Your Hillside Landscape Guide: Creating a Functional and Beautiful Yard

Anyone that lives on a hill or has a sloped backyard knows that landscaping can make a big difference in how the yard looks, is enjoyed, and even drains. Some homeowners might be disappointed that they can’t enjoy their yard due to its hillside nature. However, some of the best, most beautiful landscaping projects have resulted out of sloped yards. Whether you’d like to add a waterfall, terraced garden beds, or even start a backyard forest, the opportunities are endless. 

Having a hillside landscape isn’t a disadvantage, but can make for a rather stunning place to spend time. With the proper grading and drainage, your hillside yard can be enjoyed for years to come. Continue reading to discover everything you need to know about hillside yards, from special landscape considerations to plant and pathway ideas that will make the most of your slope.  


Special Landscape Considerations for Hillsides

Sloped landscapes need to be taken care of in terms of draining and grading. Both are important not only for your yard’s health, but also the long-term care of your home. Issues like water damage shouldn’t be ignored. To protect your home’s structural integrity, make sure you have the proper drainage system in place and adequate grading. 



Slopes and hillsides have their own grade, which landscape designers can measure. If your hill is on the steeper side, it may need specific landscaping techniques to anchor the soil properly. Homeowners who live on a slope don’t want to deal with mudslides or collapsing yards due to a steep grade. Landscape designers can help with lawn grading and leveling to make your yard functional and safe. 



Rainwater will run from the top of your hillside to the bottom, leading to pooling water if there’s no drainage solution. Additionally, yards without proper drainage can ruin plants, cause erosion, and even damage foundation. Thankfully, there are various ways that homeowners and landscape designers can control drainage damage on sloped lawns, such as: 

  • Plant trees and shrubs
  • Utilize an erosion control fabric
  • Dig drainage ditches or trenches
  • Build retaining walls
  • Use a step terracing technique


Beautiful Solutions for Your Sloped Landscape

Now that you understand the risks and special considerations associated with sloped yards, let’s dive into how to make hillside yards beautiful (and functional). Experienced landscape designers can recommend the best ideas for your sloped yard, including the ones described below. 


1. Backyard Forest

Creating a backyard forest might seem like an unconventional idea, but it’s actually one of the best ways to take advantage of a hillside in your yard. A forest will also help with drainage and can be done at almost any level of grading. Visit your local nursery to find trees that will thrive in your climate, or work with an expert landscape designer


2. Anchor the Hillside

Plants’ roots can help keep soil in place and minimize erosion. This process is called “anchoring” and can be done with any number of plants. Trees, shrubs, flowers, and grass will all work to keep the soil where it should be. Various plantings thrive on inclines and can help make your yard more beautiful at the same time.


3. Terrace Garden Beds

For exceptionally hilly properties, retaining wall garden beds can be the perfect solution. Not only do they look amazing and help make your sloped yard more functional, but they also aid in proper drainage. Terraced garden beds can be made from dry stones, interlocking pavers, bricks, or wood. Then, how you fill the garden beds is up to you!


4. Waterfall

Hillside yards naturally lend themselves well to a waterfall feature. Starting at a high point, water features can be added that cascade down to the lower portion of your yard. Many different types of stones can be used, including:

  • Slate
  • Sandstone
  • Limestone
  • Granite


5. Add Rocks

Utilizing stones to reinforce a hillside can prevent erosion and help to stabilize the soil. For an even more stunning look, add plants around the large rocks. Their roots will help maintain the ground, and it’ll add another visual element to your landscaping. 


Top Hillside Drainage Techniques to Avoid Puddles

Choosing the right plants and landscaping isn’t always enough. Homeowners with hillside yards have to be aware of how improper drainage can damage their yard and home. When water isn’t draining correctly, your foundation and basement can take the hit. Not to mention the possibility of pooling water in your yard, which can ruin the plants and grass you have there. Discover the best drainage systems for hillside yards below.  


1. Channel Drains

When placed at the bottom of a slope, channel drains can collect rainwater without ruining your yard’s aesthetic. Plants or groundcovers can easily disguise them. 

2. French Drains

French drains are similar to channel drains. They consist of a drainage pipe set in a gravel box, which is then covered with fabric. Rainwater will be ushered away from unwanted areas with a French drain.

3. Retaining Walls

One of the best drainage techniques for hillside yards is a retaining wall. They encourage proper draining by creating gaps where water can flow and continue through your landscaping. As a natural vertical drain, retaining walls are a great solution. 


Perfect Plants for Your Hillside Yard

Minnesota, and the rest of the Midwest, has a wide variety to choose from when it comes to the best plant options for hillside yards. Many trees and shrubs will thrive in the Midwestern climate while providing much-needed soil protection and natural drainage. 


Shade Trees

Slopes that receive direct sunlight are the perfect place for shade trees, which are sturdy and can help make your backyard space cooler by providing shade. Midwestern shade trees, which are excellent choices for hillside yards, include:

  • Sugar maple
  • Red maple
  • River birch
  • Ginkgo
  • Tulip tree
  • White oak


Erosion Control

If you are most concerned about erosion in your yard due to the sloped landscape, it’s crucial to choose trees and shrubs with extensive roots. They will significantly reduce the chance of erosion thanks to their natural root networks. The following trees and shrubs are excellent options for erosion control:

  • Creeping juniper
  • Douglas fir
  • Chokecherry
  • Red osier dogwood


Ornamental Trees and Shrubs

Along with functional plants, you’ll want some that add beauty to your yard, too. Landscapers often refer to these shrubs and trees as “ornamental.” The best options for the Midwest are:

  • Dwarf forsythia
  • Golden St. John’s wort
  • Cutleaf stephanandra
  • Chenault coralberry
  • Black cherry
  • Black walnut


Pathways Suited for a Sloped Landscape 

Finally, you might want to consider adding a pathway to your sloped yard. Just because you have a hillside to contend with doesn’t mean you can’t have a beautiful path, too. Landscape designers have the knowledge and experience to create a beautiful path in your yard. Consider the following ideas for your hillside walkway:

  • Stamped concrete
  • Wooden ramps 
  • Flagstone stairs
  • Tree stump stairs 
  • Brick pathways
  • Railroad tie Stairs
  • Stepping stones and plants 
  • Stones and tiles
  • Mulch
  • Gravel 

Contact a landscape designer today to start designing the pathway of your dreams. 


Making the Most of Your Hillside Yard

The friendly team at KG Landscape can help you make the most of your hillside yard. Whether you’re worried about having proper drainage or avoiding soil erosion, we can recommend the best plants and landscaping to utilize in your sloped yard. Creating a beautiful outdoor oasis isn’t hard when you have an experienced landscape designer on your team. Get a quick quote today to start your project!