Help needed for a steep bank at backyard!

lizatgarApril 25, 2013

This is the back of my new construction... It's pretty long, about 100 feet wide, 10 feet tall, and 20 feet deep, so it's quite steep as well. The builder wants to put grass there but I think it will be too dangerous to mow. I'm thinking about planting groundcover like vinca (the slope gets full sun in Summer). I know it takes a long time for groundcover to get established, so shall I mulch the whole area for now? Is weed barrier fabric needed? I heard mulch will be washed away by rain... If I let the builder install sod there and plant vinca later, would it be difficult? Any ideas highly appreciated!

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Grass there would be a total hazard, IMO. I'd ask for (insist on) having a ground cover installed and mulched. Find some experts to recommend the very best groundcover for your zone and conditions.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2013 at 7:51PM
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Can't see what you're talking about, but if I understand the description, it seems like not a place one would want to mow. Groundcovers are great, but the problem with them is always keeping weeds out during the establishment period. If you're not able to do that, it will end up being the biggest mess that you ever regretted starting. If you need more advice on it you should show the area with a picture so people can get an idea of its character and setting.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2013 at 8:54PM
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Yardvaark: thanks for your input! I did upload a picture yesterday, don't know why it didn't show up... But here's the picture. Yes I do worry about the weeds, but do you know any better idea? Like river rocks?

    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 10:26AM
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Vinca is a really, really disappointing groundcover when it comes to suppressing weeds. It's the botanical equivalent of going to the block party in a dress made from a fishnet - the day will end badly and include many raised eyebrows from the neighbors. You're better off talking to a local nursery about a groundcover shrub that will do well in your area. Here in VA I'd use cotoneaster or a prostrate juniper like procumbens nana.

If you had $50k lying around you could do a really cool terraced garden, but I think groundcover's probably your best bet.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 11:28AM
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Fridaythoughts. On hiring a green industry consultant or contractor. (Our crews installing jute netting on a planting slope area this week.)

Didn't get this right. Found on Facebook. Picture was of a slope like yours being covered in jute netting. Google this. Believe it's a degradable cover to help stabilize between plantings - cut holes into it for each planting hole.

Good luck on selecting the perfect cover, vinca not being a good option.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 2:51PM
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How did you ever allow yourself to become involved in this situation? Neither groundcovers or creeping junipers will solve your problem as they will becomes weedy and impossible to maintain on that slope. Forget landscape fabric. It will just compound your problem over the years.

You have two choices. As mentioned above, spend the $50,000 and terrace the slope, creating a stunning series of stepped gardens. Or, insist that the builder hire a landscape nursery that has the equipment to spray a mulch (to prevent further erosion) and grass seed combination on the slope surface with wild flower seed added to the mix. This will give you a natural garden slope of weeds, wildflowers and grass into which young saplings will begin to grow, becoming trees over the years. Yup, a tangled mess that offers a natural habitat to birds, bees and butterflies. Can you live with that? Inexpensive solution on your part. Sorry, but it is my quiet feeling that builders who leave home owners with these types of difficult and often costly problems ought to be sentenced in the afterworld to maintaining them.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 3:06PM
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nandina - I'm dying over here @ your reaction. I take it you do not have the pleasure of maybe 1/3 of your clientele being the proud owners of production-built homes? I have an entire subdivision where the backyards look like that. It's pretty special.

I have numerous clients with groundcover shrubs on 1:1 slopes. Yes, the maintenance and weeding sucks till they fill in. Once they do it's actually pretty manageable. It beats the heck out of a weedy mess that's going to get them fined by the HOA and it *really* beats risking injury mowing that thing. I can cut myself on a Nerf football, I'd cut my leg off trying to mow that.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 4:02PM
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As bad as it is, at least this one doesn't have a large patch of 50' oak trees with exposed roots teetering on the edge - as one of my friends had in, yes, a production built home in the Maryland burbs.

Nothing took on that and with every rain became more and more rutted and dangerous looking. I moved back to the Midwest and my friend moved on also - so don't know the ultimate solution. Assuming there was one!

    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 4:28PM
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marcinde - do you have recommendations of plants and how long it takes for them to take over?

nandina - I'm actually considering the wild flower idea, like growing clover on the whole bank to prevent other weeds and then plant shrubs here and there. Would a hill of clovers look too bad?

    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 4:29PM
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Is the house in the back ground of the photo yours or is the shot taken from the back of your house toward the bank? If it is the second, how from your house is the bank and how much run off comes off the bank into your yard? If it is the second wouldn't you want something to screen the neighbor's house?

    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 9:13PM
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The slope is not mowable on any routine basis. (If it were in Georgia it would probably be hydroseeded with Lespedeza. Maybe there's something similar for your area.) The aforementioned grass/wildflower combo might be a good option. I would look around and see what others are doing on similar slopes that are established. I would also consider a bank of flowering trees such as Redbud (maybe three staggered rows) as they have the potential to screen out the background and look nice elsewise. It could become a semi-controlled "natural area."

    Bookmark   April 26, 2013 at 10:59PM
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frankielynn - the house at the top is my neighbor's. My house is in front of the bank, the back side of the house is 15 feet from the bank.

Yardvaark - I talked with a landscaper, she suggested mulching the whole slope, plant a row of pine trees at the top, and plant a lot of shrubs and tall decorative grass on the slope. She said the mulch should be good for 5 years and wouldn't be washed away by heavy rain. I don't know about that - anyone has experience on that?

Thanks everyone for trying to help!

    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 8:31PM
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OHMYGOSH, what is this person thinking? I get mulch wash on gentle slopes during heavy rain. And my mulch of choice, cypress, disappears after about a year.

Liza, I'm really sorry you are faced with this sorry situation. I hope hope hope it can be resolved to your satisfaction. And I'm thinking your municipality's building inspector should have a look at it, with experience from similar situations.

Sighing, in Sugar Hill, GA, Rosie

    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 7:35AM
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99% of the time mulch is a temporary condition. Because it decomposes and washes, it needs to be added to periodically. As it disintegrates, weeds begin to move in. It's better if intentional plants do the job of covering ground. I can't imagine mulch lasting 5 years on this slope. (Maybe a mulch blanket that is pinned to earth ...?) Were this mine, I would not want a row of pine trees at top and a mixture of shrubs/grasses on the remainder. To cover the whole bank with small, flowering trees/large shrubs could be done with a triple staggered row and would only require about 20 plants for that part of the planting. The in-between space could be hydroseeded with grass/wildflowers. Another tree/shrub that comes to mind as a good solution for this bank is Sumac. It's pretty, does not get to towering proportions, has beautiful fall color and forms groves so would easily establish its own "forest."


Staghorn Sumac

    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 9:52AM
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It sounds like they just want to do the cheapest/easiest thing for themselves but not want to make it a good looking or easy care area for you. Can you negotiate something else with them? The mulch will be down that bank after the first hard rain and it will have gullies in it. The silt will build up in your yard and could give you flooding problems.

I know this because we delt with it at our home 20 years ago. Our lovely bank was only 5 feet tall. We used railroad ties to make 3 terraces that are 4 feet wide stepping up the bank and have perennials in one section and veggies in the other. Some of the RR ties need replacing and we aren't as young or strong as we were back then. I am contemplating using the concrete retaining wall blocks or conscripting son and son to be.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 2:18PM
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tgmccallie(z7a NW GA)

I don't know your financial situation but I know that I would do the terrace approach. It would not be too expensive and you could do it yourself. You can put steps which
would be staggered in the terraces. Of course you could use cement block and drive stakes down in the blocks to hold them and then fill with concrete. The block can be
finished with a stucco finish and sprayed with your desirable color. You can have someone haul you some fill dirt and fill in the terraces yourself. I would make at least 2 terraces. With the terraces being flat you can plant them with anything that you desire.
If you do not terrace this slope you are in or a bunch of headaches later and your yard will be a mess from running water down the slope.

You don't have to do this all at one time but build the walls and fill it in first and then you can do the planting the following year.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2013 at 10:40PM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

These kinds of hillsides are pretty common in my area of the country.
We don't start calling them steep hillsides until you need a series of ropes to pull yourself up with.

Getting something growing on the hill to help with erosion would be a good idea either by hand seeding or hydroseeding.
If the hill is soft and crumbly you might also want to pin a natural jute netting across the cut of the face to help with erosion.

If it were my hillside I would be sculpting in some terraces for pathways and planting pockets,

    Bookmark   May 1, 2013 at 2:54AM
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