Home Improvement Expert Danny Lipford

How to Plant Trees and Shrubs on a Slope or Hillside

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Shrubs planted on a hillside

Planting trees and shrubs on a slope can be a challenge.

When landscaping on a hillside with trees or shrubs, proper planting is key. Taking a few extra steps during planting will ensure that your landscaping stays put and grows strong. When planting on a slope, the roots and trunk should be vertical; and the ground modified, so water is directed to the plant’s roots, rather than running straight off.

Follow these steps when planting trees and shrubs on a slope.

Step 1: Build Terrace

Create a flat area or small terrace in your slope, about three times the diameter of the root ball of your tree or shrub. You can create this terrace by:

  • Cutting into the hillside.
  • Building out of the slope (probably will require a retaining wall or rocks).
  • Combination of cutting into and building out the slope.

The less you disturb the original soil, the more stable your slope will be. The finished terrace should be firm enough to stand on while working.

Drawing of the three approaches to planting on a slope

Different methods of constructing a terrace on a hillside for planting.

Step 2: Plant Tree or Shrub

Now that you have a nice flat spot, plant your tree or shrub with the trunk upright and vertical and the root ball at the proper planting depth. Position your planting hole near the center of the terrace, and try to leave some undisturbed soil on the downhill side to keep from having the following problems:

  • If the plant is too close to the bottom edge of the slope, the roots may become exposed by erosion.
  • If the plant is too close to the top of the slope, it may become buried by soil or debris tumbling down the hill.

Step 3: Create Berm to Hold Water

As you backfill around your tree or shrub, put the excess dirt on the downhill side to create a small berm to catch water as it runs down the slope. Make sure not to pile extra dirt directly on the root ball, but make a “half-donut” shape around the plant instead.

Step 4: Apply Mulch

Put about 2-3 inches of mulch around the tree or shrub to help hold the dirt and berm in place, keeping the mulch a few inches away from the trunk. If you’d like, you can first put down a layer of landscape fabric or mesh held firmly in place with garden staples. Be sure to choose non-slippery landscape fabric, so your mulch won’t slide off.

Drawing of how to plant  a tree or shrub on a slope

The ideal approach to planting a tree or shrub on a slope.

Step 5: Water Plant

Water your tree or shrub well to help settle the soil. Fix any problems that arise after the first watering, to make sure the planting is stable.

Step 6: Monitor Plant

Keep an eye on the tree or shrub for a few months to make sure the soil is settling properly, water is being captured, and the roots are staying in place. Make sure the roots aren’t being buried by falling debris, and the berm stays in place for at least a year or two, until the plant is well established. Reapply mulch as needed to help hold water.

Further Information



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