Hillside Landscaping Strategies

Ideas for hillside landscaping. The use of stairs in sloped landscape design. How to plant steep slopes. Using grass when landscaping on a slope. Terracing a hill with retaining walls.

Desnsely planted perennials landscaping a hill.

Landscaping on a slope is challenging.  The steeper the slope the more numerous the challenges.

  1. It is difficult, and can be dangerous, to walk or work on a steep hillside.
  2. Water tends to run off without sinking into the soil.
  3. The soil itself tends to run down the hill.

The rest of this page is dedicated to helping you solve these three hill landscaping problems.

Hillside Landscaping Problem #1

The Difficulty of Walking on a Slope

Sea oats and other wild beach side plants adorn the dunes behind this New Smyrna Beach home.

Three decks create an abundance of flat, useable living space at the rear of the residence.

There are, essentially, two ways to manage the problem of walking or working on a steep slope:

  1. Avoid it.  Plant the slope very densely with tough, drought tolerant plants, or leave the natural vegetation in place if it is aesthetically pleasing.

    Dense plantings shade the soil and keep weed seeds from germinating, cutting down on maintenance.
  2. Terrace the slope

The precipitous incline behind this home is beautifully terraced.  Concrete retaining walls hold deep pockets of moisture-retentive soil in which palms and other tropicals thrive.

Hillside Landscaping Problem #2

Water Runoff

It is nearly impossible to turn a dry slope into a moisture-retentive flower bed, unless you terrace it, because you cannot disturb the soil enough to dig in the proper amendments without exacerbating the erosion problem.

Therefore, if you are not going to terrace your hillside, it is best to stick with xeric plants.

Stone retaining walls create flat terraces where grass can grow in this hill landscape design.

The soil on the flat areas of a terraced slope can be safely amended with leaf mold and other organic matter without concern about it running away with the first driving rain.

Hillside Landscaping Problem #3

Soil Erosion

Two things can be relied upon to hold the soil on a hill in place: the roots of perennial plants and shrubs, and sturdy retaining walls.

Plants sited on a slope should grow thickly and mature to a height of at least 2 feet in order to effectively hinder weed growth.

Tips for Landscaping a Slope
with Lawn Grass

Lawn grass is not an appropriate groundcover for landscaping steep slopes as grass must be regularly mowed to keep it attractive.  Mowing on too precipitous a hill is dangerous.

So how steep is too steep?

The rule is this: If the incline rises more than three feet in height for every ten feet of distance, it is too steep to mow safely.

The lawn in this sloped landscape design is used as a path.  Notice how dense the plantings on either side of it are.  Columnar conifers frame the view.

Landscaping Slopes with Stairs

Often, the best path from the top to the bottom of a hill will be a flight of stairs.  Follow these tips to get this sloped landscape design feature right:

  • Make the steps wide and deep enough to be, not only visually appealing, but comfortable and safe.

    Allow room to place pots or urns.
  • Break up a long staircase with landings so it won’t seem so daunting to visitors.  The landings will also provide resting places for elderly guests.
  • Lighting is important to keep the stairs safe at night.

    Thoughtfully installed landscape lighting will not only illuminate the staircase, but make it a magical part of your evening landscape by casting dramatic shadows.

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