VERY steep hill in backyard...need suggestions pls

taraleighJune 26, 2007

Hi there,

I am new to this website and posted this question in another forum... not realizing this one existed. I would greatly appreciate anyone's input into this situation... thank you!!!

My husband and I are buying a house that we love.... with the exception of the scary, very steep upwardly sloped back yard.

The backyard is small and for about 11 feet past the house it is totally flat and then it goes up to a very steep slope. The inspector felt it was probably a 60 degree is very high and would be extremely difficult to walk up. Right now it is mulched (as high as the mulch can stay) and has some shrubs, plants and trees on the top...but doesn't look that good.

Our concern is erosion. some of the trees on the top have their roots showing. The previous owners said it has always looked like this and don't feel it has been eroding...I am really concerned about roots showing... is this cause for concern?

There has been no water drainage problems in the basement in the 10 years since the house has been built. Thankfully despite this hill, water drainage hasn't been an issue... the basement seems dry....

I am concerned about erosion and about the unsightliness of the tree roots.

What can be done to stabilize this? would ground cover and plants with deep roots help stabilize this? I am afraid anyone working on this sandy soil could cause it to become even more eroded. Can this issue be fixed fairly inexpensively?

we don't have money or space for a retaining wall... this is our first home and everything we have is going into the downpayment... the backyard is very small so I don't think we could do terracing regardless.....

The house is great other than this one issue.... but I am worried about this. The soil seems loose and sandy in spots... I live in the northeast and don't have to worry much about landslides or earthquakes but it is still worrisome nonetheless.

I think the worst thing that could happen would be some erosion takes place and some dirt falls down to the patio. It is probably unlikely we could ever have damage to our house if the hill partially erodes... but I want to protect the land and ensure no drainage issues in the future.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated... I am a total novice about landscaping but eager and motivated to learn.


Here is a link to pictures, but unfortunately the pictures don't really convey the feel of this lot. It feels much steeper in person....from the patio level.

Here is a link that might be useful: steep hill

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Establishing vegetation will help more than the mulch to hold the soil. You can make your own "French Drain" to keep water away from the house. If the slope is only a few feet tall it won't be too much of a problem. If it is a 20 foot rise you need to be more proactive in dealing with it. You can place large rocks at the toe of the slope to get a little bit of retention.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2007 at 8:32AM
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vetivert8(NI-NZ zone 9a)

The shrubs growing on the slope look that they have been there quite a while and seem to be growing straight up. (Sometimes, if there is a bend like an old-fashioned walking stick handle in the stem near to the ground, that bend can indicate that the land is slumping.)

About the tree roots showing: there's not a great deal of topsoil from what I could see so the roots have probably spread out to forage for food and water. A number of tree species have suface roots - some quite gnarled and obvious. Think swamp cypress for a start. Unless the trees are very tall and your local prevailing winds are fierce or unpredictable you aren't likely to get windthrow.

On a slope such as yours I'd be looking for grooves cut by runoff from the top as the precursor to shallow gullying - and that didn't seem to be happening.

Personally, I wouldn't spend on 'posh plants' for such a slope. I'd ask for 'pioneer-type' shrubs - preferably native to your area. If you have a native plants nursery near you - pick their brains. Grasses, creepers, low-nutrient environment shrubs and sub-shrubs. That soil is obviously not rich - it hasn't been colonised by much at all.

If you need clues and there are cuttings at the sides of your roads check there for what will establish and thrive and stay seemly. (No one needs a slope covered in fire risk weeds!)

When you visit with the plant place/s ask for SPECIFIC guidance on how to plant up a steep slope. If it has a high clay content - let them know because it will change what they will advise.

If there is any better soil available on your lot, and you can spare some - mix it in with the slope soil when planting but don't bother putting in fine compost. All that happens is the plants grow out to the limits of the top grade environment and then either sulk or die.

Think about buying your reveg plants in 'root trainer' tubes rather than big cans or baggies. They'll be younger and better equipped to strike out, rootwise.

Hear you when you say you're budget-constrained. See if you can legally collect native seedlings of suitable plants, grow them on, then plant out. Sometimes a neighbour can be a good source. Under the bird feeder, in a garden, can be another - but expect a lot of berry-producing plants ;-)

And, as the slope is a bit of a challenge - could you devise a ladder to get you upslope for planting? Or a scaffoldiong arrangement. Something with wide enough treads so you don't end up with anguished feet!

    Bookmark   July 3, 2007 at 12:42AM
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Vetivert8 makes a good point about the ladder. A friend taught me to lay a ladder flat against a steep slope when working and it was much better than trying to play mountain goat.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2007 at 6:45AM
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Please don't worry about your slope!!! My husband and I built our home on a hill, and, like you, have a small flat area right behind our house, and then a large steep slope behind it. I almost cried when I thought about taking care of it. But in only 2 years it has gone from being a miserable eyesore to a show stopper. We did work very hard the first summer and planted a lot of different types of plants, just to see what would survive. But suprisingly almost everything did great in that location (we have clay soil, but because of the hill the water drains away quickly). I too am a novice gardener on a limited budget, and bought most of my plants at the end-of-season sales and then worked like the dickens to get them in. I also let everybody know that I needed plants, and the free donations started pouring in. Please don't despair. With a little money and a little hard work it will all work out. Good luck!!

    Bookmark   July 11, 2007 at 2:12PM
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I have a similar issue although my slope goes down instead of up. Here's what I've learned from my research on erosion:

First, plants are better than anything else to hold back a slope. Bare slopes erode quickly, and planted slopes erode very slowly. Slopes planted with natives erode slowest of all, by the way.

Second, use a variety of plants--some ground covers, some shrubs, even some small trees if you feel like it. Planting an entire slope with one kind of plant is a mistake. Try to choose plants with deep root systems. You don't say where you live, but Google "erosion control plants" and you'll get a lot of suggestions.

Third, as vetivert says, find really tough plants. You're going to plant them, water them a few times, and then they're going to have to fend for themselves. If it doesn't survive without your help, it wasn't a good choice anyhow. Choosing plants that spread or reseed is a good idea, but be careful not to plant anything invasive. Again, as vetivert says, it's harder to go wrong if you stick with natives. Often this means buying by mail order, because local nurseries often don't stock native plants. Sometimes this is a great opportunity, as there are lots of plants that require perfect drainage to survive, and flatlanders won't be able to plant them.

Fourth, plant one area at a time, and all at once. A lot of digging and marching around on the slope encourages erosion. Fall planting is usually a good idea; if you're in an area that frosts, plants will have a chance to establish themselves before winter; if you're in an area with wet winters, the rains will do a lot of your watering for you.

Fifth, plant small. It's a lot easier to plant a four-inch seedling or a gallon container on a slope, and it disturbs far less soil. Surprisingly, these smaller plants are more likely to survive.

Hope this helps!

    Bookmark   August 1, 2007 at 2:41PM
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We are struggling with our own big slope. I agree that natives are your best bet. You want something that can handle drought, although any new plant will require watering its first summer.

So far we've planted some serviceberry, chokeberry, and a small redbud (the redbud is at the top where the slope isn't too steep and we can water it). The serviceberries might need watering when the weather is dry, but that's easy to do with a hose.

So those are our big plants. Then we planted Little Bluestem, some Switchgrass (both native ornamentals), black-eyed susans and purple coneflowers. The prairie plants don't mind poor soil (which is usually the case on a slope) and will tolerate dry summers.

We also put in some creeping phlox (phlox subulata). I'm having mixed results with that. It seems to be thriving near the bottom of the hill where it gets overwashed with silt, and not doing so well at the top. I just partly buried some at the top, to mimic what is happening naturally at the bottom, and it seems to be doing better.

So far I would say I am most impressed with the black-eyed susans and the little bluestem. Both are not only surviving but thriving. I separated a one-gallon pot of black-eyed susans into six plants in early summer, and now they are over a foot tall and each have at least a dozen flowers. The rocky, steep ground seems to be no problem. And the little bluestem, from what I've heard, has very deep roots and is excellent for erosion control. It is a bit of a slow grower compared to other (non-native) ornamentals, but it is truly a beautiful color: deep blue-green shot through with purple and bright blue.

I'm in the Northeast too, zone 5, so I think anything I mentioned should manage where you are. Most of the soil here is clay, but ours is so rocky that it doesn't turn into cement like a lot of clay soil does.

    Bookmark   August 7, 2007 at 9:49PM
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recently we redid our landscaping and instead of a retaining wall we planted and mulched the hill. it has been three years and except for weeds and mulching and filling in with more plants, we have had no real trouble with water erosion. The landscaper put in rocks where the swai is and it seemed to have helped the water flow. In the pas few weeks , April-May 2014 there has been heavy rains and my slope has been torn down to the bare soil with much coming all the way down again, we mulched again and again. By the way, my neighbor behind the fence, w have a 6 footer cut many of his trees down and could be that too. Help is needed. Thanks

    Bookmark   May 17, 2014 at 1:59AM
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