Terraced Backyard Landscaping Ideas

Terraced backyard landscaping ideas and pictures. Different landscape designs for terraced hillsides. The place of lawns in terraced flower gardens. Choice of materials for retaining walls.

When is Terracing Appropriate?

Super Steep Slopes:

To create usable outdoor space on a slope too steep to be terraced, build a wooden deck.

Terracing is one way of preventing erosion on a hillside.  Low (1-4 feet) retaining walls built of brick, stone, or concrete are used to keep the soil from washing down the hill when it rains.  Depending on the size of the site, and how many walls are needed, this can be a very expensive proposition.

Gardening on a slope explores other, less costly ways of landscaping on a hill.

If you answer yes to the following questions, terracing may be the best option for your yard:

  1. Do you need to create flat walking paths or seating areas on the slope?  Terracing is the only way to achieve this on a hillside.
  2. Are there valuable plants or trees at the bottom of the hill that need to be protected from a change in soil level or from excess run off?  A retaining wall can be constructed in much less time than it will take to establish new plants and shrubs.

    The wall will provide vulnerable plants with immediate protection.
  3. Do you wish to grow plants which will not thrive in the native soil?  Gardening in a terraced back yard is much like gardening in raised beds on a flat lot.  You can heavily amend the soil with  ease.  Just inform your contractor of what you intend to do.
  4. Is the angle of the slope 30 degrees or less?  The steeper the slope, the stronger the retain walls will need to be to withstand the pressure of the soil and water.

Terraced Lawns

A small patio on the uppermost level provides room for seating.  Shrubs clearly mark the edge of the grass path.

A velvety carpet of grass provides resilient flooring for the terraced garden in the images above.  Where terraces are wide, sod is the cheapest groundcover to install.  Lawn grasses also tolerate foot traffic better than any other group of plants.

In most residential landscaping, an emerald swatch of lawn will be more visually appealing than any hard paving material.  There are, however, a few situations in which lawn grass would not be the right material to use:

  • In deep shade.  Most grasses grow best in full to part day sun.  A lawn that does not get enough light will die out in the shaded areas.  Weeds will begin to infiltrate the sparse sections.
  • Near surface rooting trees.  The shallow roots of a lawn grass are no match for those of any tree.  In the ensuing battle for food and water, the tree will emerge victorious.
  • If the existing soil is so poor that the lawn would have little chance of survival without you constantly applying corrective chemicals to it.

Choice of Materials for Retaining Walls

Above: Stone walls are in keeping with the traditional architecture of the hotel.Right: Wood walls are strong enough to hold the soil on this gentle slope.

Choose a material that is in keeping with the look and feel of the dwelling.  Retaining walls in the landscape of a traditional or heritage home should be made of brick or stone.  Concrete better suits modern architecture.

A Terraced Front Yard Garden

This home is built into the side of a mountain.  The homeowner has terraced the front yard to create level ground for flower beds and walking paths.

Rock found on the property has been used to make retaining walls, and as pavers for some of the paths.  Cool grass paths give children and pets a place to play.

Small plants have settled into the soil between the terraced steps.

Tip for Building a Terraced Garden:

If the paths between the planting beds are narrow, consider using stone or brick to construct them.   They will be more expensive to create, but require much less ongoing maintenance than grass.

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