Mulch on slope? Novice gardener needs help

alleycallieJune 26, 2007

I am a new gardener who has never attempted to plant on a slope, but after falling while mowing mostly weeds on my west slope, last summer I killed the mess and left it fallow, ripe for more weeds, for lack of ideas and money and paranoia about doing the wrong thing!

I think I should describe the slope and then ask my mulching question--in case you guys out there have good plant suggestions for me. Please bear with what might seem to you old pros like silly questions!

First a digression to the location of the slope and what is planted there right now. BTW, I live in Kansas, limestone country, on the cusp of zones 5/6,.

Our house sits over two city lots. Running acorss the west side of the property is a city sidewalk, then comes about 4 feet of level ground which holds four old trees in the wide center section, then it drops rather steeply to the street. On each end are sunny areas. The slope from sidewalk to street is uniformly 14 feet deep.

The south end is 18x14 and planted in ornamental grasses. It is next to our driveway, and I'm not doing anything more there. The north sunny end is 14 feet deep and approximately 25 feet wide. It has gravely, sandy, bad soil except on the small level top area where it is passable.

The north corner ends in an intersection with a cross street, so I transplanted sedum (what we call everlasting in Kansas) around the curve. Above the everlasting, centered in the curve, is a street light pole, and I surrounded that last year with with transplanted liriope. Both overwintered well and take no care. Staggering down around the liriope I planted 6 Stella d'oro daylilies. On the level top I transplanted an ornamental grass into three plants in a triangle pattern. Below the grasses are 3 Little Spire sage plants. For now, the bottom part of this slope on this end just has weedblock because I don['t know what to do next.

On either side of this north end, I planted quite a bit of creeping phlox. Perhaps this is not too inventive, but time and $$ were of concern. I hope it survives!

FINALLY, mulch questions: A close inspection of a professionally landscaped slope in another community showed the use of netting to hold the mulch on the slope. The owner told me it was just black plastic netting that is used in vineyards to cover grapes. My cousin grows grapes, so I had a no-cost supply which I got yesterday.

# 1) I have used a lot of weedblock fabric around the grasses, phlox and sage. That surely has to come off because the mulch would slide down the fabric! However...

#2)Can I keep the fabric on the upper level part around the grasses and mulch over it?

#3) How closely can I mulch creeping phlox? It grows slowly... And if I start to plant vinca groundcover in the center sections, do I temporarily mulch around it to keep down weeds? Weed control is the problem for now. Even though sprayed well with Roundup earlier, they are starting to return. Trying to control weeds over this huge center section is a nightmare to me. It's also getting late to plant, isn't it? I need to use something like vince because the west sun does get on this slope intensely for about 3 hours this time of year, so I need something that also can tolerate some sun. Any other suggestions for faster growing growing groundcover?

I apologize for the length of this post, but am hoping some of you are sympathetic to a newby gardener with this dratted slope problem! Thanks for any replies.

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You can mulch over landscape fabric. Where your area is close to level just put the mulch on. Where it is steep, use the netting. Mulch on fabric on slope will slide. If you are not planting for a while you might just want to leave the fabric in place to fight off weeds until you are ready. You can mulch within a few inches of most plants. Buffalo grass is low growing,drought tolerant and more "environmentally correct" than vinca. Summer is a tough time to establish most plants although I have nonetheless done so during fits of masochism.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2007 at 8:26AM
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Thanks,bob64, for the advice on mulching my slope. Yes summer gardening is masochistic! However I'm through planting except for some clumps of vince until fall.

The problem with buffalo on the slope was that I couldn't mow anywhere except the top 4 feet without falling. In addition to the angle of the rest of the slope, the terrain was so uneven from roots of those four trees and from erosion.

The plants on the north end of the slope have been there since mid-to-end of May and I think are well rooted, though I still water them once a day. I'm going to now try to wean them, and am going to lay some soaker hose under the mulch this weekend for extended dry spells.

As for the vinca--I tried planting 6 little groups in June last summer and gave up watering them thinking they weren't going to make it. Surprise, five groups came back, so want to get some more transplanted from beds I already have this weekend. That will be it for now.

Getting the mulch in will help me see what next to plant. I don't want to overplant the area, thinking "groups" look better. I'd like to add some seathrift which does well in poor soil, and some lavendar--but lavendar I'm told by two locals hasn't been successful in overwintering here.

By fall I'll know if the grasses on the south end will survive. I ordered a "collection" and didn't know they would arrive dormant and dead looking. They say to give it 6 weeks, but I have my doubts. Anybody out there have experience with "dormant" plants? Or lavendar in north-central zone 5/6 Kansas lime-ridden soil?

Thanks again, alleycallie

    Bookmark   June 28, 2007 at 12:06PM
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I just planted some Ohio Spiderwort which someone gave to me because it multiplied so much in their yard. The spiderwort does not get so tall. Maybe that would work for you? Buffalo grass allegedly does not grow so tall and requires very little if any mowing. However, you probably see much more of it in Kansas than I do in New York. Vinca is hard to kill. I have tried to kill lots of vinca with very little success. Once your plants are established I would not water them every day. Water deeply but less often. This encourages deeper rooting which is what your slope needs. For one slope in partial shade, I used creeping red fescue but I only mow it once a year or so.
One of my more successful efforts to eradicate weeds on a slope was to plant the slope with rye grain in the fall and then chop it down in spring and replant with native grasses. I did this on some flat garden beds also. I have been watching some lavender planted here for about three years now and our winters can get cold enough. Maybe the people who planted it by me used a more cold-hardy variety?

    Bookmark   June 28, 2007 at 3:09PM
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I will look into creeping red fescue--have never heard of it. Would you happen to know the "proper" name? Will also google it.

Will also look for Ohio spiderwort. Also, I'm curious about the rye grass. I've read of that in vegetable garden books. That is a definite attraction to me. Doesn't it also improve the soil? I did hear recently of a couple in Lindsborg, Kansas about 70 miles from here who gave up their traditional lawn for a native grass that is bluish in color and gets 4-6 inches tall. I will try to find a way to get in touch with them. If it is dependent on sun, cannot use it.

I had areas of my buffalo reseeded and it is fraught with weeds. My neighbor went to a nursing home, and the nephew who looks after the place is a farmer with no time, and let the lawn go wild, so I am getting the effects--that plus an abundant amount of rain this spring are the two causes, I believe. I have cats who are indoor/outdoor cats and try never to use herbicides, so I have spent hours weeding and nursing the buffalo along. The buffalo area is quite large and is around the sides and old front of our house. The new front is in the back of our house and I have a small area of fescue (forgive me for that!) and many perennial plants. But should the buffalo never recover, I sure would like to find a native grass.

Thanks for your replies.


    Bookmark   July 2, 2007 at 11:40AM
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vetivert8(NI-NZ zone 9a)

What if you were to think in terms of shrubs, grasses of different heights and forms and colours, sedum, to create a tapestry which largely remains 'active'/evergreen over the winter, and created mini contours for planting along and for access?

Shrubs with networks of roots (azaleas, for example, if they'll live in your area) are useful for holding back slopes and mulch. Perennial daisies, subshrubs and clumps of hardy bulbs in the easier to dig areas.

Also, for the sunnier spots - have you any variety of lupin/lupine you could plant up? They're reasonably hardy, can be perennial for a few years, self-seed, and have the virtue of improving the soil, too. Plus the lovely colours of some varieties.

If your climate is stern enough to curb the Vinca - great! It can be a lovely plant in the right place. But best when supervised annually. It is not always well-behaved...

PS creeping Phlox subulata happily grows through bark chip mulch in this zone. Might also do so for you.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2007 at 1:05AM
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Creeping red fescue is "festuca rubra".
I bought my creeping red fescue from Ernst Conservation Seeds but it is actually one of the more available natives so you might be able to find a more local source.
Rye grain will improve the soil a bit. The best thing about the rye is the deep roots which will have some value for erosion control even for a while after dead and the rye's ability to suppress other plants in its midst (a way to clear the area and start all over again). Kill the rye before it goes to seed.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2007 at 6:42AM
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I have mulch on my slope. It actually is more like a hillside (50 feet along the bottom, 30 feet to the top) and at its steepest it is 2:1. When I first put the mulch on some of it would slide off in the rain. Then I put logs across the top (which are now hidden by plants) to keep the water from above the planted portion of the hill from running down the hill, and that stopped most of the runoff. I only lose mulch in very hard downpours. I first used pine bark mulch, but then switched to mushroom soil to help improve the soil quality. I do not use any type of fabric or netting. Good luck!

    Bookmark   July 11, 2007 at 2:02PM
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Good idea on the logs. I also want to set some stones in, and I need to get some flexible edging that I can cut and put in front of a few of the plants so that more moisture is retained. I have laid in soaker hose now for emergency drought conditions, hope to use it very sparingly. The hose is already covered in mulch. The used netting is repaired in the few torn places--threaded through the net holes with fishing line--and is rolled up ready to go. Now all I have to do is get some mulch before attaching the netting over it. Thank you all for your help. Maybe by fall I can get some pictures taken and post them. I am using many of your ideas for the remaining slope area.


    Bookmark   July 11, 2007 at 4:03PM
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There is a new product designed to keep mulch in place on hillsides & slopes. Go to for more details.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2008 at 10:00AM
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I am also a newbie but we used cocoa shell mulch on our 45 degree angle hill and it stays put. When it gets wet it forms a "mat" that stays in place even when dry. We placed it over clay soil though and not on landscaping fabric. Good luck!

    Bookmark   July 2, 2008 at 11:11PM
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There is a new landscape erosion control fabric that blocks weeds and holds mulch on slopes. It is a new slope solution that is easy to use and effective on 1:1 slopes up to 70 degrees, just roll it out, staple it to the ground, add the mulch by wheelbarrow or pneumatic powered truck and your done! Slope Hugger is new on the market.

    Bookmark   March 7, 2009 at 5:50PM
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