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Soil Science Society of America
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Contact: Susan V. Fisk, Public Relations Director, 608-273-8091,

How do retaining walls work?

Soil, slope, circumstances determine right retaining wall

June 15, 2017 –  Retaining walls are a popular feature for hilly residential lots. The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) June 15 Soils Matter blog post explains what factors to consider—and when to call in the pros.

Retaining wall with landscaping“Retaining walls are hard-working structures that fight a constant battle against gravity, so consider many variables when developing them,” says Christina Hebb, a soil scientist with Duraroot. Questions to consider include:

  • What is the slope? If it’s greater than a 3:1, landowners should always consult an engineer.
  • How much frost and freezing will your wall – and the soil it’s holding – be subject to?
  • What is the drainage like? If water will flow heavily on the wall and soil, you may need to add drainage.
  • What type of soil do you have? A soil with a heavy clay content will not drain well, but is also less prone to erosion. A sandy soil has the opposite characteristics.
  • Are there any other structures near the proposed site? What influence will the wall have on the structures?
  • Do you live in an area of where there are anticipated earthquakes? Will an earthquake engineer be needed to analyze the wall to make it more resistant to earthquakes?

“You may need a professional to help you to assess the soil in the area you plan the wall,” Hebb adds. “Also look at the climate and terrain – this will help you know if this is a weekend job for you, or whether you need professional help.”

To read the entire blog post, visit

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The Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) is a progressive, international scientific society that fosters the transfer of knowledge and practices to sustain global soils. Based in Madison, WI, SSSA is the professional home for 6,000+ members dedicated to advancing the field of soil science. It provides information about soils in relation to crop production, environmental quality, ecosystem sustainability, bioremediation, waste management, recycling, and wise land use.

SSSA supports its members by providing quality research-based publications, educational programs, certifications, and science policy initiatives via a Washington, DC, office. Founded in 1936, SSSA proudly celebrated its 75th Anniversary in 2011. For more information, visit or follow @SSSA_soils on Twitter.