Overcoming the challenges of planting on a slope

Red Head Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) | MonroviaRed Head Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) | Monrovia

If you have clients with hilly properties, then you might be wondering what plants will make those areas more functional—and more appealing. You’ll also want to avoid potential problems like drainage or erosion issues.

Of course, planting on a slope comes with a range of challenges. According to Mary Dresser, RLA, ALSA, with Earth, Turf, & Wood in Denver, Pennsylvania, the key is to make wise choices in plant material.

“One common solution that people use for planting on a slope is to just use all of a single plant material, such as a groundcover,” Dresser says. “The problem with that approach is that it just doesn’t add much appeal. Variety is what really makes a landscape look its best.”

In general, Dresser says it’s important to shy away from plant material with shallow roots. You need something that can “grasp the soil,” she explains. You’ll likely also want to consider low-maintenance plant material as caring for plants on a hill is no easy task. This means seeking out drought-tolerant, hardy choices which won’t need a tremendous amount of care.

Using a slope to your advantage

In addition to plant material choices, you might also think about ways that you can use the slope to your advantage. If your clients want a water feature, a slope is actually the ideal location to install one of these, says Dresser. You can use gravity to create a cascading waterfall that runs down the slope over boulders.

Another common solution to a sloped property is terracing. This involves leveling out sections of the hill and using a retaining wall to hold back erosion. It creates almost a “step down” type of look—and adds lots of interest and dimension to your client’s property.

When you install terracing, you also open up more plant material possibilities since they’re being installed on level ground. But you may need to think about how those terraced areas will be reached, Dresser says. Stairs might be necessary for accessibility.

“Also think about landscape lighting in these areas,” adds Dresser. “Adding some lighting to show off the plantings in your terraces or a waterfall that you’ve created can allow your clients to enjoy these areas in the evening hours.”

If you're thinking about choosing plant material for a sloped property, here are some possible recommendations from TLC.

Suggested plants for a slope

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Blue Chip Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’)

Low-growing, cold-hardy variety produces silver-blue foliage. It takes on a plum-like color in cold climates in winter. Deer resistant. Grows a foot tall, 6 to 8 feet wide.

*Full sun

*Hardy to USDA Zone 3

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Celtic Pride Microbiota (Siberian Cypress Microbiota decussata ‘Prides’)

Hardy, disease-resistant and deer resistant variety. Lacey foliage does well in cold climates and turns rust color in winter. Tolerates shade better than junipers. Grows 12 to 36 inches tall and 40 to 60 inches wide.

*Part to full sun

*Hardy to USDA Zone 2

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Huber’s Tawny Gold Spreading Yew (Taxus x media ‘Huber’s Tawny Gold’)

Dense shrub with a nice texture and vase shape. Looks good layered under taller trees. Needs regular watering in extreme heat. Slow grower. Grows 3- to 4-feet tall, 4- to 6-feet wide.

*Part to full sun

*Hardy to USDA Zone 4

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Flowering

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Purple Queen Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea ‘Moneth’)

A trend in Europe is growing climbers as groundcovers to create a show of hillside color. Variety has deep purple blooms and is drought tolerant once established. Grows 18 inches tall, 6 to 8 feet wide.

*Full sun

*Hardy to USDA Zone 10

 

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Madame Julia Correvon Clematis (Clematis viticella ‘Madame Julia Correvon’)

Another climber that works as a groundcover. Showy pinwheel flowers. Performs in warmer climates where other large-flowered clematis won’t grow. Fast grower. Grows 8 to 12 feet long.

*Part to full sun

*Hardy to USDA Zone 4

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Scentsation Honeysuckle (‘Scentsation’ Lonicera USPPAF)

Showy vine with very fragrant flowers that bloom mid-spring to mid-summer. Adaptable to most soils. Red berries.

*Full sun

*Hardy to USDA Zone 4

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Grasses

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Elijah Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’)

Icy-blue color with needle-like blades. Dwarf clumping variety holds up well in heat. Drought tolerant once established. Fast grower in dense mounds. Grows 8 to 12 inches tall and wide.

*Full sun

*Hardy to USDA Zone 4

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Morning Light Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’)

Eye-catching green blades with cream margins. Not invasive. Nice effect when planted en masse. Deer resistant. Clumps grow 5 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide.

*Part to full sun

*Hardy to USDA Zone 5

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Red Head Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides)

Reliable easy grower with green blades and pink flowers. Fall and winter interest. Grows 24 to 36 inches tall and 18 to 24 wide.

*Full sun

*Hardy to USDA Zone 5

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Shrubs

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Double Play Blue Kazoo Spirea (Spirea media ‘SMSMBK’ USPPAF)

New spirea with neat, mounded habit. Cool blue foliage with hints of burgundy look and red fall color. Attractive in mass. Spring flowers. Grows 24 to 36 inches high and wide.

*Part sun to full sun

*Hardy to USDA Zone 3

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Oso Easy Fragrant Spreader Rose (Oso Easy Fragrant Spreader Rosa ‘Chewground’ PP 15981)

Landscape rose that covers large areas. Doesn’t need pruning or spraying. Offers abundant fragrant and colorful blooms for a long season. Grows 12 to 24 inches tall and 48 to 60 inches wide.

*Full sun

*Hardy to USDA Zone 3

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Show Off Starlet Forsythia (Starlet Forsythia ‘Minfor6’ USPP 24,361)

New variety that offers bright yellow flowers from base to tip in spring. Doesn’t require pruning. Deer resistant. Dwarf variety grows 24 to 36 inches tall and wide.

*Full sun

*Hardy to USDA Zone 4

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