Concrete Block Retaining Wall

Sandi_W(7b/8)March 17, 2013

I have a very long concrete block retaining wall that goes from full sun to part shade back to full sun. Last year I planted sweet potato vines in every opening (I think there's over 120) which was kind of expensive even making cuttings and it just took too long to plant every block. It was very pretty though after they grew long enough to cover the wall. Of course, in the winter it's bare. This picture was taken May 4 and you can see it took forever to get the wall covered and this is a little less than half the total length.

Does anyone have any other ideas? Thanks.

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mrsgalihad(5 CO)

What about Basket of Gold Alyssum? This is a picture of two year old seed grown plants. They will get longer and cover more of the wall with time.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 12:21PM
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That is so pretty. I love your bed. My wall is 5 blocks tall so I need something very fast growing unless I find a perennial that works. I saw 'Silver Falls' dicondria this morning that is pretty too. Thank you.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 12:52PM
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christinmk z5b eastern WA

I love perennial alyssum (Aurinia saxatilis) too. Great pic MrsG!

How much sun does this area get? I would think the nutrients in the soil of those blocks would get depleted quickly, depending on what you plant in them. If the space is fairly sunny one option would be creeping/groundcover sedums and hens n' chicks (Sempervivum). They like it hot, dry and are fine with poor-ish soil. Plus there are tons of different kinds and it is very easy to propagate more via cuttings (so saves you some $$ in the long run!).

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 3:16PM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

Dare I say- ivy?

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 1:41AM
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I don't think creeping/groundcover sedums and hens n' chicks would drape down long enough, but that might be a good idea. And, believe it or not, I thought about a beautiful variegated English Ivy, but I'm scared to try it. I've tried ivy in containers before and unless I'm very vigilent it escapes. I use Osmocote in the blocks so that helps a little.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 10:34AM
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aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

Do you think Boston Ivy or Virginia Creeper would work, green from spring to fall and then that lovely fall color, V.C. henryana has silver veins. Of course you'd have a bit of cleanup in the fall and the vines would be bare in the winter.
Virginia Creeper draping over a frame. Annette

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 12:45PM
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christinmk z5b eastern WA

Oooops, guess I totally missed the part in the original post where you told us about sun exposure. Lol. One of these days I'll learn to read ;->

Some of the creeping sedums will creep/drape over with time. Found a pic of Sedum 'Angelina' trailing down a container: Here is the Link

Creeping thymes would be good for the sunny areas. Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) would be good for the shady/part sun parts (I find the gold version burns a bit in total sun).

It's an annual, but nasturtiums are exceptional trailers. You can get a pack at Walmart for 20 cents I think it was, plus it is soooo easy to collect them from your plants in summer/fall!

This post was edited by christinmk on Tue, Mar 19, 13 at 13:35

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 1:22PM
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You could use rockery plants like arenaria... However I would suggest a succulent garland style wall...

Succulents require less watering and minimal fertilzing. In your zone you'd have plenty to choose from.

Check out this link:

Here is a link that might be useful: succulents on a wall

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 3:43PM
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Silver lace vine or autumn clematis both grow very fast and aren't as invasive as ivy.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 3:51PM
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These are some miscellaneous sedum ground cover. It's easy to propagate new plants from established ones. The plus side of sedum is that many will "flower" late summer.

The plant growing in the rocks is a succulent type of ground cover. It spread on it's own from the trailing piece on the far right.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 5:46PM
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These are some "starts" I grew as an experiment. I got cuttings from the established plants and they took right off.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 5:48PM
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Even though your wall has varying amounts of sun and shade, I don't think you have to be wedded to the idea of a uniform planting. How about trailing rosemary, or a mix of rosemary and some kind of long-armed nepeta, like Walker's Low? I think I may also see some perennial verbena in the photo at the left. I believe that would also trail over your wall. All you have to do is coax it a bit in the right direction.
One last question: it looks from your photo like there may be soil behind the concrete blocks. Can you plant behind the blocks rather than inside them to give the roots of whatever you plant a bit more elbow room?


    Bookmark   March 21, 2013 at 10:32AM
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Can you clarify that when you said, that goes from full sun to part shade back to full sun, did you mean along its length or over the course of the day?

Here are some evergreen draping plants that I think will be hardy enough for you to be perennial:
-Vinca major 'Variegata' (ordinary Vinca will also be hardy but can spread pretty aggressively and will take over whatever is behind the wall unless trimmed back every couple of weeks in the growing season.) It will grow in sun or shade.
-How about creeping rosemary for the sunny part? Is it perennial for you? (It isn't winter hardy here, but I grow it as an annual.) It will have blue flowers late summer as well as providing herbs for the kitchen.
-As Christinmk suggested, thyme might work. My one plant of wooly thyme now covers an area of about 4' x 5'.
-Variegated ivy is a bit less aggressive than the all-green plants and if you trim back or redirect the parts that want to grow away from the wall, it might work. Not sure if this is evergreen for you. Ivy is invasive in some parts of the country, so check that out first.

I only think of a few deciduous perennials that I think might work for you in this situation.
-creeping phlox
-Verbena Homestead Purple.
-Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea' can grow pretty aggressively and will need careful watching that it won't grow backwards into whatever is growing behind the wall and also that seed doesn't wash into other parts of the garden. It is lovely, however.
I think that sweet autumn clematis and silver lace vine will be too large for your space as both can get well over 15 feet, and both have the potential to seed around pretty aggressively in other areas of the garden or into any wild areas near you.

Draping annuals or tender perennials:
-Sweet potato vine, which you used previously, will create tubers if it is happy, which if you have a cool and not overly dry storage area (a bucket of sand in the garage or cellar?) can be stored and replanted the next year.
-Dicondria will be happy in the sunny areas, but might not do so well in the shade, based on my experience with it.
-Helichrysum is another annual that might do well in the sunny spots, but probably won't like the shade. It comes in silver, variegated, and chartreuse.
-Wave or other spreading petunias will spread large enough to cover the wall.

House plants would work as annuals in the shady areas and you could bring in cuttings to help keep down the expense next year.
-Wandering Jew
-strawberry begonia (which is neither a strawberry or a begonia, but a saxifrage, Saxifraga stolonifera) It might overwinter for you in the ground some years.

Annual vegetable vines like indeterminate tomatoes or scarlet runner beans would create a totally different look, but wouldn't be happy in shade.

Now some questions if you want to expand your range:
Is there room to put narrow planters (sort of like really deep window boxes) along the bottom of the wall and have plants growing upward to help cover the wall?
Can you plant something larger in the area behind the wall rather than in the holes in the cinderblocks? If so, you'll expand the possibilities of what you can plant to include plants that wouldn't be happy in the small pockets of soil.
-Creeping Juniper will spill down over the wall and remains evergreen. There are various kinds with different textures and colors of foliage. It likes sun.
-Microbiota decussata is a similar evergreen for shade
-Creeping cotoneaster will be happy in sun.
-There are other clematis, including those in the integrifolia group, which scramble rather than climb so will drape over the wall (though they will need a couple of years to get established.) Two I have and like are Arabella and Rooguchi. Once you get one, you can pin down stems to root and create others. As long as they get 4-5 hours of sun, they will be happy enough to bloom. Another scrambler which can get huge is Mrs. Robert Brydon or the similar C. x jouiniana and they will spill sideways and downward.
-Gelsemium sempervirens 'Margarita'
-Actinidia arguta 'Issai', a self-pollinating little Kiwi which will give you grape-sized, non-fuzzy fruit.

Large arching shrubs will cover the top part of the wall and draw the eye upward.
Lespedeza thunbergii 'Gibraltar'
Kerria japonica 'Pleniflora'

Finally, as some food for thought, I am attaching a link to the blog of a Detroit area garden designer, Deborah Silver. It's a search for window boxes, which is similar to what you have in terms of it being a narrow area and wanting plants that drape. She uses a range of plants that drape down and those that reach up. You don't notice the window box so much because there is a riot of texture, color, foliage and blooms that is going on up above. I think that if you planted your cinder block wall with this type of variety of plants, using many perennials to keep down the amount of planting needed each year, but also including annuals to help provide that riot of color up above you'd not notice the cinderblock wall - it would be more of a neutral backdrop to a garden. The other advantage to having a mix of plants would be that if something doesn't grow well due to disease, being unhappy with the conditions or bugs, you will still have other plants that fill in well.

Here is a link that might be useful: Deborah Silver's window boxes on 'Dirt Simple'

    Bookmark   March 21, 2013 at 10:39AM
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Thanks to everyone for all of the great ideas. You have all given me a lot to think about. I can plant some areas behind the wall, but part of the area on the other side is much lower than the wall. I really like the idea of using different plants which I hadn't considered before. I think I will try that approach. The wall is just so ugly.
The wall goes down the whole length of one side of my house (ENE side) and that part of the wall is only early morning sun. There is only abt 3' of walkway between the house and wall and it is very shady so planters on the ground wouldn't work, but using planters along the wall on the front part is a great idea.
Thanks again to all. When I get it planted I'll post pics.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2013 at 11:24AM
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On the part that is lower than the wall on the backside, it would be a great place to put taller climbing clematis that could then spill up and over the wall. It would need a trellis with narrow bars and at least 4-5 hours of sun for this to work. I have a couple that grow taller than their supports and after reaching the top, spill back down like this:
From June 5, 2012

I don't think that any of the clematis are evergreen in zone 7-8, but you could check that on Clematis on the Web. Just put evergreen on the search line for "Main text includes" and leave everything else blank.

Otherwise you could try some climbing vines that like shade.

Here is a link that might be useful: Clematis on the Web search form

    Bookmark   March 21, 2013 at 12:49PM
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Beautiful clematis. I have several along a side of my home that doesn't receive that much sunlight and I would love to add that colour.. What kind of clematis do you have?

    Bookmark   March 22, 2013 at 12:10PM
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There's not enough sun for the clematis, but yours is so pretty. I have been rereading these posts as I can (2 & 4 yr olds visiting for few days) and am almost overwhelmed with all the good ideas. I can't wait to get started.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2013 at 10:24AM
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Ianna - I really like this color also and have a bunch of clematis in this color range in various spots. The photo is HF Young, a type 2. He's actually a bit more blue than that, and is trouble free for me, growing on the east side of the house. This spot gets sun all morning and really bright indirect light the rest of the day since the house is white and there's nothing overhanging it. There are many type 2's in this color, so many that it's difficult to ID them from just a photo. There are also a few type 3 prunes in this color range, including Prince Charles, Blue Angel AKA Blekitny Aniol, Justa, and Emilia Plater.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2013 at 10:45AM
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Why thank you.. I do have type 3 and several of them but not type 2s. I'll give them a try.


    Bookmark   March 27, 2013 at 1:02PM
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re the trellis, You know I got a wire trellis from Lee Valley Tools. It's really some hooks/loops that you can glue to the wall (easily remove if needed), and wire that is threaded through to form the trellis. Easily done and you can shape it any which way. this is just in case you may be interested.

Here is a link that might be useful: trellis

    Bookmark   March 27, 2013 at 1:12PM
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memo(Zone 4B Nebraska)

You have been given so many really great suggestions that I don't think I could think of any that are better or more helpful. I did however want to address the "ugly" wall. It is possible to colorize your wall with what is generally known as "white washing" but by adding a cement additive you can tint it any color you would like. It's very simple really. You would need a bag of white portland cement, a bag of white hydrated lime and the colorant powder of your choice. Mix the portland and lime 3 to 1 and add water so it's a milk consistency then add the colorant until you get the color you like. Measure the colorant as you add it so subsequent batches will be mixed to the same color depth. Brush it on with a paint brush. The painting goes faster than you would think by sort of swishing the brush in all directions to fill all the little crevices, You have about 30 minutes or so to work the cement mixture but if it starts to stiffen just add more water and mix well again and finish up. I did this on my very old cement stucco house this past summer and it is the brightest shiny white you could ever imagine. It looks beautiful with freshly painted trim. Anyway this will work on anything with cement like texture (bricks too) and because of the added portland cement it will not wash away like a simple lime only solution will eventually do. You could even do a really bright color like red or deep blue if you wanted to and consider it an art wall if you wanted. Just something to consider in addition to plants. Any left over materials can be mixed with sand added to make stepping stones or cement planting containers etc. Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 1, 2013 at 12:07PM
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Thanks memo. I planned on coating the wall with dyed concrete. Just waiting until all of our rain is gone. Haven't been able to do much at all outside yet.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2013 at 12:12PM
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Like the idea of painting the blocks, but a question. Because these blocks look porous, what happens if water chips off the outer coating. I'm sure on stucco, this would be fine.

Also avoid light colours which would look great for a short time being. because this is a part shade part, it would likely get covered up with algae and may just not look so nice after a while.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 2:18PM
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I'm planning on either painting or dying the wall a medium reddish brown that will match my house. I think that will make the plants stand out and the blocks recede.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 6:50PM
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