Slopes can be tricky areas to plant. They present unique growing conditions, dry soils and excessive erosion. They can be physically difficult, even dangerous, to maintain. Here are some tips for taming your slopes, as well as how to know when its time to call in the experts.
Dry soil - The soil on slopes tends to be dry because the water runs downhill before it gets the chance to soak into the soil. South facing slopes present an even great problem, because in addition to fast run-off, plants also receive intense sunlight during a good portion of the day. As a result, plants on the slopes are subject to uneven moisture distribution that can cause scorching and desiccation. Using a slow delivery system like a soaker hose or a drip irrigation system can greatly reduce the amount of run-off.
Uneven nutrient distribution - Another issue unique to slopes is uneven nutrient distribution. Rainfall makes applying fertilizers difficult and usually results in an excess concentration of nutrients at the bottom of the slope. One way around this is grow native plants. These plants are tougher than most when it comes to withstanding poor soil conditions, and stay attractive year-round.
Increased erosion - Exposed soil on a steep grade needs to be covered with plants as fast as possible to prevent erosion. When selecting plants, start out with the largest you can afford. Plant them as close together as possible and utilize mulch and landscape fabric or landscape mesh to help anchor the soil until the plants fill in.
For a list of plants or shrubs suitable for slopes in your hardiness zone, contact your states agricultural extension agency, or talk with nursery professionals in your area.
Professional landscapers often use landscape fabric or landscape mesh to help control weeds and erosion.
Landscape fabric - This fabric is rolled over the prepared ground before planting, and holes are cut into it for individual plants. Unlike landscape mesh, landscape fabric does not decay. It's a good choice for suppressing weeds and anchoring soil around individual shrubs, however its tight weave will prevent ground cover plants from sending out runners and filling in.
Landscape mesh - If you are planting ground cover plants that spread through runners, this fabric is the best choice. Its loose weave helps anchor the soil, while still allowing plants to spread. Landscape mesh is biodegradable and breaks down approximately two years after being installed about the time it takes for most ground covers to become established.
Gentle slopes (20 degrees or less) can be planted fairly easily by most homeowners. Moderate slopes (between 20 to 30 degrees) are steep enough to warrant a short retaining wall, or at least large groups of stones to hold down the soil. Another alternative is to erect a series of terraces held in place with landscape timbers. If this type of construction is beyond your level expertise, don't be afraid to call in the experts.
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Not everyone has the luxury of gardening on perfectly flat terrain. This article has advice about gardening or landscaping on steep sloping lots.