Landscaping a steep embankment is a complex and difficult project. Many aspects including the accessibility and stability of the slope must be considered when planning the landscape. A combination of deep and shallow-rooted trees, shrubs and plants form a network of roots, holding the soil to the slope. If terracing, steps and retaining walls are needed, the homeowner should consult a professional before beginning construction.
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Things you need
- Graph paper
- Drip-watering system
Determine the characteristics of the slope -- the angle, climate, sun, wind, soil and moisture. An embankment may be steep but walkable or nearly vertical, making it difficult to plant.
Consult with the local agricultural extension office for native plants suitable for planting on a steep, sunny embankment in your area. Take a soil sample for analysis; some deep rooted plants require acidic soils while others thrive in alkaline soils.
Consult with a landscaping professional or contractor regarding the slope, hardscape options and permits from the local planning department. If you are planning on building a retaining wall or other hardscape, it is likely that the city or county will require a building permit.
Draw your landscape plan on graph paper, using one square per foot. Indicate the angle of the slope and any planned or existing retaining walls, steps or other hardscape. Note the direction the water flows over and off the slope.
Sketch trees, shrubs and planting beds onto the landscape plan. Select plants that thrive in your climate. Include a combination of deep-rooted native trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals and groundcovers such as rhodendrons, California poppies, Hummingbird sage, Salvias, iris and naturalising narcissus to help stablize the slope.
Plan the Landscape
Install all hardscape before planting the slope.
Arrange the plants, still in their pots, on the slope in their planned locations. Stagger the plantings so water does not run straight down the slope.
Dig each planting hole slightly larger than the grower's pot. Remove the plant from the pot and insert into the planting hole. Backfill and tamp firmly around the stem, making a small hollow for watering. Fill the hollow with water and allow it to soak into the soil.
Lay out the drip-watering system, placing an emitter over each plant's rootball.
Add mulch to the slope. If the embankment is very steep, only place mulch around the plants, pulling it back 3 inches from the plants' stems.
Water sparingly to avoid destabilising the embankment. Do not add fertiliser, native plants generally thrive in their natural habitat without human assistance.
Planting the Landscape
Tips and warnings
- If the slope is too steep to climb, plant groundcovers and vines at the top and bottom of the embankment. They will naturally spread to cover and stabilise the slope.
- Mix native seeds with sand and scatter over the slope during the rainy season and in the early spring.
- Do not endanger yourself by rappelling down the slope or dangling from a rope in order to plant.
- Do not landscape so water runs off onto your neighbours' properties. In many places, it is illegal to direct groundwater onto another property.
- Do not plant grass on steep slopes. It is difficult to care for and presents a fire hazard when dry.
- Do not till the entire slope. Disturb the embankment as little as possible.
- Do not use hay as mulch; it is full of grass seeds.
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