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Gardening on a Slope: Tips and Ideas for Creating a Beautiful Hillside Garden

beautiful plants along a slope with white home in background

Have you ever gazed at a beautiful hillside garden and wish you could create one yourself? Or maybe you’re struggling with a sloped backyard and want a more usable outdoor space to enjoy?

Gardening on a slope presents unique challenges! But, with the right planning, you can address issues such as soil erosion, drainage and sunlight exposure, while transforming it into a colorful and functional hillside paradise.

Let’s turn your sloped backyard into a colorful canvas of blooming flowers, lush foliage and enchanting pathways… on a hill!

Short Summary

  • Evaluate: Analyze the grade, soil type and drainage of your slope.
  • Plan: Come up with a plan to control erosion and stabilize the slope (through terracing, retaining walls, geo grids and/or appropriate plant selection).
  • Plant: Select deep-rooted and groundcover plants that will thrive in the conditions of your hillside. Then, come up with a planting plan that matches your style!
  • Maintain: Use mulch and drip irrigation to keep your plants healthy and happy.
  • Explore: View inspirational photos of rock gardens, water features and other sloped areas to get style ideas.

Evaluating and Preparing Your Slope

Before you start designing your hillside, it’s important to evaluate and prepare the slope. This involves:

  • Analyzing the slope grade
  • Understanding your soil
  • Evaluating your drainage conditions
  • Assessing sunlight exposure

By understanding these factors, you can effectively plan your garden layout, select appropriate plants and prevent soil erosion.

It’s important to address any existing issues before planting, like removing debris and/or prepping/improving the soil.

Preparing your slope is a vital step that will ensure the success of your garden for years to come.

Analyzing the Slope Grade

a sloped property with stones and grass
The first step to gardening on a slope is to evaluate the existing slope grade (how steep it is).

Determining your slope grade is really important when planning for appropriate erosion control and drainage. So, that’s our first step!

To calculate the slope grade, measure the distance along the slope and the vertical rise, then divide the rise by the horizontal run. If the slope percentage is above 40%, gardening becomes more challenging and you may need to consider implementing terraces or retaining walls.

Determine the slope when grading your yard
This illustration demonstrates how you can determine the the vertical rise (9in) and horizontal run (100in) of the slope using stakes and a level line. Once you have those numbers, divide the vertical rise by the horizontal run (9/100). Multiply by 100 to get the slope percentage (9%). Illustration Source: allanblock.com.

Understanding the slope grade will also help you select structures and suitable plants that can thrive in the specific conditions of your hillside.

For example, plants with deep roots (like Blue Rug Juniper) and strong structures are more suitable for steep slope environments.

Shallow-rooted plants & groundcovers (like Chocolate Chip Ajuga) will do well on a gentle slope, but may struggle to establish themselves if the slope is very steep (over 40%).

I’ll share more of my favorite hillside plants later in this article!

When you know your slope grade, you can create aesthetically beautiful and structurally sound terraced garden.

Examining Soil and Drainage

Examining soil type and drainage is important for selecting appropriate plants and preventing erosion on your slope. This is especially true when you’re dealing with bare soil.

Plant Perfect Activity Book Cover

There are 3 main ways you can determine and evaluate your soil type:

  1. Mason Jar Test: In my Plant Perfect Activity Book, I share a really cool way to test your soil using a mason jar. Within a day, you’ll know the percentage of sand, silt and clay in your soil and what type of soil you have.
  2. At Home Soil Test: You can also use a home pH test and nutrient test kit (like this one on Amazon).
  3. Send Out Soil for Testing: Send a sample of your soil to your local cooperative extension (find your local extension office here).

Assessing Sunlight Exposure

Assessing sunlight exposure will help you choose plants that will thrive in your slope’s specific light conditions. Plants require a certain amount of sunlight to grow and mature appropriately. There are some plants that like full sun (6+ hours/day). Others prefer partial sun (3-6 hours/day). There are even plants that will grow and thrive in the shade (<3 hours/day).

So, first determine the sun levels on your slope, THEN choose the appropriate plants. And, remember that different areas of your slope can have different sun conditions.

There are two main ways you can determine the sun levels on your slope:

  1. Create a Sun Map: My Plant Perfect Activity Book will take you through this entire process. But, in general, you’ll observe the sun on your property every few hours throughout the day to determine how much sun your slope receives.
  2. Purchase a Sun Meter: A sun meter, or sunlight calculator, is a tool that you can place in the ground to measure sunlight. Throughout the day it will record the sun levels and let you know how much sun the area gets. I have the Luster Leaf Rapitest Suncalc (Buy on Amazon) and have used it many times. It’s pretty accurate!

Once you know the sunlight exposure of your slope throughout the day, you can confidently choose the right plants according to their requirements of full sun, partial sun or shade.

Creating Terraces and Retaining Walls

rustic stone terraced walls for a sloped garden
Rustic stone terracing creates a beautiful feature in this sloped garden.

Terracing and retaining walls are innovative solutions to stabilize slopes, prevent soil erosion and provide level planting areas. By creating terraces, you can divide your slope into manageable levels.

These flat areas can be used for planting and/or recreation, making your garden much more usable and functional! All while the retaining walls maintain the structural integrity of your slope, supporting the terraces and containing the soil.

Terraces and retaining walls are not ONLY functional, though. They also add visual interest and style to your hillside garden. there are lots of materials you can use to build these, such as stone, wood, or concrete. Your choice will depend on your aesthetic preferences and budget.

Let’s dive into how to build terraces and retaining walls so you can create a functional and structurally sound hillside garden.

In this section, I’ll also share some ideas for stabilizing your slope, even if you don’t want to use retaining walls, so keep reading!

Building Terraces

Building terraces on a slope offers numerous benefits, such as:

  • Providing level planting/seating/recreational areas for a more functional outdoor space
  • Ensuring plants receive the proper amount of sunlight to thrive
  • Regulating water runoff

To construct terraces or raised beds, you can employ various methods. Here’s a great video that will show you how to build a terraced vegetable garden from stone.

Here are some of the materials needed to build a terraced garden:

  • 6 ft Level
  • Small Level
  • Small shovel or trowel
  • Rubber Mallet
  • Heavy Duty Work Gloves
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Shovel or spade
  • Measuring Tape
  • Garden Rake
  • Heavy Twine
  • Stakes
  • Gravel
  • Keystone Blocks
  • Keystone Capstones
  • Keystone Pins
  • Masonry Adhesive
  • Caulking Gun
  • Scrap 2x4s or 4x4s and scrap plywood

Constructing Retaining Walls

stairs and terraced gardens in home landscaping
Natural stone landscaping for a slope with stairs and retaining walls.

A retaining wall can be constructed using materials like stone, wood or concrete. Its primary purpose is to support terraces and prevent soil erosion. Sometimes, this can even be a project just for aesthetics. I created a low stone retaining wall to make my garden beds in the front of my house look nice.

Different materials offer varying levels of durability and aesthetic appeal. For example, natural stone walls or brick walls provide a traditional and elegant look. Wooden walls offer a more rustic and earthy appearance. You can also consider Vegetative Retaining Wall Kits (like this one) for a living retaining wall filled with greenery. This is the fun part of the project! Being able to pick the materials that speak to your own garden style.

When constructing retaining walls, proper leveling and drainage is super important! So, don’t forget to watch the video above for all of the step-by-step details. You don’t want to rush this project and miss an important step!

By constructing retaining walls, you’ll create a stable and visually appealing hillside garden. This project can add tons of extra space to a formerly unusable garden.

Geogrids and Other Methods for Slope Stabilization

You may not want or need to construct terraces or retaining walls. And that’s ok, too. As long as you have a gentle slope (less than 40%), you can use plants for erosion control without having to terrace the entire yard. This is obviously much more budget-friendly. But it can also look gorgeous (added bonus!).

beautiful plants along a slope with white home in background
This gently sloped hillside garden uses plants that are great for erosion control.

If you have a gentle slope, you may need to just choose the right plants for the space.

But, if the slope is a bit steeper and you want to plant it without terracing, you can use a variety of products to establish your plants, such as:

So, first determine whether you need to stabilize the slope with more than just plants.

Next, let’s learn about some plants that are an appropriate choice for your hillside garden… and why!

Plant Selection for Hillside Gardens

We’ve already covered how important your soil and sunlight exposure are in selecting appropriate plants for your hillside garden. But you’ll also need to consider the characteristics (like the root systems and spreading habits) of the plants you want to use.

In this section, let’s explore various plants you can use for your slope. These plants will not only serve as functional erosion control, but they’re also going to make your hillside absolutely beautiful to enjoy.

Groundcovers and Deep-Rooted Plants

Groundcovers and deep-rooted plants can help stabilize the soil on your slope and prevent erosion.

Examples of groundcovers suitable for slopes include:

  • Sedums
  • Creeping Phlox
  • Sweet Alyssum
  • Bugleweed
  • Ice Plant

This website has over 200 groundcovers to choose from. With that many options, you’re sure to find one that you love and suits your conditions.

What I love about groundcovers for slopes is that they form an effective barrier against soil and moisture loss, providing a stable environment for other plants to thrive.

Deep-rooted plants (such as trees, shrubs and other perennials) can also be used on slopes. Their deep roots provide structural support, helping to anchor the soil. Their foliage and flowers add visual interest to the space.

By incorporating both groundcovers and deep-rooted plants, you’ll create gorgeous space that stands up to the challenges of slope gardening.

Here are some deep-rooted plants suitable for erosion control:

  • Ninebark
  • Dogwood
  • Bush Honeysuckle
  • Buttonbush
  • Juniper (spreading shrubs like Blue Rug)
  • Chokeberry
  • Viburnum
  • Weigela
  • Spruce
  • Milkweed
  • Joe Pye Weed

Ornamental Grasses for Slopes

Ornamental grasses and perennials can add visual interest and movement to your hillside garden, creating a dynamic and captivating landscape.

6 ornamental grasses for slopes
Ornamental grasses for slopes (from L-R): Pink Muhly grass, Japanese Forest grass, Feather Reed grass, Little Bluestem, Big Bluestem and Switchgrass. See links below to purchase.

A few examples of ornamental grasses include:

  1. Pink Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) Purchase
  2. Japanese Forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’) Purchase
  3. Feather Reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) Purchase
  4. Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) Purchase
  5. Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) Purchase
  6. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’) Purchase
  7. Shop More Ornamental Grasses

Perennial Plants for Slopes

Perennials, with their ever-changing blooms and textures, bring a sense of timeless beauty to your garden. They can also stabilize a slope and add lots of color and interest to your hillside landscape.

6 perennial plants for slopes
Perennial plants for slopes (from L-R): Purple coneflower, Sedum, Daylily, Astilbe, Hosta and Dianthus. See links below to purchase.

Some examples of perennials suitable for hillside gardens include:

  • Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) Purchase
  • Sedum (Hylotelephium ‘Autumn Joy’) Purchase
  • Daylily (Hemerocallis RAINBOW RHYTHM® ‘Storm Shelter’) Purchase
  • Astilbe (Astilbe chinensis ‘Vision in White’) Purchase
  • Hosta (Hosta x ‘June’) Purchase
  • Dianthus (Dianthus gratianopolitanus ‘Firewitch’) Purchase
  • Shop More Perennials (categorized by your conditions)

These plants can provide texture, color and form, which are all important garden design principles that will enhance the beauty of your slope.

Free Gift: Printable Plant “Paper Dolls”

cut out plant forms and use them to design landscape

Cut & paste your way to the perfect landscape design. Use these FREE plant form templates to try out different designs for your garden beds. No more wondering if your plants will look good together.

By selecting and incorporating a variety of groundcovers, ornamental grasses, perennials and shrubs, you’ll create a visually striking.

Your hillside garden planting plan can even be low-maintenance, if you choose the right plants! So let’s explore some drought-tolerant and native plants that you can use to reduce maintenance and upkeep.

Drought-Tolerant and Native Varieties

Opting for drought-tolerant and native plant varieties will conserve water and also support local ecosystems. These plants are adapted to your local climate and soil conditions, requiring less water and maintenance than non-native varieties.

Examples of drought-tolerant and native plants suitable for hillside gardens include native wildflowers, ferns, grasses, shrubs and trees. Some specific species I’d recommend are:

  • Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
  • Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)
  • Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
  • Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica)
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium ‘Apricot Delight’)
  • Bearberry, also known as Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
  • Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica), or other native sedges
  • Shop More Native Perennials

But remember that native plants have “ranges” where they grow naturally in the wild. So, make sure you look these up to ensure they are native to where YOU live.

There are so many reasons to use native plants in your landscape. Because they thrive in your local area, they often require less water and less maintenance. Plus, you’re giving the local wildlife more habitat and food. By incorporating natives into your hillside garden, you’ll create a sustainable and ecologically responsible landscape that thrives with minimal intervention.

Designing Paths and Stairways for Accessibility

Well-designed paths and stairways provide easy access to all areas of your garden while also enhancing its visual appeal. Accessible paths and stairways on your hillside garden are also important for safety, property maintenance and the enjoyment of your outdoor living spaces.

In this section, let’s learn about planning pathways and stairways that not only offer functional benefits but also blend seamlessly with the natural beauty of your slope.

By designing accessible paths and stairways, you’ll ensure that your hillside garden remains a safe and enjoyable space. Let’s learn about pathways and stairways and how they can create a hillside garden that’s both functional and visually stunning.

Pathways on a Slope

stone path with retaining walls holding plants
This beautiful, naturalistic style garden features a flagstone path and terraced walls that gradually step up from one level to the next turning this once sloped property more functional and usable.

Pathways not only enhance the visual appeal of your hillside garden, but also provide functional benefits, such as preventing soil erosion and facilitating access to all areas of your landscape. By carefully planning and designing your pathways, you’ll create a beautiful and accessible hillside garden that invites exploration and enjoyment.

Consider using materials like gravel, stone or wood to connect different areas of your slope and prevent erosion. What’s great about these materials is you don’t have to sacrifice beauty for function. These materials are gorgeous, while providing a stable and safe walking surface.

When planning your paths, also consider incorporating curves and meandering lines to create a sense of movement and exploration throughout your garden.

Stairways on a Slope

rustic stone stairs in terraced garden
Rustic stairs climb up this sleep, sloped garden.

Whether you opt for terracing or not, stairways are another important aspect of designing an accessible hillside garden. Installing stairways provides safe access to different levels of your slope and can also look beautiful.

Consider materials like stone, wood or concrete, depending on your preferences and budget.

In addition to selecting appropriate materials, ensure proper leveling and drainage when constructing stairways. This will help prevent water accumulation and potential damage to your hillside garden.

The video below shows a really easy DIY option for incorporating stairs into your sloped garden.

How to make EASY DIY outdoor stairs for slopes.

By installing stairways that are both visually appealing and functional, you’ll create a safe and accessible hillside garden that can be enjoyed by all.

Hillside Garden Maintenance and Irrigation

Proper maintenance and irrigation are essential for the success of your hillside garden and ensure that your plants remain healthy while withstanding the elements.

Mulching, weed control and irrigation techniques are important in maintaining a beautiful and thriving hillside garden. Let’s explore the benefits of mulching, weed control and drip irrigation systems so you can enjoy your hillside garden for years to come.

Mulching

Mulching is an essential practice for hillside gardens. It helps retain moisture, suppress weeds and prevent soil erosion. Mulching also provides a neat and tidy appearance, enhancing the overall beauty of your garden.

Organic mulches, such as wood chips, bark, straw and compost, as well as inorganic mulches like gravel and stones, can be used to cover the soil and protect your plants.

Weed Control

Weed control is another crucial aspect of hillside garden maintenance. Weeds can rapidly deplete nutrients from the soil. Weeds consume water, sunlight and space, leading to dehydration of your plants and compaction of your soil.

In addition to mulching, employing weed control methods can help keep your hillside garden healthy and looking beautiful.

I garden organically and don’t like to use chemicals or anything that will damage my gardens. So, here are a few weed control products I’d recommend:

In this article, there’s even more info on reducing weed pressure on your hillside garden.

Drip Irrigation Systems

Drip irrigation systems are an efficient watering method that can help prevent erosion on your hillside garden. By delivering water directly to the root zone of plants, drip irrigation systems reduce water wastage and avoid erosion caused by excess runoff.

This drip irrigation kit by MIXC will give you all of the hoses and fittings you’ll need to get this installed.

In addition to this kit, I’d also consider purchasing a timer to automate the watering process, particularly during the growing season. This will help ensure that your plants receive the right amount of water at the right time. A timer I really like is this programmable timer by RAINPOINT.

There are also a lot of videos on YouTube that will guide you through the process of installing drip irrigation. Here’s a really good one:

Inspirational Hillside Garden Ideas

Now that we’ve covered the essentials of hillside gardening, it’s time to explore a variety of inspirational garden ideas that can transform your slope into a breathtaking landscape. These design concepts can help you create a unique and serene environment on your hillside; no matter what your style!

beautiful plants along a slope with white home in background
This gently sloped hillside garden uses plants that are great for erosion control.

Modern Terraced Gardens

modern terraced landscape rendering
Sloped gardens don’t have to be rustic. This rendering features a beautiful, modern style garden features with terracing in a small space.

By embracing modern design elements, your hillside garden can become a stylish and functional space that stands out. To give your sloped landscape a modern style, focus on clean lines and minimalistic design. Incorporate sleek materials like metal, smooth concrete and/or composite decking for pathways and retaining walls.

To maintain a contemporary feel, choose a limited color palette and use contrasting foliage textures. Consider using uniform planters for a cohesive, modern look. Incorporating strategic lighting can also modernize your space and highlight key features and extend the usability of the garden into the evening.

You can learn earn more about how to create a modern garden design here.

Master the Mixed Border Guide & Checklist

ebook mockup pdf download

This free guide will immediately improve your landscape layering skills. Get

  • My easy 8-step layering process
  • The “Master the Mixed Border” checklist
  • & my printable Garden Pyramid
  • All for FREE!

Sloped Rock Gardens

before and after of sloped rock garden
Julia is a student of my Design Your 4-Season Garden course and she designed a beautiful rock garden with an Asian flare to it.

Rock gardens can add visual interest and enhance the natural beauty of your slope. By incorporating large rocks and boulders, you can create a stable foundation for your plants while also adding texture and depth to your landscape. The placement of rocks can also help prevent soil erosion, ensuring the longevity of your hillside garden.

Learn about more garden styles to incorporate into your hillside planting.

Hillside Vegetable Garden

vegetable gardens on a slope
The creative use of space in this backyard allows for a terraced vegetable garden.

A hillside vegetable garden is a creative way to grow veggies on a sloped area. By using terracing and raised beds on flat areas, you can turn your hillside into an extremely functional area of your landscape, all while preventing erosion.

Choose sunny spots for sun-loving plants higher up the slope. The areas with less light further down your hillside are perfect for shade loving plants and vegetables. With smart watering (drip irrigation) and mulching, you CAN have a low maintenance edible garden that makes the most of your property’s natural grade.

Sloped Garden Water Features

sloped path and water feature with grasses and plants
A gently sloped garden with a water feature and selection of grasses and flowers.

Water features, such as ponds, waterfalls or fountains, can bring a sense of tranquility and harmony to your garden. And the same goes for incorporating water features into your hillside. The soothing sounds of flowing water can create a calming atmosphere, encouraging relaxation and reflection. Plus, the natural grade of the slope will make a creek bed or small river easier to install than on a flat property!

Here are some great water feature ideas that you can try on your sloped garden!

Wrapping Up

By incorporating these inspirational hillside landscaping ideas into your own garden, you can create a one-of-a-kind landscape that reflects your personal style and enhances the natural beauty of your slope.

In this guide, I’ve shared the essential steps and techniques for creating a stunning hillside garden. From assessing and preparing your slope to designing terraces, retaining walls and accessible paths to selecting appropriate plants, implementing effective maintenance and irrigation practices and incorporating inspirational garden ideas, you’re on your way to creating a breathtaking hillside landscape.

I hope this guide has inspired you to transform your sloped backyard into a captivating and functional oasis. Instead of focusing on the challenges, embrace the possibilities of slope gardening! In time, you’ll be able to watch your hillside garden blossom into a thriving and enchanting landscape that you can enjoy for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it OK to plant a garden on a slope?

It is possible to have a garden on a slope, as long as the slope is not too steep and you are comfortable working on it. Focus on erosion control, whether that’s through terracing or installing slope stabilization grids. Before choosing plants, consider the soil type, sunlight levels and irrigation needed to give your garden the best chance to grow and thrive. While function is important, that doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful, too!

What plants are suitable for a hillside garden?

Deep rooted trees, shrubs, grasses and perennials, especially native plants, are great options for stabilizing your slope and preventing soil erosion. Creeping groundcovers are also a great choice for a hillside garden as they cover the soil quickly.

These plants can be used to create a variety of different looks, from a formal garden to a wild and natural landscape. They can also be used to create a sense of depth and texture, while providing color year-round.

How do I determine the slope grade of my hillside?

To determine the slope grade of your hillside, measure the vertical rise and the horizontal run, then divide the rise by the run to calculate the grade. This is a simple calculation that can help you determine the steepness of your hillside.

Knowing the grade of your hillside can help you decide what type of landscaping or construction is best suited for the area. If the grade is over 40%, consider using retaining walls and terracing to stabilize the slope.

What are the benefits of terracing a slope?

Terracing provides numerous benefits such as regulating water runoff, preventing soil erosion, improving soil quality and creating level planting areas. Flat levels created by terracing are great for planting beds, vegetables, seating areas and recreational activities. Terraces create much more usable space in your yard so you can spend more time outside.

How can I create accessible paths and stairways in my hillside garden?

Construct accessible pathways with materials like gravel, stone or wood and install stairways to ensure safe passage up and down the hillside garden. While some stair projects can be DIYed, if the grade of your slope is very steep, you may need to hire a professional to help you.

More Landscape Design Posts You’ll Love

photos of a hillside slope and plants suited for it

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