Landscape Industry Forum

PRO Member

How to build a sleeper retaining wall

Sleeper retaining walls have been topical of late but for all the wrong reasons.

When used effectively i.e. in the right place for the right application, old railways sleepers can be a strong ornamental feature for creating vegetable beds or formal plants and shrub borders or even, perhaps, as the boundaries to lawns or to create terraces to make use of a sloped and otherwise unusable piece of ground.

Jane asked this question in the 'Cowboys from the wild west' thread but I feel it's appropriate that the question is asked independently of that thread as I'm sure there could be some real positive knowledge and experiences shared.

Jane said: "I need to design a retaining wall to level up a kitchen garden. This would be about 900mm high and 24m long. Is this possible with sleepers laid on their back? How often should the reinforcement tying sleepers go in? Is this the most cost effective way of retaining this or could it be done more cheaply? The wall is not going to be visible from anywhere."

You need to be a member of Landscape Juice Network to add comments!

Join Landscape Juice Network

Email me when people reply –


  • PRO Member
    Here's a good site to see lots of images of railway sleeper retaining walls used in many different types of applications:,%20photos%20and%20p...
  • PRO Member
    Good use of sleepers in this Mediterranean garden:
  • I have made sleeper pins in the past for different landscapers, some use 16 or 20mm round bar with a point forged on one end and a washer welded on the other end some have been smaller diameter again with a forged point but with a short tee bar welded on the other end.
  • Railway sleepers, not for me.

    Another installation process for new green crisp edged sleepers are to install vertically, using the earths surface for retention as opposed to the standard horizontal process, when installing horizontally ensure that the same principal and block work is exercised, ie Staggered joints for maximum strength

    For all vertical sleeper works make sure that what ever length exposed must be the same length embedded in the ground with staifix and RC 35 concrete

    Vertical sleepers:

  • It seemed a bit mad when I started,
    few people asked for raised beds from this material, phil was willing to help ( remember phil- with asparagus raised beds)

    Well improved on colour, height and these days it works well in many kitchen gardens and allotments.
    even few big gardens installed that lately.

    David actually helped a lot toi show what can you do with recycled plastic.
    I know plastic sound like a big no no but once I saw what customers did with it -I was impressed!

    I think it worth using david services to show customers what can you do.

    Once again Landscape juice helped me a lot, must mention working with steve and tina- was great too.
  • I heard that normal washing powder when poured onto the tar sleeper will bring the tar out and wash away in the rain? Has anybody ever tried this?

    Paul Baker said:
    When using reclaimed sleepers be careful of the creosote, tar and other nasties in them. They can seep into the soil and kill any plants nearby. Apart from that they are a lovely material to use.
  • Why the 'L' brackets? Why not just use timberlocks secured from the back or to gove it a bit of character coach bolts / screws from the front. Both ae stronger than 'L' brackets. said:
    By the morning your posts would of set solid, So place your sleeper on its side against the front of the post, ensure its a snug fit, at each end make sure the adjoining sleeper fits flush, plane the edge if needed.
    One your sleepers are in place use a CORNER BRACEor L BRACKET (3" or 4") fix the sleeper to the post, the bracket should sit on the top half on the sleeper and half on the post. on the first row there should be one on the centre post and one on the edge of the end posts. screw the brackets on using decent quality screws (4") galvanised if possible.
    Fix another couple of brackets behind the wall towards the bottom, this will ensure the bottom does not kick out under pressure.
    fix the sleepers together with galvanised 4" nails on each edge of the sleep on a angle into the next sleeper this should be done top and bottom

    To install the next layer of sleepers you will need to do a sleeper cut, this is around 4.3 feet and this will connect from the first post to the middle post, this will then create a bond in the wall and the posts should all meet like the first row installed first.
    As this is the finishing level you will need to fix 2 brackets to the rear of this sleeper so they cannot be seen, add plenty of nails, avoid splitting the sleeper.
    You now have a finished sleeper wall of 20" make it 30" just make the posts bigger, and repeat the process.

  • PRO Member
    Isn't it about the access from the rear to punch a timberlok thru the post into the sleeper. I've had the same problem. Putting them thru the front - personal/client taste ?
  • RSJ's with sleepers slotted between could be an option especially as it is not seen so the aesthetics of coursing is not an issue (I do appreciate that coursing adds strength but an RSJ will be a lot stronger than a 4” by 4” post!
    I have just priced up a job whereby we are using our normal procedure which is very similar to that documented by the Garden Surgery. However it is too expensive for the client so I am tinkering with substituting some of the 4” by 4” posts that we would normally concrete into the ground with angle irons which we would dive in with a sledge hammer and then drill holes in and screw to the back of the sleeper.
  • Have a friend who's a geotechnical engineer. He always bangs on about the fact that a retaining structure needs mass, so for example those massive nets full of rocks stacked; sleepers on end as JLD says, the 1/2 in the ground means that the amount of force exerted on the upstand can never (in normal use!) overcome the mass against the buried half.

    Charles - If your talking about strength and longevity I like how Steve Snedecker(? Member on here, U.S.) said that he did sleeper retaining walls.
    Laid flat pinned together with 20mm steel bars with a 4'header every 8' or so into the retained earth. This header in turn has a 4' long section of sleeper bolted to it.
    The strength done this way would be colossal. The whole point is that this retaining structure is being held by the weight/mass of the retained earth - Very clever :)
    This is how I will construct in future. The fixings used should outlast the sleepers....

    Must admit I don't like the look/sound of the angle plates, or screws! When they're rusted away the posts will do jack!
This reply was deleted.

Industry news

LJN Sponsor