Landscaping the steep slope

September, 2011

Today, let's talk about that slope -- too steep to mow, tedious and sometimes dangerous to weed. Edible landscaping the area introduces the challenge of harvesting your crops without falling and breaking your neck.

These sorts of areas often get ignored, covered in pebbles or some generic ground cover, and forgotten.

But no longer! There are some strategies you can use to be able to get use out of even a very challenging area like a steep slope.

First of all, take a look at the area. Is it sloped up, or down? What is at the top and bottom of that slope?

A lot of times, slopes are next to a wall or fence, either at the top, bottom, or along one side. If there is an area that could be made more interesting if it were larger, why not do it?

Here are some ideas:

  • Create a flat patio-like area at the end of the slope (the top of an up-slope, or the bottom of a down-slope).

    This could hold a table and chairs for extra seating, make a mini-retreat complete with hammock or benches, or hold a small water fountain and a spot for sunbathing. Access with a staircase. Surround with edible plants.

  • Terrace the slope, making step-wise sections for edible planting separated by walkways going along the wall at each level. You could build stairs along each side, up the middle, or both. This is how we did our backyard in California.

  • Build a series of staircases, dividing the slope into planting areas 3-4 feet wide. The staircases could be straight, curved or wiggle back and forth, widening out at spots for the addition of landings (with or without containers!) and/or a bench to sit on. The stairs themselves would make up part of the design.

  • If you must go the plastic/pebble mulch/ground cover route, use a low-care drought-tolerant edible ground cover like thyme or mint. (this would smell wonderful!) Drought-tolerant plants are best for slopes in any case, unless you really want to install sprinklers or carry watering cans around.

Along stairs, you can install planters for even more lovely edibles.

One caveat: unless you have experience in installing retaining walls, you're going to need to have that done professionally.

You do not want to be ten feet up a slope sitting at a table and have your patio give way under you, or have a walkway collapse while you're using it.

But once that's done, think of how amazing your slope will become -- a useful, beautiful part of your yard.

What do you think? How have you solved the problem of a steep slope?

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