Levelling A Sloping Garden: How & Why You Should Level A Garden

A level garden is more usable, more attractive and much better for the foundation of your home if your garden happens to slope toward your house rather than away from it. During the rainy season, you definitely want rain to move way from your house rather than under it. For this reason, levelling your sloped garden can help retain and enhance the value of your home.

In this article, I will share sound information and low maintenance garden designs to help you decide on the best way to deal with your sloping garden. Read on to learn more.

Your garden should not be completely flat

Ideally, your property should slope away from your house at a rate of approximately a quarter inch per foot. This means that if you are standing a hundred feet away from your house, you should be about two feet lower than your house. This gentle slope away from the foundation will ensure good drainage.

If you do not have this type of grade around your house, you’ll need to get to work creating it. Alternately, if your property slopes toward your house, you must create drainage.

Does your sloping garden really need to be levelled?

If your slope is only mild to moderate, you may do well to simply plant it in a way that makes it more attractive and usable.

Naturally, you never want to have areas of exposed soil. If that’s what you have now, you may wish to try planting a wildflower meadow or a natural lawn of mixed grasses to help retain your soil and improve drainage. Having your area well planted will help prevent erosion.

Low terraces add interest

One method of levelling a sloping garden involves creating terraces. This is a good solution because it gives you a stair-step effect that provides several areas of level ground that you can use for planting, recreation and play.

In some cases, terracing is just a matter of shifting the soil you already have and bracing it up to create a more usable space. When this is the case, you don’t need to purchase fill dirt. Just rearrange the dirt you have, shore it up with edging, border bricks or stone and then get it planted right away to prevent erosion.

Choosing the right plants for low terraces

Plants with rhizomes and deep root systems can really help maintain the integrity of your terraces. Iris is an example of a hardy, attractive plant that creates a sturdy, interlocking rhizome mat that helps keep erosion prone soil in place.

Along the edges of your terraces you could plant a variety of perennials and self seeding annuals that tend to cascade. Some good examples include:

  • Herbs (e.g. cat mint)
  • Purple Russian sage
  • Black Eyed Susan
  • Creeping phlox
  • Shasta Daisies
  • Garden phlox
  • Coneflowers

For texture and colour contrast include dwarf evergreens, wooly lambs’ ear and bright annual blossoms of your choosing.

Establish a good foundation

Be sure to include some well-chosen, deep rooted trees to provide a basic structure beneath your landscaping. Native trees will provide a deep, layered root system that will help prevent problems with fallout erosion. This happens when layers of soil under the topsoil shift and wash away.

Talk with your local gardening club or nursery or do some online research to choose plants, shrubs and trees that are native to your area and will grow enthusiastically in your setting.

Devote a terrace to your veggie garden

Terracing a sloping garden is an excellent way to set aside an area for growing veggies. This, too, will help prevent erosion and improve the drainage of your property.

Devote one terrace, or a section of terrace to veggie gardening. The terrace nearest your kitchen door is a good choice.

What to do about steep slopes

A steep slope left untended can erode quickly and cause its own challenge to the foundation of your home. Terracing is also an excellent way to address this problem. For a steep slope, your terraces would be higher and more dramatic, so you will need to reinforce them well to prevent them from tumbling into disarray.

Here are some of the best choices for building retaining walls to hold your terraces back.

  • Stacked, pre-formed concrete blocks
  • Reclaimed railway sleepers
  • New railway sleepers
  • Reclaimed house brick
  • New house bricks
  • Breeze blocks
  • Natural stone

Reclaimed railway sleepers are cheap or free, and the tar used to treat them means they are long lasting; however, it also means they are sticky to the touch. You may wish to use reclaimed ones for the base of your structure and top them off with new ones if you plan to sit on your retaining walls from time-to-time.

Gabion cages are inexpensive, sturdy and attractive. They are made of strong, coated wire mesh filled with rubble or stone or the material of your choosing. It’s easy to assemble and install the cages and then fill them up to create your retaining wall. You can make your own cages or purchase them as a kit and follow simple instructions.

Terracing a steep slope is hard work, but you are sure to be happy with the end result as it will provide you with much more usable land for planting, walking, playing and entertaining.

Put a single retaining wall in place

If you don’t have the space or don’t want to go through all the hard work of terracing, you could install a single retaining wall with garden fence around your entire property. This choice will involve purchasing fill dirt to build up all the space between the natural lay of the land and the top of your retaining wall.

Single retaining walls can be made of all the same materials listed for use as lower terrace retaining walls. The durability and strength of the wall will depend on the quality of materials used and the design and structure of the footings.

It is wise not to make a retaining wall taller than about two feet high. If you make it taller than that, make certain it leans back into the soil slightly for support. It’s important to realise that a retaining wall takes a great deal of pressure from the combined weight of the soil and of rain water. In fact, wet soil can weigh as much as a hundred pounds per cubic foot.

An excessively tall retaining wall is at great risk of failing because as the height increases the forces at work to topple it also increase greatly. When you double the height of your wall, the tipping force becomes three or four times greater.

Make the most of your sloping garden

A slope can present a real challenge to a landscaper. Before finalising your plans to level your sloping garden, take plenty of time to analyse the situation. Determine what needs to be done to protect the foundation of your home and prevent erosion weighed against what you want to do to enhance the value of your home and your enjoyment of your garden. Careful evaluation may reveal that you can meet your objectives through plantings and careful drain applications without a lot of backbreaking labour.


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