Guide to Hillside Gardening


Tips & Tricks



November 15, 2023

Guide to Hillside Gardening

Landscaping slopes present a unique opportunity to showcase plants that not only stabilize the soil but also create a visual spectacle. Let's delve deeper into the plants that are best suited for slopes and the specific considerations they entail.

The Specifics of Slope Gardening

Front yard and house built in the mountains

Slopes, by nature, pose challenges like rapid water runoff, potential soil erosion, and heightened exposure to elements like wind or sun. To combat these challenges, it's pivotal to select plants with robust root systems and high resilience.

Diverse Plants for a Thriving Hillside Garden in Colorado

Creating a vibrant hillside garden in Colorado requires plants that are resilient and can thrive in the state's unique climate conditions. 

Below is a list of diverse plants perfect for hillside gardening in Colorado:

1. Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

  • Description: Bearberry is a low-growing groundcover that sports small, glossy leaves and produces red berries and delicate pink or white flowers.
  • Growing Conditions: It thrives in full sun to partial shade and prefers well-draining soils. It's also drought-tolerant once established, making it well-suited for Colorado's climate.

2. Blanket Flower (Gaillardia)

  • Description: Recognized for its bright, daisy-like flowers, Blanket Flower adds a pop of color to any hillside.
  • Growing Conditions: Thrives in full sun and can tolerate drought, perfect for Colorado's dry conditions.

3. Rocky Mountain Penstemon (Penstemon strictus)

  • Description: Showcasing tall spikes of violet-blue flowers, this native plant is a staple in Colorado gardens.
  • Growing Conditions: Loves full sun and well-drained soil, and is well-adapted to the Rocky Mountains.

4. Lavender (Lavandula)

  • Description: Lavender brings both visual appeal and a soothing aroma to the garden.
  • Growing Conditions: Requires full sun and well-drained soil, aligning well with Colorado’s climate.

5. Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens)

  • Description: This iconic Colorado tree offers year-round greenery and a classic pyramidal shape.
  • Growing Conditions: Best in full sun and can adapt to various soil types.

6. Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)

  • Description: A native grass that adds movement and interest to the garden, turning reddish-bronze in fall.
  • Growing Conditions: Adapts to a variety of soils and prefers full sun.

7. Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

  • Description: A low-growing evergreen shrub with small leaves, pink flowers, and red berries.
  • Growing Conditions: Thrives in full sun to partial shade, and is drought-tolerant once established.

8. Sedum (Sedum spp.)

  • Description: A drought-resistant succulent that comes in various shapes and colors.
  • Growing Conditions: Prefers full sun and well-draining soil.

9. Apache Plume (Fallugia paradoxa)

  • Description: Offers delicate white flowers and feathery seed heads, adding unique texture.
  • Growing Conditions: Requires full sun and can tolerate poor, well-drained soil.

10. Woolly Thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus)

  • Description: A ground-covering herb with soft, woolly foliage and small pink flowers.
  • Growing Conditions: Thrives in well-draining soil under full sun, perfect for Colorado’s dry hillsides.

The Multi-fold Benefits of Slope Planting

  • Erosion Management: Plants, especially those with deep roots, anchor the soil, reducing the risk of erosion.
  • Visual Aesthetics: A well-planted slope is a dynamic canvas of colors, textures, and movement.
  • Biodiversity Boost: Such gardens become a habitat, attracting diverse fauna - from bees to birds.
  • Optimized Water Flow: Plant roots help absorb excess water, thus preventing water stagnation and possible flooding.

Preparing Your Slope for Success

Bright green weeds
  • Weeding: Before planting, rid the slope of any weeds that might compete with your plants.
  • Soil Enrichment: Incorporate organic compost to nourish the soil and boost its water retention capabilities.
  • Irrigation: While many slope plants are drought-resistant, a drip irrigation system can provide consistent hydration without causing erosion or waterlogging.


An artful blend of design and horticulture, hillside gardens can be both functional and mesmerizing. By choosing the right plants and ensuring appropriate care, your slope can morph into a verdant paradise, arresting in its beauty and rich in its ecological contributions.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can I plant fruit-bearing plants on slopes?

Yes, many fruit-bearing plants can thrive on slopes, provided they have the right growing conditions. Berry bushes such as blueberries and raspberries are especially well-suited for slopes due to their robust root systems. However, it's essential to ensure adequate irrigation to sustain fruit production.

How often should I water plants on a slope?

The frequency of watering depends on the specific plants and the soil type. Generally, slopes tend to drain faster. It's advisable to water deeply and less frequently to encourage deep root growth, which can stabilize the slope. During dry periods, check the soil's moisture content a few inches deep. If it's dry, it's time to water.

Do I need to terrace my slope before planting?

Terracing can provide flat surfaces, making it easier to plant and manage your garden. It can also reduce the speed of water runoff, allowing better water absorption. However, it's not always necessary. Many plants can be directly planted on slopes without terracing. It depends on the slope's steepness and your aesthetic preference.

Is mulching necessary for hillside gardens?

Mulching is beneficial for hillside gardens. It helps retain soil moisture, suppresses weeds, and can prevent soil erosion. When mulching on a slope, consider using heavier mulches like wood chips that won't easily wash away during rains.

Which is the best season to start planting on slopes?

Spring and fall are the best seasons to plant on slopes. During these periods, the temperatures are milder, and rainfall is usually more consistent, offering the plants a better chance to establish their root systems before the intense summer heat or winter cold sets in.