Filling a downwards slope at end of yard

xmpraedicta(3b Saskatoon)February 21, 2006

Hi everyone,

Don't know whether this is the right place to post this - but I'm giving it a shot! Does anyone know what method should be done to fill in a slope? The situation is as follows (I'll do my best to describe it in words!)

Our yard is about 15 ft wide, and slopes down gently and evenly at the back, ending at about 3 ft deeper than the rest of the yard. The entire slope is about 5ft long (it starts sloping downwards from about 5ft from the back of the garden). The back of the yard ends as a raised vegetable bed that is about 3 ft tall

My question is whether or not we can just fill in the ditch up to the vegetable bed?If so, what would be the suggested means to do this? Just dump soil in? I have in the past done lasagna gardening (I don't know whether that's the proper name) where one lays down a layer of cardboard to supress the weeds underneath, and then puts topsoil, followed by mulch on top.

Also, the yard is surrounded by those wood plank fences - how do we prevent the soil from spilling/eroding into our neighbor's yard on the sides if we fill in the ditch?

The final complication is that there is a tree growing at the end of the garden as well (a huge pine) inside the ditch.

I know it's hard to imagine this - apologies for not having any pictures! I would appreciate any advice or experience in this issue!

Much thanks,


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saypoint(6b CT)

You can fill it with soil or compost or whatever, just don't create a drainage problem for the neighbors to the rear or sides of your lot. Landscape ties can be set in to terrace it a bit, so it steps down instead of an abrupt drop, maybe you could terrace the sides facing your neighbors as well as the back, sort of like a pyramid.

If you pile soil around the tree, you'll kill it. Changing the soil level more than a few inches around trees is not a good idea if you value the tree.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2006 at 5:03PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I'm not sure that filling it in is a good idea for any reason, especially for the tree which I agree will probably not survive this. If your land slopes, your land slopes; terracing it approximately in keeping with the current lines is quite fine, and can gain you useful area out of the space, but fill is not gonna work. If you're building up soil next to the fence it will rot out quite quickly, if it doesn't fall down first from the weight. And you call this a ditch - ditches usually have some purpose in moving water and can't be filled in at will. You may also be burying your site services, such as a sewer line, deeper. I'd check with the city and probably hire a landscape consultant before undertaking something of this magnitude.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2006 at 5:29PM
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xmpraedicta(3b Saskatoon)

Thanks for the advice. I ask because my neighbors to the west have filled their slope in, and peeking through the fence I seem to see some sort of board or something blocking the soil from spilling through the fence. I'll go ask them sometime to see what they are using.

What you say about the tree is true - I certainly wasn't thinking of covering it's trunk with soil - I was hoping there was a solution to this kind of situation, but it seems like there likely isn't :( Terracing is an option I'll consider - I'm in a bit of a pickle though, because right at the top of the slope directly up from the pine tree is another tree, which if I terrace, will chop it's roots.

All the houses east and west of ours has a similar slope downwards. There is definitely the likelihood that this has some sort of draining function.

I will look for some books that outline terracing procedures from the library. Now that I think about it, it could be rather attractive. Thanks again for the advice.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2006 at 11:25PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

These things can take time to figure out. Took us twelve years after moving in to decide what to do with our yard :-). For more discussion of a similar problem check out this recent thread on this same forum.

Here is a link that might be useful: Unlevel yard

    Bookmark   February 22, 2006 at 12:47PM
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watergal(z6/7 Westminster, MD)

Why do you want to fill in the ditch? We have a similar situation, only on a somewhat larger lot with no fence. When it rains hard, this ditch actually looks like a rushing river. It drains the water away from the houses and down the street to the storm water management pond.

I would love to have the extra space to expand my garden, but I also love having a basement that doesn't leak when it rains and I want to keep it like that. So the ditch stays. It is a pain in the butt to mow, but terracing it would look funny since none of our neighbors have and there are no fences or hedges dividing the yards and we want to keep that "open" look.

I have thought about putting in a nice wooden bridge over the ditch so I can walk to the garden after a big rain without getting muddy feet, but I can't build things and the premade ones are very costly.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2006 at 10:50PM
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Retaining walls of some sort will be a must. If you fill with organic matter expect it "sink", if want a stable substrate use road base or fill sand. Be sure to compact it well.

As for the tree, create a round retaining wall around the drip line if possible but at least 3-4' from the trunk to protect it from any injury.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2006 at 11:03PM
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xmpraedicta(3b Saskatoon)

Thanks again to everyone for the advice and tips!
@karinl, thanks for the link.

I guess my usage of the word ditch was a bit wrong. It's a gentle slope, only ending about 2-3 feet deep, and the slope goes for about 5ft, so overall, it's not an abrupt fall off. I also forgot to mention that the east side of the yard is sloped down as well about 1 foot.

The reason we want to change this is that we are trying to get rid of some of the lawn and convert it to garden (currently, it's just an ugly lawn). There's wonderful sun, so growing things isnt' a problem. I did some research and it seems rock gardens or a ground-cover of sorts could be used on the slope. I did, however, want to check all my options.

I'll try and draw a few schematic pictures and post them here!

@Bloomenhagens - I was also thinking of the retaining wall around the tree if we were to fill in the ditch (I went and peeked at our neighbors again, and indeed they had their yard filled! No one was home today, but I'm going to pop over and ask them whether they have drainage problems).

If we were to really level it (assuming no irrigation problems, etc) I was thinking what we would need to do is to take out the section of the slope so that it is essentially level with the lowest point, fill it with sand, line the edges that meet the fence with a retaining wall, and then fill with organic matter. Have I covered all the bases?

Thanks again. Either way, I think the advice about getting to know the property is extremely important, and I will also consult the city about this.


    Bookmark   February 23, 2006 at 12:47AM
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lpinkmountain(5b/6a border PA)

Work with the slope, design your garden around it. If you mess with the level of the soil around the tree, you WILL kill it. I've done a lot of research on this. Big trees take a long time to die. It may be five or six years before the tree starts to decline after you mess with the slope. But there will be no reversing the decline then, because big trees are also hard to save, remedial action works best for small trees. Established trees are just that, established, so the best you can hope for is to keep the status quo. Call your Cooperative Extension!!! They can help you.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2006 at 1:26PM
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landman(z5 Central Mass.)

An arborist friend of mine who is active in all the professional organizations and up to date on the latest research has told me that the tree well does nothing to save the tree except protect the bark. Meanwhile the roots are buried and those roots extend well beyond the drip line. they actually can extend as far from the base of the tree as the tree is tall. Compaction from the equipment required in the filling process will do the most damage to the tree. Be sure you know what you are giving up when you decide to fill near a tree.

Landman of Mass.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2006 at 8:44PM
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When filling in a drainage ditch you would need perferated pipe and gravel to keep the water going the same direction the ditch intended it too

    Bookmark   March 4, 2006 at 4:24PM
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Hello everyone. I'm new hear and I have a similar problem. The difference in the backyard slope is about 5" in the deepest area. It is lumpy in other parts of the yard as well. I have considered filling it in with about 4" of soil. I wonder if this would be a good idea. Also would like to know what to cover the bottom part of the wooden fence. Would rail road ties be good to put against the fence to keep the soil in and the fence from rotting? Another thing I've considered is leveling half of the yard's length w/rail road ties and curving towards the lower area. I don't have anything growing back there yet, only a mix of st. augustine & bermuda grass. Which would be the best idea? The least costly? As I am on a budget. I have taken some pictures, but have not developed them yet. The yard is about 40'L and about 18-20'W. Any links/pics to similar problems will be appreciated.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2006 at 11:06AM
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jasper_60103(z4 MN)

Do you mean 5 inches or 5 feet?

    Bookmark   April 27, 2006 at 2:39PM
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deejavu(z7 NY)

Hi all,

I am new here too. I also have a slope but it's in front of my house (I will take pictures). I had a retaining wall put up in front of my house and the people who did it made a big mistake by not leveling the soil. I did say something to these guys but they told me that when it rains, the soil will level off. Guess what? It didn't!

So now I have about a 4 foot slope right in front of my retaining wall. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise because I am thinking of getting flagstone to put there so I can plant some creeping phlox and maybe that would look pretty.

Will try to take a picture ASAP.


    Bookmark   April 29, 2006 at 8:24PM
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