Landscaping a slope is no joke. That’s because the steeper the hill, (usually) the steeper the cost—and for fair reason.
A slope is really any change in grade on a property, and most all yards have that at least minimally. However, a very vertical slope (think 45 degrees) makes it difficult for landscape contractors to move around, therefore installation times may take longer. Not to mention, hauling up heavy machinery to landscape a slope is, well, a bit of an uphill battle. Also, there’s gravity to consider, causing mulches to slide and plants to tumble.
But if you approach your slope appropriately, it can make for the most impactful viewpoint in your yard. Better yet, it has ROI. With that investment in mind, I’ve priced out five creative ways to landscape a slope, from the most cost-friendly to the steeply-priced.
1. Mulch your slope
The most affordable way to landscape a slope is also the easiest: mulch it. But your typical bark mulch won’t cut it on a hillside. Instead, use gorilla hair mulch for its fibrous texture that keeps the mulch intertwined together. To ensure the top dressing doesn’t nudge, lay jute netting and then your mulch so the gorilla hair has even more traction to hold onto. Pro tip: If you’re tempted to use landscaping fabric to ward off weeds, don’t skip the jute netting after you lay out your fabric. Without the netting, even gorilla hair mulch will slide down a modest slope with just landscape fabric. (Learn more about gorilla hair mulch here.)
2. Plant your slope
The most promising accent of any yard, plants can add some serious personality to your slope. But there are a few things to bear in mind when picking which plants to incorporate on a slope. First, you want deep, fibrous roots that’ll latch onto a hillside. Grasses are a great option, including Muhlenbergia rigens, Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum,’ Muhlenbergia capillaris, and Carex testacea. For easy installation, consider planting ground covers like junipers, lantanas, or ice plants that spread quickly and wide from one root ball. When in doubt, opt to landscape a slope with low-maintenance plants, so you’re not hiking it up a hill regularly to care for them. (This succulent log planter is a great case in point.) Or, be sure to install plants that require more trimming and care in accessible areas like the outskirts of a slope. In any event, always consider drip irrigation to take care of your watering. I also recommend mulching, as mentioned above, in all the open areas until the plants fill in.
3. Install a wood retaining structure
The most tried-and-true way to landscape a slope is to add some form of a retaining wall. And there’s a range of ways to riff on traditional retaining structures. Consider affordable woods steps or, for a more expensive option with an artsy twist, even an arch wall. No matter your preference, I encourage using pressure-treated wood, Alaska yellow cedar, railroad ties, and even logs for the most affordable ways to retain. Also, use gravel behind and at the base of these retaining features to help keep moisture off the wood and improve drainage.
4. Erect a masonry retaining wall
For a step up from a wood retaining structure, go for masonry retaining wall. A masonry retaining wall is anything built from concrete, whether it is a self-stacked nursery block, poured-in-place concrete, or concrete blocks with stucco, stone veneer, tiles, etc. Masonry tends to last longer than lumber retaining walls and will weather better over time. Of course, these upsides come with an upped initial cost because they are more labor-intensive to install. Unless you’re installing self-stacking nursery blocks, you’ll probably want to hire landscaping professionals to install most other forms of heavy masonry. The most common masonry retaining walls are CMU blocks and stucco. The options only get more luxe from there, such as stone veneers and tiles. Like wood retaining walls, proper draining is essential. And very much so for masonry retaining walls, as they’ll be challenged by water pressure built up on the slope.
5. Landscape a slope with it all
For the biggest impact of all, do a combination of some or all of these suggestions. Slopes can be difficult and usually expensive to deal with, but a well-designed sloped can seriously grow your useable space and improve the aesthetics of a yard. I personally love working with slopes because there are so many opportunities to create scales, spaces, and visual punches. Bottom line: The more intricately you landscape a slope, the more visually appealing possibilities for your property!