A Tilted View: Landscaping Challenges

By Kay DiVerde

Having slopes on your property may seem like quite an obstacle. But it doesn't need to be. Let it spark your creativity and turn it into a positive situation. Used properly, the slopes in your yard can add a spark of interest to your landscape.

Think of the positive aspects of the slopes in your yard. Slopes can buffer noise. They can screen views and give your home some natural privacy. They can also direct the eye to a certain area of the yard. You have more planting ground on a slope in the same lateral space. Some sloped areas create microclimates that offer sides with different sun exposure. This allows you to plant more of a variety of plants.

A sloped area may give you the opportunity to add a secret nook into your yard. Place an arbor or bench at the bottom or top of your hill. If this area is out of sight of the house or neighbors, think of the privacy it could offer.

With all of these positive aspects, slopes may also seem limiting. If you feel your slope is more of a hill, you may want a natural, more flowing design, instead of a landscaping plan that is formal and symmetrical.

All yards have some slope. You'll want the land to slope away from the house at least four inches every 10 feet to keep the water out of your basement. Evaluate the entire yard to ensure the flow is always going away from the buildings.

If you need to slow down the flow of water to prevent erosion, adding plantings may be a good option. Other choices include babbles (obstruction devices), terraces and retaining walls. Adding plantings with good root structures is the most inexpensive way to approach erosion control. Low-growing shrubs and ground covers are good options.

If your erosion-endangered area will not support plantings, consider adding rows of stones or wood of plastic baffles. Using a baffle will help slow down the water, creating a small dam and will encourage build up of the soil.

When you have a sharply sloping area, consider a retaining wall or two. Shorter walls are less expensive and less complicated to construct, so consider stepping a series of low walls down a hill instead of constructing one high wall. No matter what size retaining wall you choose, they must be carefully planned in order to withstand the amount of pressure put on them by the dirt that is held back. Strive to build the retaining walls in harmony and scale with your house and the rest of the yard.

When choosing the materials to use for your retaining wall, consider style and strength. If you have a formal style, opt to use stucco or brick in your retaining wall. For a more natural look, choose rocks. Wood retaining walls blend in with any style. In order to obtain the most strength, construct the retaining wall with poured concrete. Wood walls can't hold back as much dirt as other materials can. For a wall less than a couple of feet high, uncut stones without mortar or footings work well.

"In order to make your slope care
easier and safer, consider growing
ground covers. These plantings are
relatively inexpensive and
easy to start. "

In order to tackle the lack of living space created by slopes in the yard, considering building a deck, or adding a patio or terrace. Constructing several levels for both decks and patios allows you to use less materials and requires you to move less dirt. By fitting your deck or patio into the current landscape, you can save yourself time and money.

When planning steps, choose materials that blend with your landscape style-formal or informal. Your steps should be as wide as the path that leads to them and should be less steep than stairs found indoors. Steps can function to control erosion, in addition to leading to areas of different heights. The landings you create will work as terraces in the landscaping fixture.

Many homeowners think they can't fence a sloped yard. This is not true. You just need the appropriate style. An open style, like a split-rain fence, is good for a steep slope. If your yard has a gentle, rolling terrain, avoid fencing with a closed style. Instead, opt for an open style such as lattice or louvers.

What can you plant on a slope? Well, that depends on how steep it is. If you can safely mow the incline (if the ground doesn't rise any more than 1 foot for every 3 feet of horizontal slope), grass may be a good option for your hillside. Sod is the best way to grow grass on your hill. If sod does not fit into your budget, you need to add a turf gutter (this is a slight ditch having a lip on the side going downhill.) across the slope before throwing down the seeds. Add a few strips of sod along the slope, about every 4-6 feet, to help slow down the water from running off.

If your slope is extensive, you may want to consider trying a process called hydroseeding. This is a mixture of grass or flower seeds combined with fertilizer and a wood fiber to hold down the seeds. This is often used by transportation departments to plant seeds along embankments.

In order to make your slope care easier and safer, consider growing ground covers. These plantings are relatively inexpensive and easy to start. You'll be amazed at how quickly they will spread! Trees, bulbs and wildflowers are also great options. When considering trees, remember you might not be able to keep a ladder level to trim high branches. You will need an extension pole saw.

Planning landscaping for a sloped yard may seem like an impossible obstacle. Using steps, retaining walls, tiered decks and well-planned plantings can add character to your yard and work to give you a fantastic view with the most living space possible. Let it spark your creativity and turn your yard into a unique and beautiful view.

This is the third in a series of articles. The other articles are Landscaping with a Plan, Front Yard Impressions and Maintaining Your Landscape.

Kay DiVerde is a freelance writer, horticultural researcher and consultant for Orchard's Edge. DiVerde also writes for a variety of newsletters and publications in the Midwest.

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