Minimal maintenance is an oft-stated and laudable goal when it comes to slopes. But know that there’s never a maintenance-free garden—except maybe Mother Nature’s forests! We maintain to help our plants grow and establish, and to keep our gardens tidy and healthy.
Initially, you’ll find yourself crawling around on your slopes to pull weeds and fertilize new plantings. But if you’re persistent, if you install a good base of mulch or groundcover, and once your plants become established, maintenance gets easier and easier each year. If you’ve selected the right trees and shrubs for the space, you should have to do very little pruning beyond developmental pruning the first couple of years. If you’ve planted or seeded annuals and perennials, you may need to clean up spent flower heads and stems at the end of the season. Ornamental grasses need to be cut back in late winter. If you have grassy paths, you’ll need to string-trim or mow. If your paths are mulch, gravel, or wood chips, you will need to periodically refresh them.
I grab a bucket and walk through my garden once a week, hand-pulling weeds when I see them. This way, they never get out of control. At the same time, I look over my shrubs for signs of disease or insects that need attention. My grassy paths get a string trimming once every three weeks during the growing season. I allow perennials and annuals—echinachea, poppy, heliopsis, coreopsis, and cosmos—to reseed themselves freely on my steep slopes. Then I spend one nice day in December or January removing the spent flower stems and cleaning up the bank. I estimate about four to eight hours a week of maintenance in my half-acre steep slope garden.
My biggest maintenance challenge is replenishing mulch every other year as it decays and enriches the soil. I use double-ground hardwood mulch that knits together and sticks nicely to the slope. Climbing the hills and spreading the mulch one bucketful at a time is not an easy task. But as my groundcovers and shrubs fill in, I need less mulch each year and even this task is becoming easier.
Article written by Beth Leonard, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.