The ABC’s of hillside landscaping

A successful hillside landscaping project
A slope covered in flowers

A hillside landscaping project is not really different from any other landscaping project. You must know your yard and understand its challenges and possibilities.

As far as the slope itself is concerned, there are some basic factors to consider:

  • How steep is it?
  • What is it made of? Is it made mostly of rocks, sand, or clay?
  • Is it dry or soggy? Does it drain well?
  • Is it stable? Are there tree roots stabilizing it?

Things to consider on a slope

A gradual slope is rarely a problem, but a steep slope may pose the following problems:

  • There may be a lot of erosion. To prevent the soil from washing away when it rains hard, you need to have a good lawn or ground cover. These will protect the soil from the falling rain drops and stabilize it with their roots.
  • Depending on your soil composition, you slope could be unstable if there is too much water retention, or too dry if there is not enough water retention.
  • Taking care of the slope may be difficult. Mowing the lawn may be an adventure, as well as taking care of plants and bushes.

In the case of steeper slopes, consider the following solutions:

  • Creeping thyme makes a wonderful ground cover on slopes that are well drained. In dislikes soil that is soggy and loves the sun. It requires very little care, grows slowly and may be mowed if needed. Plus it smells very good and makes nice, tiny flowers.
  • If the soil conditions are good, an Alpine style garden (see Landscaping styles) could be a good idea, but you should leave as little raw soil as possible. Plants should be densely planted, and rocks, ground covers and mosses used to prevent erosion. Bear in mind that taking care of your garden may be somewhat acrobatic.
  • Install a concrete retaining wall that rises above the ground at the foot of the slope and soften the slope. If the wall is to be over three feet in height it will need reinforcement, so you should have it done by an expert.
  • Consider breaking the slope into multiple, level terraces separated by smaller retaining walls. Bear in mind that these retaining walls must go deep enough below the ground so as not to be moved or pushed up when the soil freezes.
Modern looking retaining wall
Modern looking retaining wall

Walls used for hillside landscaping may be made of concrete all the way, with the upper part covered with stucco. They can be made of concrete below the ground and bricks above the ground. Leaving spaces between the bricks here and there will let the soil breathe. Walls can also be made of wood, but wooden retaining walls never look as good and they need to be replaced relatively often.

Landscaping tips and landscaping design rules may help you make some decisions, and don’t forget to work from your plan. And you should know there are a number of books on hillside landscaping that contain many more ideas and solutions. So before you start work on your slope, you may want to see all the options available.

Now let’s consider the big picture as you are starting to think about landscaping your yard.

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