Ask a Question forum: STEEP BANK problems

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Name: Betty
Harrisonburg, VA (Zone 6b)
May 1, 2017 3:15 PM CST
HELP!!! We have a 100' long, 8' steep bank, about 45-degree slope. Southern exposure, no shade, so gets lots of sun. Moved here about 4 yrs ago, and it was just a weedy mess then. Had it "professionally" landscaped with a few dogwood trees and a couple of crape myrtles. And about 30 ENGLISH YEWS (which we were told would spread & cover the bank). And lots of mulch! The dogwoods & crape myrtles are doing fine. But only about 5 of the Yews look really green & healthy; 10 are living but, weak, thin, & not grown much; and 15 never took root & died. So we replaced the 15 really bad ones with BLUE PACIFICA JUNIPERS, which hopefully will spread, hopefully quickly. We planted these last 15 ourselves - enlarging the holes a bit, adding MiracleGro Soil for Trees & Shrubs, fresh mulch, and a Jobe's Fertilizer Spike just outside the dripline.

HOWEVER, there's still the problem of WEEDS!! We had the bank treated with a pre-emergent & completely re-mulched the 2nd yr. Last year we sprinkled Preen pre-emergent & re-mulched again, but still had to spray regularly with a weedkiller (Spectracide), careful not to get it on the bushes.

#1- Is the Preen or Spectracide leeching thru the soil & killing the plants (as well as weeds)? The bank is too steep to weed by hand. Mulch won't stay in place on garden fabric when it rains.
#2- Is the MiracleGro fertilizer (and even just watering) for the plants, actually stimulating weed growth as well?
#3- Which kind of feeding/fertilizing would you recommend: a slow-release, granular plant food or Jobe's spike feeding? or an immediate water-disolvable plant food?

Any advice or suggestions would be greatly appreciated!!!

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Name: Porkpal
Richmond, TX
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Keeper of Poultry Farmer Roses Raises cows
Garden Ideas: Level 2 Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Plant Identifier
May 1, 2017 3:59 PM CST
Welcome to the forum!

Wow! That is a challenge. I am pretty much a flatland farmer so others will have to offer advice. I am just amazed that you got anything to hang onto that slope.
Name: Karen
NM (Zone 7b)
Region: New Mexico Region: Arizona Cactus and Succulents Greenhouse Sempervivums Bromeliad
Adeniums Garden Ideas: Level 1 Tropicals Xeriscape Garden Art Plumerias
May 1, 2017 4:11 PM CST
We have similar slopes, and so far nothing but weeds have grown there. I've tried low junipers and different ground covers. We need something to help hold the slopes from eroding.
Handcrafted Coastal Inspired Art SeaMosaics!
Name: June
Rosemont, Ont. (Zone 4a)
Lover of wildlife (Raccoon badge) Beavers Region: Canadian Dragonflies Butterflies Cactus and Succulents
Birds Cat Lover Native Plants and Wildflowers Deer Garden Ideas: Level 1
May 1, 2017 4:19 PM CST
Hi @charlieandbettyf
It looks to me like years and years of weeding with difficulty on a steep slope. Have you thought about terracing the slope so that you have level planting areas and retaining walls?
Name: Karen
NM (Zone 7b)
Region: New Mexico Region: Arizona Cactus and Succulents Greenhouse Sempervivums Bromeliad
Adeniums Garden Ideas: Level 1 Tropicals Xeriscape Garden Art Plumerias
May 1, 2017 5:48 PM CST
June, I've thought about it, but we couldn't do it. We would need to call in people with heavy equipment, and it would be very pricey.
Handcrafted Coastal Inspired Art SeaMosaics!
Name: Deb
Pacific NW (Zone 8b)
Region: Pacific Northwest Organic Gardener Deer Ferns Herbs Dragonflies
Spiders! Dog Lover Keeper of Poultry Birds Fruit Growers Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
May 1, 2017 5:59 PM CST
I would suggest contacting your local native plant society and your county conservation folks to see if they can help you with suggestions of natives that would grow well for your specific conditions. Not only would you have better luck getting them established, you'd also enjoy less maintenance, and it would benefit your local insects, birds, and small mammals. My local native website shows different planting plans for different applications, e.g., sunny slope, deep shade, boggy area, etc. And the conservation folks run a twice yearly seedling sale which is quite reasonable, especially when planting a large area (they run about $3-5 for bare root bundles of 5-10). You do have to run water to them the first year or two, but once they are established they are relatively maintenance free.

Good luck, and keep the photos coming - we all like to follow projects vicariously!
I want to live in a world where the chicken can cross the road without its motives being questioned.
Name: Daisy I
Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
Not all who wander are lost
Garden Sages Plant Identifier
May 1, 2017 6:34 PM CST
I spent 30 years gardening on a cliff in California and you are right, not an easy task. But it can be done. Luckily, my current 'cliff' is much smaller but, unluckily, it is made of sand.

Part of the problem is that the hill is not stable enough for a plant to catch hold. And part of the problem is that the water runs off before it soaks in.

Instead of trying to terrace the whole slope, create little planting terraces with rocks or brick (on the outside of the hole) big enough to hold one plant. Choose plants that have extensive root systems with a lot of small matting type roots. Put in a drip system so you water only the plants, not the weeds. Stake the dripline in place, otherwise, it will roll off the hill.

The junipers are a good choice. Also Forsythia, Flowering Quince, Summersweet (I like things that bloom). Plants that stay short will do better than plants that get tall. Trees tend to fall off steep slopes - hopefully, yours will stay.

Your questions:

1. Preen is a pre-emergent - it kills seeds as they germinate so will have no effect on your plants. I have never used Spectricide but I assume its like roundup so no, it won't effect plant roots either. BUT using a general herbicide spray, ie roundup and specticide is asking for dead plants. Its not possible to contain all those tiny droplets of poison that are drifting in the breeze, even on the stillest of days.
2. Yes. But, if you use a slow release fertilizer tied into net bags and placed in the mini-terrace under each plant, you will minimize the problem.

Using a drip system that waters only your plants will also cut down on weeds.

Oh, one more thing. Make a path through the slope to maintain your plants. Tramping up and down the slope is helping to destabilize it. You can cut out stepping stone size steps into your hill, put in the stepping stones and use them for walking.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proclaiming...."WOW What a Ride!!" -Mark Frost

[Last edited by DaisyI - May 1, 2017 6:37 PM (+)]
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Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
Sunset Zone 5. Koppen Csb. Eco 2f
Frugal Gardener Garden Procrastinator I helped beta test the first seed swap Plant and/or Seed Trader Seed Starter Region: Pacific Northwest
Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Avid Green Pages Reviewer Garden Ideas: Master Level Garden Sages I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! I helped plan and beta test the plant database.
May 1, 2017 7:07 PM CST
Hi Betty! Welcome to NGA.

I think this would be the "extension agent" for your county. They should be able to suggest some websites for native shrubs, grasses or ground cover.

Consider searching things like "erosion control".

Local "Master Gardeners" are all about answering questions - maybe they can suggest good local cover crops for steep banks, or websites that specialize in VA native plants.

You might look at commercial websites to [i]figure out what plants you want[/u], but then look for free or inexpensive plant swaps that may give those away at greatly reduced cost.

Oh, wow! Goggling "va native plants for sale" brought up a lot of commercial sites and "org" sites.

Name: stone
near Macon Georgia (USA) (Zone 8a)
Plant Identifier Garden Sages Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
May 2, 2017 7:26 AM CST
If considering the native plant route....
I strongly advise getting over the "tidiness fixation".
Those plants trying to grow on that bare slope aren't weeds, they're soil stabilizers.
Instead of trying to beat God, allow the natural plants to grow, and GET THEM IDENTIFIED!

After you find out what plants you have, you may realize that the naturals are of value.

Instead of spreading poisons, spread mulch. You haven't put down near enough.

Personally, I don't think much of your plant selection.... Consider wax myrtle, if you are stuck on shrubbery... Wax myrtle has great wildlife value.

What about perennials like daylilies and phlox?
Unless you have a deer issue....

It wouldn't be difficult to come up with a list of stuff that would grow happily on your slope.... The hardest issue to overcome is going to be the heavy equipment that you had on the slope.... Not much likes growing on a hard pan.... Almost want to suggest stuff like yuccas and succulents...
Name: stone
near Macon Georgia (USA) (Zone 8a)
Plant Identifier Garden Sages Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
May 2, 2017 11:14 AM CST
I think you should try a butterfly garden...
Plant some common milkweed for the monarchs, and a bunch of different salvias.
Butterflies and hummingbirds!
Try several different milkweeds...
Name: Lyn
Weaverville, California (Zone 8a)
Garden Ideas: Level 1 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
May 2, 2017 12:57 PM CST
I am very grateful I inherited slopes with the planting issued pretty much solved.

To me, Mrs. J was a genius ... Smiling

The slope behind this rose is almost verticle.

The slope behind this rose is almost vertical. There is a row of about 6 to 8 inches of river rock at the base. Then river rock was used in places to create the little planting niches and to hold chicken wire in place. Then she planted invasive vinca.

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The slop in the back yard was a much greater challenge. It may look like a smooth slope in the photos, but there are a LOT of drop offs ... Smiling

The junipers you see in the photo have been there since the 1960s and are probably holding the slope in place. The bottom portion of the slope is faced with river rock. There is a slightly flatter area around the fir tree where she planted more vinca, some irises,a couple of forsythia plants and a cotoneaster.. (I haven't taken care of them). The vinca took a hard hit during the four year drought because I did not water it, so it looks awful in the photos.

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I did not water the junipers at all during our four year drought.

I'd rather weed than dust ... the weeds stay gone longer.

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