A sloping backyard can add interest to your property, but, if the degree of slope exceeds four inches, you might have problems with erosion, flooding and keeping plants alive. Mowing is often a high risk activity, not to mention the unsightly hazard of mudslides after a heavy rain or snow. The solution, if you can't or won't level the hill, is to work with it.
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Ideas for a Gentle Slope
A slight rise presents a visual interruption--a view--rather than an avalanche hazard. Minimise torturous mowing, and compensate for the natural problems of slopes by planting yours with a fescue or buffalo grass. These are slow-growing, hardy ground covers that form attractive clumps or tufts and soon resemble a tidy, wild field. Their roots hold the soil to the ground in a downpour, and they need very little maintenance. A sharper incline requires a more aggressive approach than seeding a sheep's meadow. Plant English ivy, French lavender or winter creeper for their tough root systems and erosion-fighting cover, and help keep it all growing by watering in short bursts to give the ground time to absorb the water at every level, rather than have it all rush downhill, taking your plants and topsoil with it.
Ideas for a Steeper Slope
This is where the interesting topography turns challenging. You must prevent all the rain, soil and vegetation from sliding to the bottom of the hill. If not, the plantings at the top will die of drought, the ones at the bottom will rot and drown and the middle will be a mess. So terrace the slope with railroad ties, low-stacked stone barriers or a zigzag path and some well-placed small boulders. Keep the visual appearance as natural as possible by planting native grasses and wildflowers in the terraced spaces. If the terrace holds a garden, calculate how much sun each "step" receives during growing season before choosing plants. Keep the barriers to erosion just high enough to prevent all your compost or fertiliser from washing downhill and frying the plants below.
Ideas for Nearly Vertical Slopes
An extremely steep pitch might call for a reinforced retaining wall. This is an expensive solution and fairly permanent, so it is a good idea to consult an expert and hire professional builders if you do not have the expertise to install one yourself. The wall will keep your slope out of your basement--or your property out of the neighbouring ravine if the slope runs away from your house--but you still need to adapt a variety of tactics for minimising erosion and maintenance. Depending on the pitch, you can terrace the slope with very low walls that mimic your main retaining wall, plant or stabilise existing trees or hardy shrubs native to your area and encourage their root systems, opt for low-maintenance ground covers or a natural meadow fed by an irrigation system you control remotely, or enjoy the bare rock outcroppings and tufts of vegetation that are already there as an unspoilt landscape that is now secured by your retaining wall.
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