The Q&A Archives: Landscaping a Soil Berm

Question: Behind our house is a berm of soil which splits the back yard so that the house is about 20 feet away and the backyard continues for another 80 feet or so. The hill runs about 125 feet long and ranges from about 18 inches high to about 45 inches high. It is now covered with grass (poorly) and is a pain to mow and ugly to look at. On the yard past the berm we will put in our vegetable and fruit garden (the house is one year old and the builder provided us with this berm -- sad for us) and the near side of the yard is a patio and grass and plants and flowers which is attractive.

My question is what can we plant across the scope of the berm to provide cover, erosion control and a pretty view and so we don't have to mow it? We don't mind effort just that grass seems like a big waste of effort and we would prefer something attractive year round. Just thought you would be the best people to ask.

Answer: You probably want to focus on drought-tolerant plants, since the raised soil will drain more quickly and thoroughly than the surrounding area. The type of plants to use also depends on the soil type (is it pure gravel, topsoil, or a mixture?). If it's poor soil, you can keep it simple and plant a flowering groundcover like crownvetch, which spreads quickly and has gorgeous soft pink blooms. If the soul is rich enough to support it, or mix it up and plant shrubs and perennials through landscape fabric, and cover the fabric with mulch. Ornamental grasses that grow in clumps may be a fitting substitute for your lawn grass, and won't need mowing. A soil test is probably the best place to start to determine the limits of what will grow on the berm. Your agricultural extension office (ph# 919/732-9361) can provide you with information on soil testing. Once you have the results, submit another question through the Q&A page, and we can make specific recommendations for plant material. Best of luck!

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