A stone wall can be a beautiful asset to your landscape, but building one requires research, planning, and patience. The first decision you need to make is whether you want a "dry-laid" (also called "dry stone" or "dry stacking") wall or a mortared wall — meaning whether your wall will be built only of stacked stone, or whether you will use mortar in its construction. This decision will influence the shapes and sizes of the rocks used in your wall.
Whichever type of wall you choose to build, the stone selection is crucial to the beauty and functionality of your wall. Selecting the right stone for your project will be impacted by availability, the location of your wall, and your own preferences.
Dry-Laid or Mortared Walls
Deciding whether to build a dry-laid or a mortared wall is important because it underlies every planning decision you subsequently make. A mortared wall requires a footing, usually embedded several inches into the ground for stability. Mortared walls can be easier to build than dry-laid walls because the mortar holds the stones together, which creates a more forgiving tableau when placing stones. The stones you select for your wall can be almost any size and shape, since the wall's structural integrity will not depend on them. Further, you can build the wall of almost any height.
Dry-laid stone walls, however, can be easier to maintain in the long run — if the ground shifts or damage to the wall occurs, you can simply rebuild it using the same stones. Further, they can be less costly to build since they don't require a concrete base footing and mortar materials. Dry-laid stone walls are generally no higher than four feet, so the purpose of your wall will be a consideration, here. They should, however, be built from stones that have flat faces and square or rectangular shapes; round stones will be more difficult to fit and layer without the addition of mortar.
Types of Stone
The most typical stone for constructing walls in the United States is sandstone, limestone, granite, and fieldstone. In addition, concrete blocks designed to look like natural stone can make an effective stone wall.
Sandstone & Limestone
Sandstone and limestone range in color from white to shades of tan and gray. In the U.S., it is quarried most typically in Kansas, Texas, and Louisiana. These stones can be cut in irregular or regular shapes or even as veneer, in which case a stone wall would be backed by concrete.
Granite is a durable and solid stone that is usually quarried into large, rectangular shapes easy to use in a rock wall. It comes in a variety of colors, including white, pink, or gray, depending on its makeup. Some landscapers sell reclaimed granite, often from old European city streets — this type of granite features an old, realistic patina.
Fieldstone is usually more rounded, compared to quarried stone which is freshly broken. Because your vendor is likely to get fieldstone locally, it's usually less expensive than other stones that need to be transported. This type of stone varies greatly, of course, and can range in size from huge boulders to hand-size rocks.
Man-made concrete stones can make attractive walls, and some are manufactured with rough, natural-looking edges to simulate natural rock. Concrete stones are uniform in size, so they are not only less expensive than natural stone but also easier to work with.
Look and Feel
You probably have an idea or image of how you hope your stone wall will look. Do you imagine it old and weathered? Big and blocky? Smooth and elegant?
Old and weathered rock can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, textures and colors. Some stones just look old naturally. Some stones may be reclaimed from old stone walls or buildings. Some stones have been laying in fields and exposed to the elements for a long time. If you like the old and weathered look, check your local stone yard.
Rocks that are big and blocky give the appearance of strength and sturdiness. Rocks that are relatively square and rectangular are easy to fit together, which means your wall may go together faster than if you used more irregularly shaped or round rocks. You can build a stone wall with all big and blocky stones, or you can mix them with smaller stones.
Mix and Match
When building a stone wall, you aren't limited to using a single kind of rock. For example, the stone wall pictured here was built with a large variety of rocks. There are large types, small types, flat types, round types, and irregularly shaped types. All this variety adds visual interest to the stone wall.
Not only can this option be beautiful, but it can also save you money, too. By mixing rock types, you can use rocks from different sources. You can find leftover stones from construction sites, stones for sale online, or discounted stones at stone yards.