Very steep hill?

garden-of-simpleMay 23, 2014

Hi! I posted this in hillside gardening too but this forum seems far more active :)

We have a very steep front yard hill that I have no idea what to do with!
The picture shows the length well, but not the steepness, the previous owner mowed it with golf spikes, but after my husband slipped mowing it 2 years ago, we've stopped.

My neighbor (who lives on a rustic farm!) has made comment to how it should be mowed :/ sometimes his sheep get loose and graze on it though, haha.

Anyway, my husband is a second year teacher and I stay home for the next few years so our budget is miniscule.

Terracing is out, for now and probably long term too, even though I have dreams about a nicely terraced (lined with rocks, we've got plenty of those!) cottage garden. The truth is that's not something we'd be able to afford for 10 or more years.

But the tall grass and weeds aren't working either! This summer my MIL is helping me landscape along the porch, which will help the overall raggedy-ness, but I need some sort of solution for this hill!

What would you do?

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aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

Oh boy, deja vu, your bank so reminds me of what ours used to look like although yours looks lusher, longer and a tad higher than ours. Is that a bit of a ditch for runoff at the bottom? Ours has a runoff ditch at the bottom.
It took years to do because at the time I was on a tight budget so what I did was plant rooted junipers cuttings (about a foot high) from a friend along the top edge. Over the years the junipers have spread to cover the whole bank. There used to be two varieties but one swallowed the other one up. Until they covered the bank we (DH :) weedwacked it every couple of weeks.

Down the street from us what someone has done with their very steep bank is lay down a very heavy landscape cloth with pockets cut into it which they have planted with junipers or something similar. This was a new build a few years back so they started with a bare patch, you'd have to kill or smother the grass first, maybe roundup or cardboard under the landscape cloth.

When one is young and nimble gardening rockery fashion is a lot of fun and the end result is simply beautiful to look at but a few years down the road when you're really not up to it, it really becomes a weed filled PITA.
I really think this is the way to deal with a steep bank, once established it will take care of itself. I'll try and come back later with a couple of pictures of our bank and the one down the street.


    Bookmark   May 23, 2014 at 10:05AM
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Yikes is right. All I can think of is a ground cover like Crown Vetch, it grows fast and spreads like crazy. Which is not always a good thing in other areas. But it has a pink and white bloom that is nice. I'm not sure how long you'd have to weed around the new plantings or if weeds actually would grow right up through but remember how they used to plant Crown Vetch along the highways?

A rock garden there would be a challenge to take care of.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2014 at 8:41PM
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aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

Here's a shot from the road, these Junipers have been in for about 25 years. I planted one foot rooted cuttings along the top.


    Bookmark   May 23, 2014 at 10:46PM
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aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

Side view. Another ground cover used around here is Vinca minor.


    Bookmark   May 23, 2014 at 10:50PM
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Our city has a similar thing around our library. Only the building is at the bottom of the hills. they tried the juniper thing and it was a disaster because of all the elm seedlings. They came up everywhere, and nobody wanted to get in there to weed them out. It got worse every year until they round-uped the whole thing. I don't know what the plan is now. I'm eagerly waiting to see what it is. If I remember right on the north side they tried vinca. Of course it never got enough water.
They did terrace the south side and have 2 levels now. The top one is grass, nothing on the bottom yet.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2014 at 7:03PM
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Juniper is definitely a viable suggestion and once established it would be fairly low maintenance. I see it on a lot of steep yards in my area. But here is another suggestion.

I have a "hillside" in front of my house. It stretches 200 feet. Our fencing is at the top of the "hill." It is hard to tell just how steep yours is. (Maybe a photo from the side would help?) But I think yours is certainly steeper than mine. In any case, my DH hated mowing it so over time I have planted it with perennials. I started with cheap (free) ditch orange daylilies and later ripped them out and replaced with more interesting cultivars. The bulk of the hillside is daylilies- if you get a vigorous one and are patient, it will fill in a lot of space and you can divide and spread it. I added some shrubs- several viburnum, a miss kim lilac and loads of perennials, many of which were given to me by other gardeners. (Shasta daisy, purple coneflower, black eyed susans etc.)

Point being, other gardeners might share daylilies and perennials and you could purchase a few anchoring shrubs. Daylilies solve so many problems and can thrive just about anywhere! You could do some make-shift terracing with rocks or even landscape timbers which are fairly economical. You could eradicate the grass and replace with a real cottage garden for almost free!

My hillside garden (which has a shady end on one side of the steps and sunny end on the other) was initially just a charlie brown type garden intended to solve a mowing problem. It is now my favorite of all my garden areas because one gets such an interesting perspective seeing plants layered on a slope.

Here are a few pictures from various moments in time.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 10:04PM
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Hi All, there is a current article in Fine Gardening where a fellow managed to conquer this problem by simply using large rocks to create terraces. He did it in a a kind of zigzag way so water and the way water flows down are considered.

I suggest you do the same. Rocks are dug in halfway so its secured. Soil is then built up behind it. Im sure you can source out those rocks by collecting them from farm fields or roadsides. Plants you can obtain from friends and neighbors and I'm sure many would be willing to help out.


    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 12:21PM
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Thyme2dig NH Zone 5

I chuckled when I saw the post title because I'm in San Francisco and have been trudging up hills! A very, very steep one today!

Are you planning on watering the slope? You can plant anything on a slope as long as you can water it. It may need more water when plants are establishing themselves. You'll also want to think about what kind of maintenance you'll be able to manage on that steep slope. What you may want and what might be practical may be worlds apart, or maybe not! A few strategically placed rocks, set in well for stepping, and you can possibly nanny-goat all over the slope for some maintenance here and there!

What do you really want the final outcome to look like. You mentioned terracing and a cottage garden look. Daylilies are a great idea from above because they'll fill in and hold the soil in place. Is your husband able to weed whack the slope? Maybe you can start by removing patches of lawn when you are able to plant some plants. You can find some fairly inexpensive spreading juniper from Home Depot or the like. If you can afford a handful of those....maybe on sale at end of season, they will spread fairly quickly and hold the slope on place. I started my slope with teeny cotoneaster cuttings and then a number of years later finally dug them all out and planted more of a mixed shrub/perennial slope. Shrubs can be very interesting and practically no maintenance. Throw in some shrub/carpet type roses and you'll have instant cottage garden by default. You should try to decide what you're willing to do in the short term and then what you might be willing to sacrifice in plant material and how much work you want to put in long term. I was willing to sacrifice the cotoneaster even though they were enormous and doing their job of holding the soil in place, in order to plant a more interesting slope. My slope is not as steep as yours.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 10:26PM
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so glad you showed up, thyme2dig! I was thinking about your hillside , knowing you had inspirational pictures that I was too lazy to look for. Anyway, it is better to hear it directly from the gardener.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2014 at 9:25PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

If I were on a tight budget, I think I might borrow the sheep to keep the grass mowed. [g]

I canâÂÂt tell from your photo how long a distance that slope covers in front of your house. How many feet does your property extend along the street there?

Have you considered trying to slowly turn it into a road side meadow? I know a lot of people on GW who exchange seeds on the trade forum and then winter sow tons and tons of plants for very little money. When I was on Prince Edward Island in Canada, they had a lot of roadside area with stands of lupine and other wildflowers that were gorgeous. And this kind of work, you could do little by little by clearing small areas in the lawn at a time, just for the plants you had ready to add. IâÂÂm sure there are many more perennials you could consider to add, so the grass didnâÂÂt have to be mowed, but the grass and perennials grow together like a meadow or prairie. Lupine will reseed very well and after they drop their seed, maybe you could mow for the season to neaten it up. You'd have to do a study of which plants will tolerate mowing. Establishing meadows takes a bit of strategy and knowledge about how to choose plants and manage them, but it would not break the bank. And you could have a massive display there along that slope. Another thing to consider, is that there are many perennials that require excellent drainage and a slope would be ideal for that.

At the same time, if you have a lot of rocks on your property that are the right size, once you were sure you wouldn't be mowing, you could add them little by little in strategic places along with the plants, so at a later time, you could transition more easily from perennials to shrubs if you wanted to. I was thinking of the suggestion that Thyme2 made, about strategically placing rocks for stepping on for âÂÂnannygoatingâ around the slope.

BelleVA, I like your slope with the fence on the high side. What is the shrub in your second photo?

Thyme2, I've always loved that slope in front of your house and I'm reminded that it looks just as great in the spring and fall too. Makes me wish I had a slope. lol

    Bookmark   June 18, 2014 at 6:28AM
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Yeah... What thyme2dig did... Amazing !!!!!

    Bookmark   July 5, 2014 at 10:43PM
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Hi garden-of-simple,
that is a steep hill and i can well understand your husband slipping downwards,..wet grass can be slippy,..i love the ideas members have suggested and the pictures from Ianna,..Anette and thyme2dig, thyme2dig should get a prize for that creation,..well done its beautiful.

Every gardener would love to have a challenge like this and we would all have different ideas,..mine with low cost and less toil would be to cover the area with landscape cloth then add low growing plants that will multiply fast and enable you to divide them and spread them around,..Aubretia,..Oxalis debilis,..Campanula,..just to mention a few.


    Bookmark   July 11, 2014 at 10:25AM
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Oh I wouldn't use oxalis as they tend to be invasives. However how about thyme, lavenders, rosemary, yes.. campanula.. siberian iriis echinaceas, rudbeckia *goldsturm;, So many to choose from and to divide.

I just have a slightly sloping front yard so not a huge problem to overcome. I however started many of my plants from cuttings, seeds and root divisions.. Lots of ways to fill up space.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2014 at 1:06PM
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I have several areas of steep hill since my home is built into the side of an old river terrace, so the hill stretches the length of the property. In some areas we have walls, but in others I've used plantings. In one part shade area I planted deciduous rhododendrons and heavily mulched between them. Across the back of the house we wanted something quick and inexpensive, so we planted divisions of orange daylilies that were already here on the property along with divisions of Centaurea dealbata, both of which have spread to fill the slope. To prepare the area we solarized it by spreading a clear plastic sheet over it for a season. After planting we used wood chips to heavily mulch the spaces between the plants so any weed seeds in the soil wouldn't sprout and to keep the soil from washing away. We used edging to keep grass from growing back in. I have now (after more than 10 years) begun adding shrubs on the slope and a wider variety of perennials and shrubs in the flatter area at the bottom of the hill to make it a bit more interesting.

Here it is after several years - I had just renewed the mulch. It's early enough in the season that the plants haven't filled in the way they are during most of the growing season. I couldn't find a more recent photo that shows the slope as it is now.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 12:03AM
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boxofrox(z8 PNW)

Your hill actually reminds me a lot of my own before I started. Mine has a koi pond in the middle of it but the solution to landscaping is the same.....large rocks on ledges to form the structural support and shrubs for the bones with smaller plants for interest and texture.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 12:22AM
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