How to Build Steps Out of the Ground on a Hill

Written by michaelyn erickson
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How to Build Steps Out of the Ground on a Hill
You don't have to fill the steps with brick; fill them with soil for a natural appearance. (garden steps image by Adrian Hillman from

Build steps through a terraced garden or up a hill to another building on your property. Get a professionally landscaped look but don't let it break your wallet. Use recycled materials, such as sleepers or natural stones, to build your steps. This is the same process used for building garden terraces; you can extend the walls beyond the steps and plant a cascading garden. This type of landscape works well for installing a running water feature such as a waterfall and garden pond.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Wood poles
  • Level
  • Shovel
  • Edger
  • String
  • Bricks
  • Dry mason sand
  • Timbers, sleepers, stones or large bricks
  • Measuring tape

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  1. 1

    Measure the rise and run of the slope. Place a wooden stick or pole at the lowest point of your slope. It must be tall enough to reach just past the highest point of your slope. Place a shorter pole at the highest point of your slope, at the other end of the area you will be terracing.

  2. 2

    Run a string from the top of the long pole to the bottom of the shorter pole. Use a level to adjust the string until one end is at the exact height of the slope or on the ground tied to the shorter pole, and the other end is tied near the top of the long pole so that the string is level. The distance between the poles is your "run" value. The measurement of the string at the top to the ground at the bottom of the long pole is your "rise" value. That's how tall the slope is.

  3. 3

    Determine how many terraces you will need from the rise and run values. For example, if the run is 20 feet and the rise is 8 feet, you would end up with four terraces that are 5 feet wide by 2 feet high.

  4. 4

    Stake out your terraces with four wooden stakes at the corners. Dig the trench for the first tier. Measure the width of your timbers or bricks and dig the trench wide enough to fit them, the entire length of the terrace, and around the corners. If the height of the tier is 2 feet or less, bury it to two-thirds of the building material's thickness. If it is taller, you will need to dig the first tier deeper. Bricks are likely heavy enough to hold up on their own; bury at least a full layer of them on the first trench.

  5. 5

    Place your timbers or bricks. Level them using a level. If you are using timber, drill holes at the ends of all timbers. Place a piece of rebar through the hole and at least 18 inches into the ground, according to Master Garden Products.

  6. 6

    Fill the first step with soil until the step is level and you still have enough room to place bricks inside the framed step.

  7. 7

    Dig your second trench. It is likely that you will already have room to place the front facing wall, but you will need to dig into the hill to place the sides.

  8. 8

    Place your timbers for the second tier and make sure everything is level. With wood, spike the ends as you did for the first step to anchor the wall.

  9. 9

    Repeat steps 5, 6 and 7 for the remaining steps. If a back wall is necessary, remember that it will be level with the front wall of that tier.

  10. 10

    Lay your bricks into each step frame. Spread a layer of dry mason sand over the top of the bricks to keep them in place and fill the cracks. Spray with water to set the sand.

Tips and warnings

  • Take special care when levelling everything for an exceptional result.

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