The Q&A Archives: garden path on a hill

Question: I have a hill that slopes into a stream and I can not keep the weeds out of it. I'm afraid to plant on the hill because I don't want to soften the hill since my house sits on the top of the slant. How can I keep weeds out of it and is it possible for me to plant anything on the hill that would keep the weeds away? Thanks.

Answer: There are many ways of trying to control weeds. We can remove them by hoeing them out or by burning them with a flame gun. We can try to prevent them growing by putting down mulches. Each of these methods have their advantages and disadvantages and each has situations where they are applicable. A thick ground cover will help deter weeds, or at least keep them at a minimum. The roots of the ground cover will help knit the soil together and keep the hillside from eroding.

Here are a few suggestions:

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi: Bearberry is an evergreen shrub growing about 10cm tall and eventually 1 metre wide. A good plant for sunny banks, it requires an acid soil. The fruit is edible.

Fragaria species: There are many species of strawberry that can be used for ground cover. Some of them have exquisitely flavored fruits, though they are somewhat smaller than the cultivated strawberries and are often not borne freely. My favorites are F. moschata and F. viridis. They grow best in a sunny position in a well-drained soil but do tolerate some shade. They spread very freely by runners, quickly forming a dense mass of vegetation and swamping out any small plants.

Thymus species: The Thymes make very good ground cover in well-drained sunny positions, they are very drought tolerant. The following species can be added to salads or cooked foods - T. praecox, T. serpyllum, T. vulgaris and T. x citriodorus. This last, the lemon thyme, is my personal favorite, the leaves have a lovely lemon flavor.

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