and there were several other types of mulch there at that price. $2.00 per bag was a great deal.
I had drawn the layout of our house a few years ago on AutoCAD and roughly knew the size where we would be working. We used this for estimating the length of block we needed and square footage.
Here’s a summary of what we initially purchased, size, quantity and price:
- Retaining wall blocks 11”x7”x4” 47 $1.19
- Black Mulch bag 20 $2.00
- Pea Gravel bag 5 $3.50
- Fabric weed barrier roll 1 $11.00
For a final total of everything we spent, length, area, etc. see the table at the end of the post below.
The drawing that i had was only a rough measurement of the landscape area, so we had to guess a bit about the square footage. We thought that 1 roll of weed barrier fabric would be enough. But if not, we could always go back and buy more. Determining how many bags of mulch we needed was a bit more difficult. On the front of each bag there is a table which shows how many bags you need to cover a particular square footage at a certain depth.
We figured that we would need about 15 bags to cover 150 square feet at a depth of 2”. But since it was the last day of the sale on the mulch we decided to buy a few extra. Worst case scenario we just lay the mulch down a little thicker. That’s why we bought 20 bags. And just in case you are wondering, 20 bags of mulch completely fills up the trunk and back seats of 2 Pontiac Grand Prix’s.
The 5 bags of pea gravel were for the base of the block wall. We knew that with the cold Michigan winters, frosts would cause the concrete blocks to heave and become uneven. We definitely didn’t want to put the concrete blocks on the clay soil in our yard, which is why we got the bags of pea gravel to act as a 1” stone base.
With all the materials we thought we needed it was time to begin. The first step was to mark out exactly where we wanted the front the blocks to go. I used a shovel, rake, and an electric edger to cut a curved line into the grass. Once that line was cut I dug out the existing dirt about 2” down into the ground. I wanted to get an idea of how the final blocks would look.
The blocks are 4” tall and after testing out a few different options, we decided that we liked the look of just the top 3” of the block. That meant that 1” of the block would be buried into the ground.
After our test to see how the final product would look I dug another 1” into the ground because we would be adding and compacting the pea gravel.
As i went along i needed to use my grandpa’s old ax to cut some tree and bush roots growing near the surface. Then using a shovel, I dug out the 8” trench where the blocks would be placed. Once the trench was dug I poured in 1” of the pea gravel. I tried compacting it as best as i could using a big 3lb hammer and stomping on it with my foot.
It wasn’t super critical to get the stone compacted since we would only be putting one layer of concrete block. If this were an actual retaining wall, which was several feet high it would have definitely been more of an issue.
Here’s a closer view of the 8” wide pea stone base.
This is what the front looked like with the dirt in piles and the stone in place.
Here is another view from the other end. You can see that we also had to deal with the gutter drain pipe. Luckily though there was enough slope from the house to have it drain over top of the wall into the yard.
Then it was time to start adding the concrete blocks. First I cut and set a piece of weed barrier fabric in place. I placed the fabric on top of the stone and cut it as close as i could to the base of the bush. I then set the concrete blocks on top of the stone and fabric. I wasn’t too worried about weeds growing in the stone but it also worked to hold everything down and in place.
Here is another picture which shows how the process went along. I would put down the weed barrier fabric and then add the next few blocks in the row. I repeated this process until all the blocks were set in place.
It was important to cover the entire landscape area with the weed barrier fabric. If we missed a spot, or didn’t overlap enough, it would provide a place for weeds or small trees to grow through. A little bit of effort here would save a lot of effort pulling weeds in the future. Weeks after we were done, Karrie’s aunt said that newspaper also works well as a weed barrier. Although the fabric is suppose to last a lot longer.
Working out the rough shape of the wall and fabric.
All of the blocks were installed at this point. We decided that draining the gutter downspout out of the side would be a great option.
Also I forgot to mention that before we started doing all this work, I trimmed up the bushes. I used a hedge trimmer to clean up the top and sides and used clippers to remove several branches at the bottom. The three bushes on the left were able to be trimmed and looked just fine. However the bush closest to the sidewalk didn’t turn out so well. While trying to trim the bottom branches evenly I ended up cutting too much off and looked really bad. So we decided to just tear the whole thing out.
We pulled back some of the weed barrier fabric, got the saw out and cut it down to the ground. We then got the shovel and dug to where the entire root ball could be removed.
In hindsight the turned out to be a good thing. The area looks much better without that bush blocking the entrance. For years it was hanging over the sidewalk and people brushed into it as they walked to the front door. To replace the bush, Karrie went back to Lowe’s and purchased some new plants, two small flowers and another larger bush.
I’m not sure what type of plants they are but they look much better than the large bush which was there originally. We planted them with some potting soil and then re-wrapped he barrier fabric.
Finally it was time to add the bags of mulch. We started by adding the mulch near the block wall then filling in the areas behind it, up to the concrete porch.
This almost felt like the fun part of the job, if such a thing exists. All the stuff before was really difficult, but this was relatively easy and made the area look great.
The main area that you see here is after we emptied 14 bags of mulch. And like I said earlier, we fill it to around 2” thick.
Here’s a close-up of what the concrete blocks and mulch looked like. Since the blocks were set 1” into the ground and extended 3” above the ground, the 2” of mulch was 1” below the top of the block. We thought that looked just fine.
The transition from landscape to grass looks much better now.
It was at this point that we decided that the little triangle shaped area between the sidewalk and driveway should be redone as well. You can see from this picture that it didn’t look very nice and didn’t match all the work we’d just done on the other side of the walk.
Before we could do anything, we had to create enough room for the concrete blocks to be installed. So I had to dig out some of the existing plants and move them back about a foot. I could then dig the 8” wide trench. At this point of the day we didn’t care what we did, we just wanted to be done.
Then is was one last trip back to Lowe’s for 2 more bags of pea gravel. Something we did different was this time before adding the gravel, was that we decided to put a barrier down first. I’m not sure if it makes a difference but we thought it would do a better job of it was underneath the stone rather than above it.
Then just as before we cut and fit the weed barrier fabric, placed the blocks, then filled in with 4 bags of mulch.
It was a really long day of work, but I’m happy we did it. We weren’t 100% sure what we were doing at the start but everything turned out fine. Although I guess we won’t know for sure if we did it right until next spring after the frost melts.
Here’s the final/total summary of everything we bought:
ITEM SIZE QUANTITY UNIT PRICE TOTAL PRICE
Retaining wall blocks 11”x7”x4” 47 $1.19 $55.93
Black Mulch bag 20 $2.00 $40.00
Pea Gravel bag 7 $3.50 $24.50
Fabric weed barrier roll 2 $11.00 $22.00
Plants 1 large, 2 small 3 $10.00 $30.00
Total Cost 172.43 + 6% tax = $182.78
It’s nice to know that just one day of hard work can really transform the yard. Instead of that ugly jagged edge between grass and dirt we now have a nice block wall and clean looking mulch area. It makes the front of our house look loads better.
Yet again, another project around the house that after we finished i said, “Why didn’t we do that a year ago?”