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Evergreens, flowers and shrubs perfect for planting on hillsides
Arricca Elin SanSone | January 14, 2015
Monrovia

Red Head Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) | Monrovia

Planting on a slope presents a particular set of challenges. Poor soil composition, uneven amounts of moisture at the top and base of a hill and runoff are the dominant issues that make hillsides tricky to plan.

Yet, it’s not impossible to create a functional and attractive plant palette. “They key is to do your homework,” says Sam Schmitz, grounds supervisor for The Gardens at Ball in Chicago. “Neither you nor your client will be happy if you use great plants that wash away in the first heavy rain.”

If you’re engineering the site, you can choose the soil composition. But in most cases, you must work with what you have on site already. For this reason, get a soil test and determine the underlying structure before planting. “For example, a 25-degree slope with sandy soil is going to allow water to run down hill easily,” Schmitz says. In this scenario, you’d need aggressive erosion control measures.

For any gentle slope that is 3 to 10 percent, select plants that will provide some erosion control. On slopes greater than 10 percent, you may need to incorporate retaining walls, terracing, boulders and other landscape tools such as erosion control blankets and turf reinforcement mats. There’s also a safety issue: Slopes greater than 20 percent are too dangerous to mow (or even to weed if the surface is wet and slippery), so plantings should be low-maintenance.

The type of plants you choose are equally important. Annuals, such as lantana, add color but do little for keeping the soil in place in the long run. Many perennials, such as delosperma, provide some erosion control but can be slow to establish. Shrubs and trees can be used, but you must select the right types. For example, if you install an evergreen with a tap root, they absorb a lot of moisture but don’t hold the soil in place very well; soil erodes over time and the plant eventually dies.

The best options for hills are plants with dense, fibrous root systems or a combination of these plants and erosion control techniques such as terracing.

Try a few of these varieties and old favorites to make your next hillside project a success:

Evergreens

Monrovia

Monrovia

Blue Chip Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’)

Low-growing, cold-hardy variety produces silver-blue foliage. It takes on a plum-like color in cold climates in winter. Deer resistant. Grows a foot tall, 6 to 8 feet wide.

*Full sun

*Hardy to USDA Zone 3

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Proven Winners

Proven Winners

Celtic Pride Microbiota (Siberian Cypress Microbiota decussata ‘Prides’)

Hardy, disease-resistant and deer resistant variety. Lacey foliage does well in cold climates and turns rust color in winter. Tolerates shade better than junipers. Grows 12 to 36 inches tall and 40 to 60 inches wide.

*Part to full sun

*Hardy to USDA Zone 2

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Monrovia

Monrovia

Huber’s Tawny Gold Spreading Yew (Taxus x media ‘Huber’s Tawny Gold’)

Dense shrub with a nice texture and vase shape. Looks good layered under taller trees. Needs regular watering in extreme heat. Slow grower. Grows 3- to 4-feet tall, 4- to 6-feet wide.

*Part to full sun

*Hardy to USDA Zone 4

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Flowering

Monrovia

Monrovia

Purple Queen Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea ‘Moneth’)

A trend in Europe is growing climbers as groundcovers to create a show of hillside color. Variety has deep purple blooms and is drought tolerant once established. Grows 18 inches tall, 6 to 8 feet wide.

*Full sun

*Hardy to USDA Zone 10

 

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Monrovia

Monrovia

Madame Julia Correvon Clematis (Clematis viticella ‘Madame Julia Correvon’)

Another climber that works as a groundcover. Showy pinwheel flowers. Performs in warmer climates where other large-flowered clematis won’t grow. Fast grower. Grows 8 to 12 feet long.

*Part to full sun

*Hardy to USDA Zone 4

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Proven Winners

Proven Winners

Scentsation Honeysuckle (‘Scentsation’ Lonicera USPPAF)

Showy vine with very fragrant flowers that bloom mid-spring to mid-summer. Adaptable to most soils. Red berries.

*Full sun

*Hardy to USDA Zone 4

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Grasses

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Monrovia

Elijah Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’)

Icy-blue color with needle-like blades. Dwarf clumping variety holds up well in heat. Drought tolerant once established. Fast grower in dense mounds. Grows 8 to 12 inches tall and wide.

*Full sun

*Hardy to USDA Zone 4

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Monrovia

Monrovia

Morning Light Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’)

Eye-catching green blades with cream margins. Not invasive. Nice effect when planted en masse. Deer resistant. Clumps grow 5 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide.

*Part to full sun

*Hardy to USDA Zone 5

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Monrovia

Monrovia

Red Head Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides)

Reliable easy grower with green blades and pink flowers. Fall and winter interest. Grows 24 to 36 inches tall and 18 to 24 wide.

*Full sun

*Hardy to USDA Zone 5

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Shrubs

Proven Winners

Proven Winners

Double Play Blue Kazoo Spirea (Spirea media ‘SMSMBK’ USPPAF)

New spirea with neat, mounded habit. Cool blue foliage with hints of burgundy look and red fall color. Attractive in mass. Spring flowers. Grows 24 to 36 inches high and wide.

*Part sun to full sun

*Hardy to USDA Zone 3

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Proven Winners

Oso Easy Fragrant Spreader Rose (Oso Easy Fragrant Spreader Rosa ‘Chewground’ PP 15981)

Landscape rose that covers large areas. Doesn’t need pruning or spraying. Offers abundant fragrant and colorful blooms for a long season. Grows 12 to 24 inches tall and 48 to 60 inches wide.

*Full sun

*Hardy to USDA Zone 3

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Proven Winners

Show Off Starlet Forsythia (Starlet Forsythia ‘Minfor6’ USPP 24,361)

New variety that offers bright yellow flowers from base to tip in spring. Doesn’t require pruning. Deer resistant. Dwarf variety grows 24 to 36 inches tall and wide.

*Full sun

*Hardy to USDA Zone 4

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