Hillside landscaping is one of the most common landscaping challenges homeowners face. A slope of 4 degrees or more requires special treatment not only to make it look better, but to keep it from causing problems in the future. The upside is that because the need for landscaping on a slope is so common, there are plenty of hillside landscaping ideas out there for you to choose from.
The Problem with Hillside Landscaping
Slopes can cause a number of problems if not landscaped correctly. Water soaks in at low rate, which means the top of the hill ends up dry while plants at the bottom of the hillside drown. Fertilizer and mulch also wash downhill, meaning plants at the top get no nutrition while plants at the foot of the slope are poisoned by the build-up of nutrients. Even if you can get grass to grow there, hillsides can be difficult and dangerous to mow. Fortunately, though, there’s a lot more you can do than plant grass.
The simplest solution for low-maintenance hillside landscaping is to plant the whole hillside with species of groundcovers or ornamental grasses that’s are well adapted to growing on slopes. If you like the look of grass and your slope is less than five degrees, buffalograss or fine-leaf fescues make good choices. For steeper slopes, grasses won’t be able to root well enough, so you’ll want a plant like English ivy, Hall’s honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica ‘halliana’), French lavender, periwinkle (Vinca minor) or any number of creeping groundcovers that can take firm root. For hillside landscaping in sandy areas, consider American beach grass (Ammophila breviligulata) or salt marsh grass (Spartina patens).
Regrade the Hillside
If your hillside landscaping project is surrounded by a flat area, one option is to regrade the hillside to create a slope of less than 4 degrees. When the slope is this low, you can landscape it as you would any other area. If the hillside has been planted with turf, the first step is to carefully remove the turf without damaging the roots. Then just smooth out the hill until you get it the height you want. If you don’t have a flat area to place the excess soil, you can use this valuable topsoil to build a raised be in another area. Finally, set the turf back in place.
For steeper hills, or those in areas that can’t be re-graded easily, terracing will solve your hillside landscaping problems by creating smaller, level planting beds. Build evenly spaced steps up the hillside using railway ties (near non-edible plants only), boulders, or other building material to create the walls. The flat areas can then be used either as individual beds or planted with a low-maintenance, cascading groundcover.
Build a Retaining Wall
Another option for steeper hills is to build a retaining wall at the base of the slope. Behind the wall will be an area of well-drained soil that should be ideal for planting. When you choose plants for the area, though, consider which direction the sun comes in during the summer months so you’ll know whether you need shade plants or sun-loving ones.
Hillside landscaping may take a little more work than landscaping flat areas, but the end results are worth it. A little planning and creativity can turn a problematic hillside into one of the most attractive features in your landscape. If you’re not sure exactly what to do with your hillside, walk through your community to check out what your neighbors have solved their slope problems or browse through some hillside landscaping pictures to get some ideas of what’s possible.