Upgrade Your Backyard with Gabion and Stucco Walls

Give your backyard a new look with these two DIY projects.

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You can add beautiful stone and stucco-look walls to your patio without being a skilled mason. Gabion baskets provide the structural support for stacking any type of stone. These steel baskets can be used as retaining walls, landscaping structure or decorative elements. James Hardie architectural panels over simple framing make quick work of adding the look of stucco.

Tools Required

  • Angle grinder
  • Circular saw
  • Drill/driver
  • Level
  • Pick-axe
  • Putty knife
  • Rake
  • Shovel
  • Straightedge
  • Tamper
  • Tin snips
  • ZIP tape roller

Materials Required

  • 2x4s
  • Gabion baskets
  • Hardie panels
  • Rocks
  • Screws
  • ZIP Sheathing
  • ZIP tape

Fh22jun 618 53 087 Upgrade Your Backyard With These Three Diy ProjectsFamily Handyman

Project step-by-step (10)

Step 1

Gabion Baskets

Plot Gabion Locations

This step is important if you’re setting several baskets in a line. You’ll need stakes and masonry string to keep everything straight. We used single gabion baskets in this installation, so alignment wasn’t an issue.

Fh22jun 618 53 003 Upgrade Your Backyard With These Three Diy Projects Plot Gabion LocationsFamily Handyman

Step 2

Establish Your Footing

Level the area where your baskets will sit to keep them from leaning. If you’re placing the baskets on soft soil or clay, dig down about one foot and add a gravel base, or footing, to prevent sinking. Our site in New Mexico was firm so it only needed leveling and tamping.

Fh22jun 618 53 010 Upgrade Your Backyard With These Three Diy Projects Establish Your FootingFamily Handyman

Step 3

Assemble the Baskets

Your gabion baskets may come partially assembled with the sides connected to the basket bottoms. You fold up the sides and secure them with special wire or easy-to-use spiral binders. Close the top to ensure the basket is level, but don’t secure the top in place yet.

Fh22jun 618 53 027 And Fh22jun 618 53 023 Upgrade Your Backyard With These Three Diy Projects Assemble The BasketsFamily Handyman

Step 4

Fill the Baskets

With your basket level and in place, add the center stretcher to keep the sides from bulging.

There’s more to filling a basket than just dumping in rocks. Be sure to “face” the basket, placing the best-looking stones where they can be seen and filling in the center with smaller and/or less attractive stones. As you build up the faces, let the interior fill stones support the face stones.

Fh22jun 618 53 036 Upgrade Your Backyard With These Three Diy Projects Fill The BasketsFamily Handyman

Step 5

Cap the Baskets

When you’ve filled the basket level with stones, set the top in place and fasten it with wire or the spiral binders. Crimp these tight at the corners and file or grind off sharp edges. 

Fh22jun 618 53 039 Upgrade Your Backyard With These Three Diy Projects Cap The BasketsFamily Handyman

Step 6

Stucco-Look Walls

Build the Framing

Assemble the wall framing to your specifications, using standard stud-wall construction to form rigid boxes. These are exterior installations; go with treated dimensional lumber or steel studs for the framing.

Fh22jun 618 53 057 Upgrade Your Backyard With These Three Diy Projects Build The FramingFamily Handyman

Step 7

Wrap Sheathing Edges

You’ll need sheathing that will stand up to the elements; we used ZIP System sheathing panels. Because the bottom edges of this sheathing will contact the ground, the panels could wick moisture and swell. To prevent that, after you cut the parts to size, wrap the bottom edges of each panel with ZIP tape or another adhesive-backed moisture barrier.

Fh22jun 618 53 065 Upgrade Your Backyard With These Three Diy Projects Wrap Sheathing EdgesFamily Handyman

Step 8

Attach the Sheathing

Fasten the sheathing with construction screws. Then tape all the seams — including corners — with ZIP tape. Be careful not to sink fasteners more than halfway through the thickness of the sheathing.

Fh22jun 618 53 073 And Fh22jun 618 53 069 Upgrade Your Backyard With These Three Diy Projects Attach The SheathingFamily Handyman

Step 9

Attach the Hardie Panels

With your box frames built and sheathed, cut your Hardie panels to fit. Attach the panel parts using approved fasteners, such as ring-shank nails. Fill any nail holes with an exterior putty.

The manufacturer stipulates the edges of Hardie panels need to be six inches above grade or one inch above hardscape. Because this isn’t a dwelling, we were comfortable voiding the product warranty to get the look we wanted.

Fh22jun 618 53 079 Upgrade Your Backyard With These Three Diy Projects Attach The Hardie PanelsFamily Handyman

Step 10

Paint the Boxes

These Hardie panels come primed and ready for paint. The only prep: Filling nail holes and seams, and giving sharp edges a slight round-over with a sanding block. Apply an exterior paint with a brush or 1/2-in. nap roller.

Fh22jun 618 53 083 Upgrade Your Backyard With These Three Diy Projects Paint The BoxesFamily Handyman