Hilly or sloping areas give landscapers two main problems, both centred on fast moving water. Soil erosion happens when water flows too quickly across a steep slope. Plants that survive on hillsides suffer when water runs downhill so fast it does not have time to reach a plant's root zone. Solutions include making basins to catch falling water, terracing hillsides and planting ground covers that slow down and divert rainfall.
The Sunset Western Garden Book advises arranging plants in staggered rows when planting on hilly or sloping areas. Make an individual terrace for each plant and create a basin or low spot behind each one. Build up the soil higher on the low side. The basin slows down the water flow. It catches water and gives it time to soak to the root level of plants and trees. Set plant crowns high to avoid root rot.
Hillside terraces can be as simple as a few headers placed on the low side of shrubs or trees, or full rock walls running the length of a hill. Create a terraced walkway by putting low growing plants between wide stone stairs. Build a rock garden and path with a set of stairs accented with rocks on either side. On a slight slope, a wide path of offset stepping stones interspersed with low growing grass makes a terrace across the hill with a series of water catchment areas and greenery.
Plant Ground Covers
Ground covers can be almost flat to several feet high, creeping or upright. Depending on your climate, soil and rainfall conditions, low-water ornamental grasses planted in clumps might be appropriate for hilly areas or slopes. Vines like Bougainvillea work well in mild weather areas, while ground cover roses, Carolina Jessamine and most ivies grow in a wider range of temperate zones. Spreading plants often have words like "creeping" or "prostrate" in their names or descriptions, such as Creeping Jenny or Corsican Prostrate Rosemary.
Depending on the degree of the slope, planting shrubs horizontally along the slope is a good way to slow erosion and add visual accents. Choose hedge plants with extensive root systems. Native plants are good choices, as local garden experts already know these plants will thrive in the area. Space shrubs according to mature width. For severe slopes and hills, a series of shrubs and retaining walls help keep erosion to a minimum.
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