What to Plant on a Hill Too Steep to Mow?

Landscaping a steep hill presents unique challenges, particularly when it’s too steep to mow safely. These inclines are prone to erosion and can be difficult to maintain. Choosing the right plants for these areas is essential, not only to enhance the aesthetic appeal but also to stabilize the soil and reduce maintenance needs. This article will explore a variety of plant options ideal for steep, hard-to-mow hills, focusing on their benefits and how they can transform these challenging landscapes.

The Environment of a Steep Hill

Steep hills have specific environmental conditions that influence plant selection. First, consider the drainage on the slope, as water tends to run off quickly, which can lead to dry conditions. The soil on hills is often less fertile due to erosion and can vary in type. The amount of sunlight the hill receives is another crucial factor, as it determines which plants will thrive. To combat these challenges, selecting plants that stabilize the soil and control erosion is vital. The roots of these plants can help hold the soil in place, reducing runoff and improving soil quality over time.

Ground Cover Plants for Steep Hills

Ground cover plants are ideal for steep slopes due to their low-growing, spreading nature which helps to cover the ground quickly and prevent soil erosion. These plants typically require minimal maintenance once established.

  • Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis): This evergreen ground cover is drought-tolerant and provides year-round interest. Its dense foliage helps to stabilize the soil.
  • Periwinkle (Vinca minor): Periwinkle is a hardy plant that offers both attractive flowers and effective ground coverage. It thrives in both sun and partial shade.
  • Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis): With its spreading habit and attractive berries, Cotoneaster is not only functional for erosion control but also adds visual interest to the slope.
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When planting ground covers, it’s important to space them properly to ensure they form a dense mat that will protect the soil. Mulching around these plants can also help retain moisture and further reduce erosion.

Deep-Rooted Shrubs and Trees

For greater stability and erosion control on steep hills, deep-rooted shrubs and trees are highly effective. Their extensive root systems anchor the soil, reducing the risk of landslides or washouts. Here are some suitable choices:

  • Juniper Shrubs (Juniperus species): Junipers are excellent for slopes due to their deep and extensive root systems. They offer year-round greenery and can tolerate poor soil conditions.
  • Pine Trees (Pinus species): Certain pines, like the Mugo pine, are well-suited for hillsides. They help stabilize the soil while adding height and structure to the landscape.
  • Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia): This fast-growing shrub not only stabilizes the soil but also brings vibrant yellow blooms in early spring, adding a burst of color to the hillside.

When planting trees and shrubs on a slope, it’s important to create a level area or terrace around each plant to reduce water runoff and ensure the plant gets enough moisture. Mulching around these plants can also help retain soil moisture and reduce erosion.

Ornamental Grasses for Slopes

Ornamental grasses are another excellent choice for steep, hard-to-mow hills. Their fibrous root systems are effective in binding soil, and their varied textures and colors can enhance the visual appeal of the slope.

  • Fescue (Festuca species): Fescue grasses, particularly tall fescue, are drought-tolerant and can thrive in poor soil conditions typical of steep hills.
  • Miscanthus (Miscanthus sinensis): Known for its tall, feathery plumes, Miscanthus adds height and interest to the hillside. It’s also robust and can grow in a variety of soil types.
  • Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum): This native grass is not only sturdy and easy to grow but also provides habitat for local wildlife.
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Ornamental grasses require minimal care once established and can be cut back annually to maintain a tidy appearance. They offer a practical and aesthetically pleasing solution for challenging slopes.

Drought-Tolerant Plants for Steep Hills

Watering on steep hills can be challenging due to rapid runoff and poor water retention. Drought-tolerant plants are ideal in these conditions as they require minimal watering once established. Here are some excellent choices:

  • Lavender (Lavandula species): Lavender is not only drought-resistant but also adds a beautiful fragrance and color to the hillside. It thrives in full sun and well-draining soil.
  • Sedum (Sedum species): These succulents come in various shapes and colors, are excellent for dry conditions, and offer interesting textures and blooms.
  • Yucca (Yucca filamentosa): With its striking form and tolerance for dry conditions, yucca is ideal for adding architectural interest to a slope.

These plants generally require less frequent watering and can thrive in the challenging conditions of a steep hill, making them both practical and visually appealing choices.

Incorporating Native Plants

Using native plants in your hillside garden has multiple benefits. They are adapted to the local environment, requiring less maintenance, and they provide essential habitat for local wildlife. Here’s how to incorporate them:

  • Research Local Flora: Discover which plants are native to your area and suited for hillside conditions.
  • Consider Ecosystem Benefits: Many native plants offer food and shelter to birds, insects, and other wildlife, contributing to a healthy local ecosystem.
  • Blend with Other Plants: Native plants can be mixed with non-native drought-tolerant and ornamental plants for a diverse and resilient garden.
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Native plants not only reduce maintenance but also enhance the ecological value of your property.


Planting on a hill too steep to mow can seem daunting, but with the right selection of plants, it can become a thriving, low-maintenance garden. Ground cover plants, deep-rooted shrubs and trees, ornamental grasses, drought-tolerant plants, and native flora all offer unique benefits for stabilizing and beautifying steep slopes. By choosing a mix of these plants, you can create a diverse, attractive, and sustainable landscape that enhances your property while addressing the challenges of a steep hill. Embrace the opportunity to transform a difficult terrain into a vibrant and functional part of your garden.