Updated: November 2017

Landscaping a Sloped Yard:

I live in a small town just outside of Portland, Oregon and the area has lots of sloped yards. Landscaping options are definitely limited (grass is rarely a choice when the slope is too steep). When we moved in 10 years ago the front hillside had been recently landscaped with ground cover and some smaller bushes. Over that decade the ground cover had really grown in and the bushes tripled in size. The problem is that the 3 trees on the hillside dump 1000's of leaves each Fall and this creates a problem when trying to clean them up because they get caught within the ground cover. We have vinka and Rock cotoneaster on the hillside and it has taken over the majority of the open space. I personally hate it, but I realize some of it is needed to keep the hillside from losing dirt down the hill. Ground cover is best for stopping soil erosion. After talking with a reputable landscaper, we came to the conclusion that I could get the ground cover removed and replace it with something else that would still keep the hillside intact.

The process was going to include stripping the top 1 1/2 inch of soil of all the ground cover and hopefully the roots to any of the plants. Let it sit for about 30 days (in March) to see if we got it all. At the end of the month we would see what had grown back and remove that as well. Then, the landscaper was going to put down a mesh topping on the exposed hillside and proceed to cover it with bark mulch. Let me say that all the large roots of the trees were kept on the hillside so it wasn't completely baron. At this point we proceeded with the new plants being put in. I wanted more azaleas and a few dwarf rhododendrons along with some new rose of sharons and a bloodgood maple. The whole idea was to add some definition to the space and limit the ground cover. I have always felt that a well defined hillside looks much better than one with too much ground cover. I have included a few pictures down below to see the transformation. The best time of year to do this type of project is right before Spring. You want to remove the ground cover but give it a month or so to make sure you got it all before moving on to the other things. If you did this project in the dead of winter, you may not see any signs of returning ground cover and completely miss the opportunity to remove it. Much of the work can be done by a homeowner - I personally did about 10 hours of removing the Rock cotoneaster (the root systems go on and on). I took off the top level of the vinka, but left all the main roots for the landscaper. They had one guy work on the hillside for an entire day with a hoe and a forged road rake (heavy duty metal rake). He did a good job of removing the top soil and hopefully getting all the roots of the ground cover. They came to lay down the jute and put on the bark mulch - entire project took 1 day. The jute gets rolled out and stapled to the ground with metal staples that go down about 4 inches. It will be very secure going forward. Then, the bark mulch was layed down on top of the jute and evenly distributed on the hillside. The plants will go in next, the biggest issue here is that the jute will have to be cut open to get the plants into the ground. Not a big deal, but if you see the jute below in the photos, you can see it's like a thick yarn/rope.

Cost to Landscape Slopes:

The big question for most homeowners is the cost involved with any project of this scope. I figured on about $1500 if done properly and we came in a bit over budget. I could have done a little more of the prep work but I figured 10 hours was plenty and given that they can work more efficiently for rather cheap I let them handle the manual labor. I did get involved in buying the plants and getting some into the ground. I visited several local nurseries and scouted out the plants and shrubs I wanted to fill in the hillside. We were able to get some great seasonal discounts on Azaleas, Rhododendrons, and Rose of Sharons. The more mature the plant the more expensive, so we went with about 14 plants at roughly $20/each. Since the rest of the hillside is rather mature, we figured having brand new plants that were small may look silly. Overall, we are totally happy with the new look and hope we can maintain it going forward. I know for sure I won't be struggling with weeding all year or having to remove leaves buried under ground cover. That in itself makes the project worth it.

* Labor to remove ground cover - $300
* Laying down the mesh tarp/cover on hillside - $600 (labor and material)
* Laying down bark mulch and planting new plants - $900 (labor and material)

Hillside - stripped of all the ground cover.

Lots of roots still exposed - that is fine.

Larger view of what had to be removed.

The roots from the large birch trees will hold up the hillside.

You can see an example of the ground cover next to the region that was cleared.

It's amazing how thick the ground cover became over the last decade.

Looking down from the sidewalk - the slope was steep.

Jute comees in rolls - ready to start the hillside makeover.

Rolling out the jute.

The jute is secured to the hillside with large, metal staples.

Lots of bark mulch ready to go.

Hillside covered with the jute.

The jute will keep the hillside stable and hopefully prevent remnant weeds and plants from growing through.

Bark mulch was layed down - about 4 inches all over.

Another angle from the street - really looking good.

From up above, the slope has a whole new face.