Living in hilly and mountainous areas may be scenic, but living with a sloped yard precludes many uses of the landscape that could otherwise be enjoyed. Playing sports, socializing and relaxing on a steeply sloped lawn can be difficult or impossible. Landscaping and gardening on a slope is challenging at best. Filling in the yard with imported soil is a logical remedy but can be expensive and usually requires construction of a retaining wall as well.
If there is adequate access to the slope, large amounts of soil can be brought in to create a level area for a lawn, landscape plantings or outdoor structures. "Fill dirt" is an inexpensive product that can be used to form the bulk of the earthworks, but it needs to be topped with at least 8 to 10 inches of topsoil to support the growth of plants. Look at the soil before purchasing it to make sure it's not pure clay or filled with debris. "Screened fill dirt" is usually the best option, because it is a more uniform product.
Another approach is to excavate soil from the high areas and use it to fill in downhill, creating a level terrace in the process. This method can be used to form broad and expansive flat areas, but long, narrow terraces are more cost effective to build and add interest to the design of the overall landscape. The old hillside vineyards of southern Europe are a great inspiration for terrace design. Before digging, call 811 to make sure there are no buried utility lines in the vicinity.
When loose soil is piled on a slope, a retaining wall is needed to prevent the soil from eroding or sliding downhill when saturated. Concrete blocks, wood, railroad ties and natural stone can be used in retaining wall construction, depending on individual tastes and budget. If the slope created by the filled soil is moderate, it can be stabilized with a combination of erosion control fabric, mulch and plants. Slopes with greater than a 45 degree angle require some type of structure to support them.
Hiring a Contractor
Help from a qualified landscape contractor is generally necessary for filling steep slopes or large areas. Building retaining walls over 3 feet in height requires technical engineering and design protocols and should only be attempted by trained professionals. Plus, the quantities of soil that are needed to fill all but the smallest areas are only feasible to move with heavy equipment and specialized tools. If possible, get a personal recommendation when hiring a contractor and make sure your chosen contractor is licensed and insured for the type of work involved.
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