Planting a hillside rock garden

Planting a hillside rock garden

Many homeowners with a penchant for the DIY welcome outdoor landscaping ideas with a gleam in their eyes and shovel in hand. Indeed, the rewards of a little dirt under the fingernails are many and a back yard or front yard or garden plot can be blank canvasses for the creatively inclined.

However, things get a little more interesting (challenging) when the ground rises. Hillsides are difficult to work on and naturally come with the risk of erosion, soil runoff, and seeing your new plants drift down the hill like a water slide during the first rainstorm. But there are lots of upsides to hillside landscaping including great views, a sense of depth, and opportunity to show off blends of rock gardens and resplendent local flora. Here are some popular ideas to turn a slope into a showcase.

Anchors aweigh

Given its sloping trend, a hillside’s soil is not often of the sturdy variety. In fact, it tends to regularly wash away, leaving the hill sparse on nutrients. In cases like this, the hillside needs reinforcement before it can host a new population of plantings. Of course, plants themselves are incredibly effective in securing soil but you can help by terracing with stone.

This takes some work on the front end but once in place, stone walls are excellent structural elements and they look beautiful after plants fill out the space. As a bonus, stone’s heat conductive traits help create microclimates where you can grow plant species uncommon to the area.

One step at a time

Steeper slopes might seem overwhelming but approaching the project in small bites helps take the edge off.  Start by creating smaller, manageable planting boxes closest to your living space or patio. You will likely incorporate stairs into the hillside landscaping but don’t worry about tacking it all at once. Choose a retaining wall material and complete one section at a time, planting in intervals that allow new growth to steadily fill in.

Fill it with boulders

A fun and visually stunning alternative to formal terracing is “planting” first with rocks and then nestling plants in the nooks and crannies. Water will simply plunge right down a bare slope but adding boulders and assorted rocks establishes natural drainage while your plants take hold. Soon the plants will poke through groupings of rocks to create a gorgeous presentation that is held strong and keeps the entire hillside in place. Best of all, once plants spread out they smother weeds, taking that chore right off your list.