The Q&A Archives: Breaking Up A Steep Hill Into Steps

Question: I live in Zone 5, in the Chicago-land area, I have a steep hill on the west side of my yard that faces east, and gets morning to late mid-afternoon sun, mixed with some shade from the large trees around the area. The hill itself is about 5' high, 100' wide, and slopes at about a 50-60 degree angle. It was covered with grass, which I have removed and I have begun to plant perennials. The soil is good, rich and black (like much midwest soil) but the area of the hill does get a lot of water flow in the spring and fall, but not a lot in the summer (when it's usually hot and dry here). There doesn't seem to be a large amount of soil erosion, as I have been keeping tabs on it since I removed the grass.

I would like to break the steep slope into small steps that I could at least walk on when I work in the garden, but I haven't got a clue as to how to do that. I would like to use rocks, railroad ties, or whatever, to create the step effects. I've talked to 2 professional landscapers and they quoted me at least $1200 to $2000 to do the job. I do not have that kind of money to spend on this project. Is there a good book or site I can get some do-it-yourself information on how to break up a steep slope into smaller steps/or tiers?

I appreciate your answer, and I want to become a member of this organization so I can get much needed gardening info. Thanks!

Answer: It sounds like you should be able to create one or two levels, which will help keep water from running down the bank. You can also create some nice stairs at intervals along the bank. This is quite a big job, though, just to warn you.

It's hard to describe how to construct these without illustrations, but I guess the best image I can conjure up is that you build 3-sided raised beds to create "steps" up the slope. You can use landscape timbers, stone, or any number of materials to make the terraces. You may have to adjust the grade of the slope a bit as you go to accomodate the frames. You may need to construct footers that reach below the frost line to keep it from heaving. Also, you'll want to include some sort of drainage behind the wall to avoid excess water pressure.

I searched our library here, as well as the internet, and didn't find any outstanding guides to help you with your project. Here are a few web sites that might help, and below I've listed a video I found on the online bookstore. I'm not familiar with it, however, so I can't vouch for it.

From -- a video about building retaining walls

I hope this helps get you started!

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