How to Build a Rock Garden Wall

The rustic, charming look of a rock garden wall contributes interest and beauty to an outdoor space. A stacked stone wall derives its strength not from thick joints of mortar but from centuries-old methods of rock placement and positioning. A rock wall remains stable because rocks fit tightly against one another and it stands strong because of its great weight and staggered joints. Best of all, it's possible to build one yourself.

Small stones occupy the space between large rocks.
  1. Lay out the general position of the rock garden wall. Use marking paint to draw a line on the ground that indicates the position of the wall. This line serves as a frame of reference for completing the wall's layout.

  2. Lay out the position of the wall's foundation. The wall requires a crushed gravel footing that is 1 foot deep and extends 3 inches wider than the wall on both of its sides--for instance, a wall built of 12-inch stone will rest atop a footing 18 inches wide. Use a tape measure and marking paint to mark the position of the trench that will serve as a footing. The marks that indicate the position of the footing should surround the mark that indicates the general position of the wall.

  3. Dig a trench for the wall's footing. Use a shovel to remove soil to a depth of 12 inches and the width previously determined. Use a shovel to fill the trench with a 3-inch layer of crushed gravel. Use a tamper to compact the layer of gravel. Lay another 3-inch layer of gravel and, again, compact with a tamper.

  4. Lay the first course of rock over the crushed gravel. Because the trench is not entirely filled with gravel, at least a portion of the first course rests below grade. Choose rocks of nearly the same height and with edges that fit together as snugly as possible. Place a rock on the crushed gravel footing and set it in place by gently tapping with the back of your fist. Continue the process for the entire first course of rocks. Use a level to check for evenness as you go along. Fill gaps, shim and adjust a rock's position with small stones.

  5. Lay the second course of the rock garden wall over the first course. Repeat the rock-laying procedure used for the base course with one important exception: the joints must be staggered. To stagger joints, ensure that the butt-joints at which the ends two rocks meet on the second course do not occur directly over the butt-joints between two rocks of the base course. Continue building the wall to the desired height. Always stagger the joints from one course to the next.


  • Lifting large, heavy rocks is often awkward. Avoid injury by using safe lifting practices.