Gardening on a Hillside Slope

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We all want that nicely tamed, clean-cut and perfectly symmetrical garden that we see on TV or Home magazines so that your friends and neighbors become envious of your beautiful, green garden. You might be thinking that your garden is on a hill slope, so why bother? With a steep backyard gardening might be difficult but not impossible, and not a reason to shy away from it.

Whatever the reason, holiday or kids are out the house, you have decided to make a nice garden out of your hill slope. Whether it be just landscaping, planting flowers or growing vegetables, I have gathered a range of possibilities that might get you fantasizing about what you can do with your hill slope. These are all DIY proof, so no need to spend money on gardeners (however it is always good to get a professional opinion).

An easy way to use the hill slope to your advantage is building a wall. Sounds like quite the effort but I promise it is worth the reward. For example, it can be a simple rock wall with nooks and crannies, where you have extra space to plant some of your favorite flowers. Depending on your price tag, it might be easier to create a retaining wall out of stones or wood. Quick note: stackable stones are mainly recommended for walls less than 3’-4’ high. Before you begin you might want to check your home plans, yes those that are most likely buried in the deepest drawer. This will ensure that you won’t be digging up drainage or power lines.

I’ll begin with some pointers for building a stone wall. My tip would be to build a trench, as this will allow you to put the first layer of stones on the ground and help stabilize the wall when a new layer of stone is added. When stacking the first layer of stones, line the bottom of the trench with gravel and use that layer when doing the final touches of leveling and tampering. When beginning to lay down the stones, start at Gardening on a Hillside Slopethe lowest end, if the wall will be on a slope. In order to make sure that the wall will be straight, hammer wooden sticks at the end and beginning of the wall and attach a strong between them, use that string as guidance. Continue to lay the stones until you reach the end of the trench and then lay the stones on top until the desired height. You might want to use concrete to fasten the stones in place. But it is up to you!

Another way to spice up your garden is by creating a waterfall; you might need to call an electrician to connect the water to a water pump. You might be able to integrate the waterfall into the retaining wall. Keep in mind that the layout of your garden will have an influence on whether building a wall or a waterfall is possible.

When planting tomatoes, cucumber or lettuce, it is important to keep in mind the degree of slope, as this affects the irrigation. The best way to avoid this is to use terraces, counter rows or raised beds. Depending on the landscape it might be useful for you to break out a circular saw to adjust the beds to the slope. That being said, it is also important to understand the microclimate of your landscape, at the top the ground might be warmer but drier, therefore it might be more beneficial to plant vegetables or flowers that need more water at the bottom of the hill slope. To begin to fill each bed with wet newspaper, soil, and manure. A tip from when growing crops on a hill slope is to grow them in groups, for instance, grow the corn and beans together, this will allow the beans to grow on the corn stalk. If you just want to plant a vegetable garden, think about incorporating flowers and herbs as a way to keep the insects to a minimum.

Making pathways not only separates the raised beds but also makes it easier for you to move along the beds. Here you can use stones or logs as pathway indicators. You can also create different levels out of your hill slope, and use stone walls to separate each level. The technique is the same as creating one stonewall. Getting creative here: use the stones to create a pathway that leads downslope. This way you can have easy access to your plants at the top of the hill or at the bottom. This might require you to dig out a clear path and place where you can place the stones but the real reward will be how nicely it ties together your garden.

Stabilizing the hill slope with an upper fence is very important, as it is important to stabilize the bottom of the hill slope with a fence or a retaining wall. Before you begin to build your fence, make sure you know how high it can go (check your zoning codes) then check the desired measurements that you need. Every upper fence pretty much consists of the same thing; posts secured in the ground and connected by rails on the top, bottom and to be extra secure the middle. Then the fencing boards nailed to each post. When you buy the wood be specific and say that you want construction-heart redwood or cedar or just ground-contact, pressure-treated wood. Begin building the fence by setting up the posts. Tip: begin with the end posts. Then proceed to add concrete into the holes, so that the posts stay nice and sturdy.

Hopefully, the projects listed above provide you with a jumping off point when thinking of ways to tackle the hill slope. Some projects that I have listed might take a day, some might take two but you can do them all. Begin with understanding how your garden is laid out and what is underneath the soil, and then you can decide what project you wish to tackle. This might also be a great opportunity to include the whole family!

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