6 Best Practices for Pond & Lake Retaining Walls In Landscaping

Retaining wall by riverfront

Ahh, Minnesota…the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Did you know, the actual count of lakes is 11,842? Add in ponds and that number grows exponentially.

Bodies of water are a huge part of Minnesota’s DNA; it’s an aspiration of many to have a home or cabin on a Minnesota lake. The beauty, serenity, and recreation ponds and lakes provide is a great feature to have in your backyard.

Nature deserves all the credit for its beauty, but landscaping can enhance the aesthetics and the functionality of your land around a pond or lake. Let the body of water be the feature, then use landscaping to bring it into focus while creating a relaxation and recreation destination.

Landscaping around a body of water has a unique set of rules and regulations in order to protect these natural resources. There’s a delicate balance that needs to be maintained between beautiful landscaping and environmental responsibility.

Here are our top considerations and best practices for designing pond and lake retaining walls and general landscaping:


  1. Follow County Rules & Regulations
    Counties in Minnesota require a permit, an approved design, and usually a site visit for all landscaping projects near a body of water. While it might sound fairly straightforward, the permit application paperwork itself can be cumbersome. To give you a sense of the time it takes – for our team that does 5-6 substantial landscaping projects on a lake each year, the paperwork involved takes 2-3 times longer than the actual design. Speaking of design, your landscape design has to follow all guidelines the county defines for lakeshore landscaping (i.e. number of trees you take out, amount of impermeable surfaces, etc.) in order to be approved for installation.
  2. Strengthen Your Shoreline
    Your landscape design should help strengthen your shoreline to protect against erosion and flooding. Native vegetation preservation, gentle slopes, and natural resource incorporation are ways a design can help support the longevity and durability of your shoreline. This effort benefits the health of the lake and the wildlife that call it home, as well as the length of time you get to enjoy it.
  3. Protect the Ecosystem
    Taking things a step further, consider ways to protect wildlife and their habitats. As a landowner on a lake, you have a responsibility to maintain the beauty of the natural resource in your backyard when you implement ways to enjoy it to the fullest. Your pond and lake retaining walls and other landscape features should incorporate native vegetation and aim to build off some of the existing healthy trees and other natural resources where possible.
  4. Certify Your Septic System
    A properly functioning septic system is essential to protecting the health of the water in your lake or pond. When you begin a landscaping project, a septic certification is required if one hasn’t been done in the last four years. (A benefit of working with a professional is that we can facilitate this for you!)
  5. Design for Your Goals & Your Surroundings
    This is a best practice we follow on all projects, but a lake or pond provides very specific circumstances. Your landscape design should facilitate the ways in which you hope to enjoy your body of water while also staying true to your style of home and the surrounding environment. Starting with your goals, define the landscape features you want to include (i.e. fire features, furniture, lighting, hot tubs, patios, walkways, gardens, grills, etc.), then design a layout with materials that thrive in your location and match the style of your home. Doing one without the other (designing for your goals OR surroundings) would be detrimental to the longevity, functionality, and satisfaction of your landscaping.
  6. Make a Maintenance Plan
    Finally, plan to maintain your landscaping: seal pavers, trim trees, weed, pressure wash your patio, and more. Whether you do it or you hire a professional, regular maintenance is key to maintaining the beauty and durability of your landscaping.


Pond and lake landscaping projects are generally best suited for a professional landscape designer. Our experience will not only ensure you get the most beautiful, efficient, and quality space to achieve your relaxation, recreation, and entertainment goals – but we can more effectively manage the paperwork portion required in these projects (saving you time and headaches).


In Minnesota the window of time for landscape installation is limited. For this reason, we recommend starting discussions in the late fall so we can do the non-weather sensitive work in the winter. By the time spring rolls around (which is generally sometime in early April), we can get to work on installation so you can enjoy your landscaping for as much of our outdoor season as possible. This timeline is especially important for lakeshore projects because you are at the mercy of the county. We typically plan for 3-4 weeks of processing time (not including any time for making changes, if necessary); having this done prior to Minnesota’s prime-installation-time gives you more time to enjoy your new outdoor space.