Garden on a slope

Growing A Vegetable Garden On A Hillside

Vegetable gardens are tucked away in all kinds of places. Although most people would prefer a nice, level area for their vegetable garden, this is not always an option. For some of us, slopes and hillsides are a natural part of the landscape; in fact, it may be the only part of the landscape available for use as a vegetable garden. This, however, doesn’t need to be a deterrent or cause for alarm, as growing a successful hillside vegetable garden is possible. I should know; I’ve done it.

How to Grow Vegetables on a Hillside

The degree of slope affects the type of irrigation you can use, and the slope of the land determines which way the rows run in your garden. The best solution for hillsides is to plant your vegetables across the slope using contour rows, terraces, or raised beds. This not only makes it easier for you but also prevents problems with erosion.

Also, take advantage of microclimates when placing crops. The top of a hillside will not only be warmer but drier than the bottom, so keep this in mind when selecting the placement of vegetables in the hillside garden. For instance, moisture-loving plants thrive best near the bottom of the slope. For best success, the vegetable garden should be located on a south or southeastern slope. South-facing slopes are warmer and less subject to damaging frosts.

For my hillside vegetable garden, I chose to create 4 x 6 (1.2 x 1.8 m.)beds. Depending on your available space and number of family members, the amount of beds will vary. I created six of them, along with another separate herb garden. For each bed, I used heavy logs, split lengthwise. Of course, you can use whatever suits your needs. I chose this only because it was sturdy and readily available free of charge, as we had been clearing trees off the landscape. Each bed was leveled out and filled with layers of wet newspaper, soil, and manure.

To save on maintenance, I established paths between each bed and around the entire vegetable garden. Although not required, I applied a layer of landscaping fabric along the pathways and added shredded mulch on top to keep weeds out. The mulch also helped with runoff. Within the beds, I used straw mulch to help retain moisture and keep plants cool, as I live in the South where it tends to get very hot in summer.

Another method I used for growing my hillside vegetable garden was growing certain crops together in groups. For instance, I planted corn and beans together to allow the beans to climb up the corn stalks, reducing the need for staking. I also incorporated vine crops, such as potatoes, to keep weeds to a minimum and cool the soil. And since these vegetables do not ripen at the same time, it enabled me to have a longer harvest. Small stepladders are also good for vine crops, especially pumpkins. Alternatively, you can choose compact varieties.

In my hillside vegetable garden, I also implemented companion flowers and herbs to help eliminate problems with insects without resorting to the use of chemicals. The area around the hillside vegetable garden was filled with flowers, enticing beneficial insects into the garden.

Although the beds were a lot of work in the making, in the end it was well worth it. The hillside garden even survived the harsh winds and rain as the result of a nearby tornado. Nothing washed down the hill, although some of the plants did take a licking in all the wind, bending them over. Nonetheless, I found success with my hillside vegetable garden. I had more produce than I knew what to do with.

So, if you find yourself without a level area for a vegetable garden, do not despair. With careful planning and the use of contour rows, terraces, or raised beds, you can still have the greatest hillside vegetable garden in the neighborhood.

How To Garden On A Slope

Should I use a single type of plant to create a carpet? Or is a mix of different plants better?

It’s not a good idea to use just one type of plant on a slope. Trying to create a uniform look tends to highlight the flaws, such as a dead plant or weeds. Filling a hillside with a mixture of plant types – trees, shrubs, perennials and ground covers – forms an eye-catching garden that also helps diffuse the impact of rain on the slope.

For a low-height garden option, plant a mix of ground covers that flower at different times of the year. Allow plants to battle for real estate as they grow, and you’ll wind up with flourishing plants that are best suited to your growing conditions.

What types of plants work well on slopes?

Some of the best plants for a slope are ground covers that tend to root along the length of their stems, forming a mat. Clumping plants, which produce several stems from one root, also work well. Deep-rooted plants, such as prairie plants, hold their own on even the steepest slope. Ornamental grasses, ground cover roses and shrubs (including shrub roses with a sprawling growth habit) work well in hillside and slope planting. Native plants are nearly always an excellent choice.

Can I plant wildflowers on a slope?

Drifts of wildflowers dress a slope with multi-season interest and are easy to maintain. For wildflowers to naturalize and create a self-sowing garden, you’ll need to mow or cut stems down after plants go to seed (after a hard freeze in cold regions). For the first year or two, until plants establish, weeding is vital. In other words, wildflowers work best when a slope isn’t so steep it prevents easy access. When sowing wildflowers from seed, spend the money for a top-quality seed mix, which will have fewer weed seeds.

Are there no-mow grasses I can plant on a slope?

Check with your local Cooperative Extension System office to learn if any varieties of Buffalo Grass will survive in your region. Also ask if there are any types of Fine-Leaf Fescue for your region that can be grown without mowing.

If a slope is not steep, can I grow turf that needs regular mowing?

Yes, you can. The general rule of thumb is to avoid mowing turf on slopes less than 10 feet wide and steeper than a 25% grade. The bigger challenge with growing grass on a slope is watering. This is a vital consideration in areas with dry summers. Any water you apply tends to run downhill, so you can end up wasting a lot of water.

Are there any plants I should avoid?

Many plants typically suggested for a slope have tenacious growing habits and can easily become invasive. Check with your local Cooperative Extension System office or garden center before planting to ensure that your plant choice isn’t a potentially scary one.

These plants can prove problematic due to their invasive potential: Crown Vetch, Japanese Barberry, Scotch Broom and Virginia Creeper. Plants such as English Ivy, Liriope, Vinca and Ajuga work very well on slopes but can invade nearby lawns. Contain these plants using barrier edging. Snip stray Ivy or Vinca stems.

Also avoid planting shallow rooted trees on a slope. The risk of toppling is too great.

Are there any other issues to consider when planting a slope?

Steep slopes are serious business. Before planting them, check with a local landscape contractor to ensure you’re not creating a potential erosion problem that could endanger your home.

What are some great plants for a slope?

For Sun

  • California Lilac (Ceanothus spp.)
  • Catmint (Nepeta spp.)
  • Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis)
  • Forsythia (Forsythia — try “Arnold Dwarf” for small spaces)
  • Little Bluestem Grass (Schizachyrium scoparium)
  • Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)
  • Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium)
  • Rockrose (Cistus spp.)_
  • Rockspray cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis)
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
  • Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
  • Shrubby Cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa)
  • Snowberry (Symphoricarpos spp.)
  • Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum spp.)

For Shade

  • Astilbe (Astilbe spp.)
  • Common Periwinkle (Vinca minor)
  • Japanese Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis)
  • Lily-Of-The-Valley (Convallaria majalis; leaves turn yellow in summer; plant with a partner that looks good in summer)
  • Siberian Carpet Cypress (Microbiota decussata)

Raised Garden Bed Dimensions

Circular 1027-4 View PDF picture_as_pdf

David Berle and Robert Westerfield
University of Georgia Horticulturists

  • Materials
  • Slope
  • Accessibility

Raised garden beds are a great way to both organize plot space and provide easy access for school and community gardens. To determine the dimensions of raised beds, consider three basic questions:

  1. What materials will be used to construct the raised beds?
  2. Is the garden site flat or sloped?
  3. Will the raised beds be accessible to all of the gardeners?

Materials

Standard Lumber

Plan ahead if you will be purchasing new lumber. Lumber comes in 8-, 10- and 12-foot lengths, so keep the dimensions of your raised beds to multiples of 2 or 3 feet to minimize waste. For example, if the bed dimensions are 3? x 6?, then 12-foot lumber is perfect. A 4? x 8? bed is most easily built with 8-foot lumber, although 12-foot lumber works, too.

Recycled Materials

If recycled wood is used, the length of the lumber determines the width and length of the bed. Again, the idea is to reduce waste when cutting. There is no set length if the raised bed is constructed of rock or blocks, but keep in mind that gardeners will need to easily get around the entire bed.

Wall Thickness

Wall thickness will depend on the material used and should be incorporated into the dimensions of each raised bed and the overall layout plan. For example, 8-inch-thick recycled concrete blocks will take up additional space and require a longer distance to reach across. Lumber that is only 1 inch thick will require a vertical support approximately every 4 feet.

Slope

The soil in raised beds should be flat, which means the constructed frame should be level when installed. To avoid excessive excavation when the site is sloped, install the raised beds with the shortest dimension perpendicular to the slope, like stair steps.

Accessibility

Width

One major goal of raised beds is to alleviate the need for gardeners to step into them. This means gardeners should be able to easily access the bed from all sides. Plan raised beds that are 3 feet wide for children and 4 feet wide for adults. If providing wheelchair access, plan raised beds that are 2 feet wide for children and 3 feet wide for adults.

Length

The length of a bed is not as critical as the width, but bear in mind that very long raised beds can be a hassle to walk and work around. While the length of a raised bed will be partly determined by available materials, keep in mind that the cost of lumber increases noticeably if the length is more than 12 feet.

Height

The higher the bed, the more imported soil will be required. This will add to the cost and labor involved in the garden project. In some situations, raised planters can be built that are 10 inches deep, but elevated off the ground with legs or blocks. This is ideal for wheelchair access and also saves on imported soil. However, the bottom must be strong enough to both hold the weight of the soil when it is wet and still allow water to drain. A few other considerations to keep in mind:

  • Most garden crops need at least 10 inches of soil to thrive. If the raised bed height is lower than this, till the existing soil below the raised bed.
  • If the raised bed is on top of a hard surface, the minimum recommended height of 10 inches may not be deep enough for some crops, like potatoes.
  • Young children need beds closer to the ground.
  • For wheelchair access, beds should be 24 inches tall.
  • A bed that is 36 inches off the ground helps avoid excessive bending over.
  • Consider having a mix of bed heights to accommodate different gardeners.

Paths

If possible, beds should be laid out in a pattern that allows access to one central path that stretches from one end of the garden to the other. A wider central path provides room for gathering and access for everyone. If it is a very large garden, more than one such path will prove useful. To provide access for a small truck, make this path at least 10 feet wide.

Gardeners also need paths to move from bed to bed on foot and sometimes in a wheelchair. At an absolute minimum, 12-inch paths will be needed between raised beds. This width works if the space is tight and there won?t be a lot of gardeners working at the same time, but to allow more comfortable access, 18- to 24-inch paths are ideal. For paths to provide enough room for carts, wheelbarrows and wheelchairs, allow 4 feet between beds.

Orientation

Orientation of raised beds is not usually a problem if adequate space is left between beds for access. Tall crops will shade lower crops behind them if both are planted in the same bed. Tall crops will shade lower crops in nearby beds if they are planted on an east-west orientation and if the beds are close together. If possible, lay out beds in a north-south direction.

Irrigation

Consider the irrigation system when you are planning the layout of raised beds. Drip irrigation is much easier to install when beds are in an orderly pattern, preferably a straight line. Overhead sprinklers can be placed and adjusted to cover almost any garden layout, but they work best if raised beds are in a circular, square or rectangular pattern. Hand watering will require dragging a hose throughout the garden; uniform bed spacing and layout will make this task easier.

Status and Revision History
Published on Feb 27, 2013
Published with Full Review on Aug 31, 2016
Published with Full Review on Sep 30, 2019

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