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Landscaping a steep cut backyard slope?

 
Posts: 48
Location: Ontario - zone 5b
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My mother had earthworks done last fall to cut back a slope to try to trench water away from her foundation. For a few reasons, the job started late, ran late, and was over budget. They finished right at the first bad frost. The grass seed they planted shows no sign of coming up and my mom's budget is long gone. She lives I'm a small town that's pretty friendly so long as your yard looks neat. She told the epitome of tidy yard lady across the street she planned on planting the front as a vegetable garden and got a, that sounds nice :)

Mom is left with a cut slope 2.5H:1V to 3H:1V that is steeper than she really wants to lawnmower and a bunch of topsoil that ran into the ditch and now needs to be hand dug, and spent the winter chipping ice trying to get the water to not run against the foundation. She may only live here another year or 2, or may live here next 15 years. Soil is glacial till, possibly a morraine,  aprox 60% fine sand, 20% coarse sand, 10-15% silt, 5-10%gravel, trace clay, trace cobbles. 'Topsoil' brought in is similar but with maybe 5% organics.

So. What to do with this cut slope?

Criteria:
- Cheap
- Low maintenance
- Looks 'tidy'
- Only takes a few afternoons to install by two women with lots of gardening experience but low stamina and hand tools only. Or maybe very cheap to rent other tools.

Her first suggestion was landscape fabric, black mulch, and bushes. But all those things are pricey- and I hate black mulch. She vetoed my bamboo suggestion. We half jokingly are considering just getting free or cheap woodchips mulch and planting squash as its visible from the kitchen window and she thinks squash are pretty. But not sure that would hold the soil down oversion the winter. We can get a few perennials from family and neighbours, but not enough to fill the whole slope. Maybe enough to plant one contour? Also considering maybe staking some poles horizontally to catch runoff. Not much organic material available. She vetoes anything that may become a full sized tree.

Any other ideas? Would ditch lilies in the ditch be a good idea or just fill in the ditch?

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Posts: 906
Location: Ohio, USA
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Free wood chips is a good idea...a bale of hay would go along way to making seed stick. I can't tell how much water you expect on that slope,  and that makes a huge difference to the approach I'd suggest. In general, for things to stick, the water needs to move in a small enough quantity and in a slow enough fashion to not carry seeds away. If it is currently carrying seeds away, you can increase friction, create barriers, slope changes, etc. To get it to move slower. That's where bales of hay/straw do great, because they are cheap, but so are free wood chips, the dirt on sight, etc.

As for what to grow/plant, there's so many fun things! If budget is an issue, you can start with a pack of tomato seeds or some other low-maintenance edible that can give you a return then budget that return money for more fun, permanent things.

Often over looked are your spice herbs and tea herbs. They almost all flower. It takes a little time for establishment, but as they are perrenial, they will protect the soil year-round and only have to be purchased once.  

I am fond of rhubarb for it's large leaves, colorful stems, and gigantic white bouquet of flowers in spring.  There's bush cherries, American Hazelnut,  and a number of other plants who get only bush height. You may have to order them and they may come as bare-root sticks. The price is better, but the plants look pathetic for the first 3 years.

I never use landscape fabric. I hate the stuff. Why create dead zones in your yard? Instead, I use living ground covers. There's so many choices. Good luck!
 
Catie George
Posts: 48
Location: Ontario - zone 5b
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Well... beginnings of success. I got quotes for icky chemically coloured mulch and for just chipped softwood, delivered. Cheap chipped mulch is less than half the price, delivered. Plan is to mulch at least 10 cm deep, as my mother hates weeds. So... chipped mulch it is ! Planted a saskatoon bush and transplanted a line of daylilies to the top of the slope and began hand digging a trench to divert water from the house. Enough shoveling for one day. Mulch can be delivered after the trench is done. Also bought some perennial seeds to plant after its mulched. The front garden perennials are overgrown and I can split them once mulch is in. I also want to divide a family members  rhubarb and other perennials.  
 
Catie George
Posts: 48
Location: Ontario - zone 5b
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Another update - more than two months in and this project is .....slowly.... taking shape.  About 2/3 finished mulching the slope, but will likely need another load of mulch before I am done, as we are also mulching elsewhere. I have transplanted more than 100 perennials, and dozens of annual food plants. I am super pleased with how well the perennials have done - maybe one dead one, and I blame my "helpful" dog for that. Well, except the perennials I planted from seed, which all died or didn't come up

I decided that, rather for looking for the "ideal" plants to hold back the slope, I would accept any and all perennials i could get for free or cheap that need limited care, and the result is really pretty. So far this year, we've been treated to blooming (in rough order of appearance) : saskatoon bush, irises, lilac, daylilies (a succession there of), primrose, delphinium, and sedum, and hardy rose  (with much more to come, including echinacea, bee balm, rudbeckia, etc). It looks rather sparse this year, but I am sure next year will be even more glorious :)  The bumble bees really like it too.

I love gardens that integrate food and beauty - so mixed in are 10 ish tomato plants, a few squash plants (failure, they are 3 months old, blooming, and the plants are 10 cm in diameter), a saskatoon bush, pole beans, melon plants (replacements for the ones eaten by something), some herbs, etc. Who says a vegetable garden can't look pretty?

The neighbours are getting a kick out of what we have planted  - the front yard also has tomatos, a squash, and many peppers, and peas, lettuce, beets, and beans, radish, and rhubarb - about 50% food plants and 50% decorative plants.  We've been supplying the next door neighbour with lettuce, and will proabably drop off other things later in the season. She used to garden, but her health no longer allows her to,  and she has a very limited income, so she's pretty tickled to get fresh produce delivered. The neighbour across the street will probably get stuff too when things really start rockin'. The soil is bad and the root crops are doing terribly, but oh well. Elsewhere by the shed, I planted raspberries, elderberry, LOTS of rhubarb, potatos, asparagus, and strawberries.

My mom had originally estimated $3-5000 to hire someone to bring in a backhoe to dig a trench at the base of the slope and line it with landscape fabric, then cover the slope with mulch and plant a few bushes.  I hand dug the trench (with help from mom), and used cheap chipped cedar mulch from a local sawmill, so even with the loads of mulch, landscape fabric for the trench, and a few hundred dollars in plants (most of the plants have been taken from family/neighbours/transplanted from elsewhere in the yard). I haven't kept close track, but with buying one more load of mulch, will probably be at <$1000 ish, including some topsoil, and the many plants and bushes I put in elsewhere in the yard. My labour is, of course, free in her calculations :)


Edited to attach pictures!!
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(Almost) completely mulched and trenched slope
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Tiny squash plant with gardener's foot for scale
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50% edible front garden
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Prettiest hardy rose I've ever seen !
 
gardener
Posts: 5948
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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For such a slope the ideal would most likely be to terrace it so you had two flat areas for planting. No matter what you plant on such a slope, a heavy rain will cause erosion as you mentioned one rain already moving lots of soil to the ditch below.
Mulch can be washed away by a heavy rain, I've got gravel that was packed tight that now has a gulley from a rain storm that dropped 4 inches on us in 5 hours. I've even got a spot that was nice grass that was washed out during that rain event.

Terraces are not hard to build (just time consuming for the most part) and there are lots of different materials that can be used to build them.
In decades past many were built with old rail road ties, a decision that turned out to be just Ok, since the creosote ended up leaching into the soil of the lower portion(s).

On Buzzard's Roost we have a steep slope both north and south so what I am doing is using the "junk" trees, as I fell them I make stakes from the larger diameter branches then stack the trunks against the lower stakes, the up hill stakes are close enough to the lower stakes to hold the wall in place.

Other options are to grass seed the area at least three times so the plants end up tight to each other which will allow the water to ride over the root section of the grass plants and not make it to the soil in large enough quantities to wash out  the soil.
You could use designer concrete blocks (the ones that have a face created to look like stone) and work up from the lowest point, making two block high mini walls but that would not leave much of a  flat planting zone between the walls, three high is fairly usual for terraces on slopes like that one you showed.
You could even use 2x6 board pieces, sharpen one end and drive that into the soil along a string line, as long as the boards are driven down about a foot they should hold soil back fairly well for at least a few years.

I wish you great success in this project.
 
Catie George
Posts: 48
Location: Ontario - zone 5b
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:For such a slope the ideal would most likely be to terrace it so you had two flat areas for planting. No matter what you plant on such a slope, a heavy rain will cause erosion as you mentioned one rain already moving lots of soil to the ditch below.
Mulch can be washed away by a heavy rain, I've got gravel that was packed tight that now has a gulley from a rain storm that dropped 4 inches on us in 5 hours. I've even got a spot that was nice grass that was washed out during that rain event.

Terraces are not hard to build (just time consuming for the most part) and there are lots of different materials that can be used to build them.
In decades past many were built with old rail road ties, a decision that turned out to be just Ok, since the creosote ended up leaching into the soil of the lower portion(s).

On Buzzard's Roost we have a steep slope both north and south so what I am doing is using the "junk" trees, as I fell them I make stakes from the larger diameter branches then stack the trunks against the lower stakes, the up hill stakes are close enough to the lower stakes to hold the wall in place.

Other options are to grass seed the area at least three times so the plants end up tight to each other which will allow the water to ride over the root section of the grass plants and not make it to the soil in large enough quantities to wash out  the soil.
You could use designer concrete blocks (the ones that have a face created to look like stone) and work up from the lowest point, making two block high mini walls but that would not leave much of a  flat planting zone between the walls, three high is fairly usual for terraces on slopes like that one you showed.
You could even use 2x6 board pieces, sharpen one end and drive that into the soil along a string line, as long as the boards are driven down about a foot they should hold soil back fairly well for at least a few years.

I wish you great success in this project.



Thanks Redhawk, I appreciate your advice!

Luckily??? we had almost daily hard rain this spring which did a good job of flattening the slope before I got around to doing anything. We used the soil excavated from the trench to slope the ground away from the house. The plants do seem to help. I planted most of it before mulching, and after a hard rain, there were far fewer and much smaller gullies - I guess the plants are interrupting waterflow at least somewhat - I have high hopes for the daylilies. The friction angle of the shredded mulch *should* be higher than gravel, as there is a lot more interlocking so it should lock fairly well into the slope. Or rot and slide away, we shall see...  

I really, really wanted to terrace, but that was vetoed - it would also have been a lot of work to do by hand in the dense glacial till, or would have required bringing in a lot of fill. The fake stone concrete is lovely, and is what i originally proposed to my mother, but it was out of her budget. There is one especially steep corner by the fence (currently covered in evening primrose) and depending on how it holds up, I may have to go back to and put in the concrete blocks next spring. She vetoed a retaining wall with 4x4 timbers as not being durable enough for the cost. She vetoed staking narrow logs horizontally across the slope as not looking nice.  

The major rainfall events are probably done for the year, so the next test will be in the spring - I will go back to this if it starts washing away during spring runoff...

 
yeah, but ... what would PIE do? Especially concerning this tiny ad:
Hope in a World of Crisis - Water Cycle Restoration
https://permies.com/t/118080/Hope-World-Crisis-Water-Cycle
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