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sunsetridgechalet

steep slope issues in northeast

5 months ago

I have a vacation home in the Hudson Valley – Berkshire area in zone 5B. I have a steep rocky slope on the property. These photos show what it looks like once the weeds have been cut down. I am seeking ideas of ways to improve the appearance of the slope. Of course, since this is a weekend home keeping the cost and maintenance down are considerations. Thank you in advance.

Comments (33)

  • 5 months ago

    What was your objective in removing the vegetation?

  • 5 months ago

    we wanted to get a clear view of the slope itself (level of rockiness, general composition of soil, etc). i should have added in the original post that the slope gets abundant sunshine, at least when the sun is out. 😀

  • 5 months ago

    Well good you just cut down and didn’t pull out the existing plant cover. Now let it grow back and then ID Every single thing using an app like Plantnet or posting to here in the Name This Plant forum. Only when you inow what you have can you move forward in an intelligent way.

  • 5 months ago

    What re we voting on in this poll?

  • 5 months ago

    You want shrubs and ground covers. However, either will probably require weeding or, over time, weeds will take over. In sun, I'd recommend moss phlox (phlox subulata) if you have sun. Pearly Everlasting is a pretty, spreading, native. Goldenrod is always good for coverage, too. Along with asters. Creeping Juniper is native, will provide, over time, pretty much total coverage and will prevent erosion. In shade, I'd recommend tiarella and the native aster (you'll see it everywhere in the fall, probably growing wild on your property).


    If you want to turn it into a beautiful garden, it's quite doable, more work and you have to tell us sun or shade. A meadow-type or wild garden is done in 3 layers. The first, the matrix is the background. You need lots of it. You'd want lots of ferns for shade, probably Penn sedge for sun.

    The second layer are a few plants that provide color through the season. For sun, hoary vervain and Coneflower for the late summer. Goldenrod and asters for fall. Phlox and bulbs for spring.

  • 5 months ago

    thank you! i failed to mention in my original message that the slope gets full sun.
    i like the idea ground cover. could that be layer 1 of the 3 layers. i ask bc i would love a wild garden but know it takes some time.
    as far as ground cover, what about creeping thyme, or should I just go with phlox?

  • 5 months ago

    I am going to repeat myself about first finding out what is already there. You may need only to edit. And you will learn what is required to eliminate what you do not want.

    It is also possible to reveal more of the rock face if that is what you want.

  • 5 months ago

    very helpful, thx

  • 5 months ago

    Find native clumping grasses and intersperse with a few flowering natives that aren’t aggressive. Google Piet Oudolph.

  • 5 months ago
    last modified: 5 months ago

    If the slope is visible from the curb, driveway or house, you could create a hillside rock garden for the visible parts. The rocks will add interest, create flatter planting areas and help slow down water and soil runoff. The plantings can be informal - native grasses, a few trees or bushes, etc.



  • 5 months ago

    Yes, the matrix layer of a meadow garden is essentially a groundcover. I happen to hate creeping thyme because it crept all over my lawn and it's not native. But, it would work. My moss phlox is creeping slowly, but easy to control.


    If you go with groundcovers and natives, you probably want plugs. I happen to like The Pollen Nation. The prices are good and the plants are sturdy and have done wll for me.

  • 5 months ago

    I will weigh in as a suburban gardener who more recently ( and maybe not wise) moved to a house set on a challenging lot with slopes, rocky soil, too many oak and sweet gum trees ( meaning, leaves, “ fruits”, and volunteer tree seedlings), and some open areas kind of messed up by the power co. because of overhead power lines.

    Which prompted me to do a lot of reading about slopes, soils, natives, maintenance issues. Some baseline questions are: can you “ walk” the slope if you have to, even if want to limit that to a minimum. I have some slopes that I can do so, some I can buy maybe won’t be able to in 5-10 years, and some that are not walkable even now.

    That’s for ability to plant, to do selective weeding ( Roundup, actually, as often better than pulling) , weed-whacking seasonally for dried vegetation or for beheading tall weedy stuff before flowering.

    Do you have ability to water, & how easily, for even drought- tolerant plantings need to be established. Do you have a gradation of watering “ reach” and willingness, which might allow you to maintain some thirstier( but not too thirsty) plants in specific areas possibly because they are useful and/ or pleasing in some way or just take longer to establish.

    I like the general concept by Design Fan if you take that and lower your expectations for tidiness by an order of magnitude or so. On your slope you won’t be able to rely on mulch for weed control and it takes a looooong time to develop a “ living mulch” and even that will still grow “weeds. “
    But I thing the idea of layered of root mass & depth— tough shrubs & medium plants and grasses/ sedges/ low-growers— is good.

    What on earth is the soil like? And is it variable? You will likely have to just plant into what’s there rather than being able to do any amending. So not the same as a homeowner killing his lawn, tilling, and having a homogeneous expanse to set out a photo- op matrix planting. I have a tool that is a long pointed metal rod that is a soil- tester. To stick in ground and see how soft or rocky or what. But it turns out a lot of my soil has such frequent rocks just below surface that this tool has not prove useful. I just have to start pickaxing and see what happens. But, can you walk you slope with a handpick, dibble, something, to determine how “ plantable “ it is, maybe the most and least promising areas. Mapping it essentially, unless miraculously it is all pretty plantable. Because to plant things you have to dig holes! Little holes for plugs, big holes for 2-3 gal shrubs. Of course some things may prosper by re-seeding. I agree to some extent with kitasei2 about discovering what’s there. To some extent.

    A wonderful poster, Christopher in CNC, who recently died way too young from lung cancer, had a blog on his wild garden and though he curated it and planted things he liked, he often noted that things some people might consider “ weeds” were actually expected and useful not to mention, in-winnable fights. A comment I have somewhat taken to heart was, “ anything under a foot tall is your friend”. Because that is serving as a groundcover and already likes the conditions.

    I don’t know how many square feet you have there. It is no small thing to plant out the whole area, effort and expense. And need a planting plan— where shrubs, where other, do you need to buy 50 plugs of one thing , will you do a major install or attack one section at a time and repeat. Ben _____ has Stories on HOUZZ as well as books, lots of stuff by others too on “ matrix” planting.

    I applaud natives but not necessarily non- aggressive! If it’s a wild low- maintenance large slope you will want some things to take off. Partly it’s terminology. Aggressive and spreading vs invasive/ spread elsewhere. Also I never rule out non- natives if are right plant for right place. You can have both. Natives grow , um, naturally where the conditions are right, and they die and are replaced by, nature, so some of the hype is unrealistic. Expect to plant things that die, other things grow more.

    I have deer and drought. Randomly, I am working with some junipers— for a bit of evergreen/ tough drought; trying New Jersey Tea ( shrub), Low- Gro sumac which I wish would spread more- lot of the sage family and mountain mints because, deer. Coneflowers and rudbeckias I love but they munched this year. Several goldenrods. Sedums ( deer eat some). Baptisia for deep roots/ erosion control. Switchgrass. Sedges mostly needing part sun/ drought.

    Sorry this is so long— but it depicts some of what I see as the gap between Inspo pictures and Real Life.
  • 5 months ago

    Key question: if this is a vacation home, do you have deer (and/or rabbits)? If you do have deer coming through, you need to choose plants that deer will leave alone! Or you could waste a lot of $$ on new plantings…

  • 5 months ago

    Ben Vogt.

  • 5 months ago
    last modified: 5 months ago

    Since this is a holiday home in a woodsy looking natural environment I would not attempt to 'garden' it at all. I'd stick to tough native species, many of which already appear to be there (eg the birch) and just weed whack it periodically and edit out the undesirables. I can't see you having the time or ability to water, deadhead, etc.

    I think I see garlic mustard which needs to go. There's a thorny vine which might be a native bramble or a multiflora rose, but either way you probably don't want it. The rocky outcrops are beautiful as is the carpet of oak leaves. I wouldn't try to turn the area into a tidy suburban garden.

    If you post pictures of some of those basal rosettes and seed stems that I can see, we might get you some ids.

  • 5 months ago
    last modified: 5 months ago

    @mamiegard had a point. If the spoil is very rocky, you really need plugs. I have a rocky slope and planting even small trees is tough. For the price of 3-5 easy-to-plant plugs, you can buy one regular plant and struggle to get enough rocks out of a big-enough hole.

    Wild blueberries (Vaccinium Angustifolium) do really well on sunny, rocky slopes in Maine. They're pretty in the spring when blooming, attractive in the summer and stunning in the fall. Not that easy to cover a large slope, until they're ready, though.


    It's also worth noting that you will probably have a mix of lovely, native plants which are thriving in your conditions and noxious weeds that will choke out any lovely, native plants. The noxious weeds might be pretty enough, but they aren't going to support wildlife. Get a good wildflower book, one for your area. I have a Peterman, copyright 1968, which used to be my mother's. It's really good. I look up everything. So, a used book store might produce a gem. You want to stay away from coffee table books or national books. Both will have a selection of plants, but not every flower you might encounter in your yard.


    There's also an App, "wildflowers of X" (X being your region) which is good. iNaturalist can be good and can have some dodgy IDs. It's far easier to look up plants when they are blooming or seeding. It will take an entire season, because some things are pretty meh most of the year and lovely when they bloom.


    Often, you'll appreciate your "weeds" better if you know what they are. I have Apios Americanos (groundnut), which has a lovely, strange, chocolate-smelling flower in the fall. It's a vine that climbs over everything. However, knowing it's a native that has a lovely flower, I guide it to where I want it to be, rather than having it straggle over my lawn and twine up my iris and blueberries. It went from obnoxious to prized because I know what it is.

  • 5 months ago

    The Name That Plant Forum here on GW is probably going to be quicker than a book and more reliable than an app. People can often even give you an id from a seed head or winter rosette.

  • 5 months ago

    floraluk that is a great idea.

    And I reiterate while I’m interested in native plants, and supporting wildlife ( excluding deer!) , I call, No shame/No blame when an average homeowner is trying to manage a challenging slope with not much there-time. Because what’s already there is liking the conditions and I would look at it more as to whether it “ behaves” just enough to be allowed to stay- preferably not brambles and vicious vines and such. Natives won’t thrive on a particular site just because they are native to a state or region. So a gardener has to try to match the APPARENT conditions with native plant growing conditions and then you still might find out, drainage isn’t as good, roots didn’t establish, needed more water for first year or 2.

    That’s actually not to be discouraging, but more, one might try a small area or 2 for “ fun” and also the plant ID as per floraluk, and weed- whacking, which as I understand it is more forgiving for plant rebound if you need some amount of “ control” while you’re figuring some things out.
  • 5 months ago

    Not a gardener here, but I'm also an owner of a steep slope to the NE behind my house - I didn't want a garden, but I did want to add some stability to the slope to help cope with expected changes over the next 10 years (rain, wind). My landscaper recommended creeping juniper as being attractive, native, and good for stability. I like the evergreen colours too.

  • 5 months ago

    Creeping juniper has been mentioned as native twice here. There is a native version but you will orobably have to go out of your way to find it. Most juniper for sale here is Asian. Id be interested in some sources for the other myself.

  • 5 months ago

    " Most juniper for sale here is Asian. Id be interested in some sources for the other myself. "

    Unfortunately, our sources here for native junipers won't be of much use to you in the US.

  • 5 months ago

    Any reason not to just let it grow back to natural woods?

  • 5 months ago

    You mean like this?



    The open area in the center is the upper end of a woodland trail.


    The only reason I can think of not to let it grow back is because there is a view worth preserving. If that was the case, we should have been told that at the beginning.

  • 5 months ago

    Or this:

    New England forests are beautiful, so unless there's a view worth the sacrifice, I would want them back.

  • 5 months ago

    simplynatural, I don’t think the OP’s slope is a heavily wooded site with shade and mossy rocks as in your picture. It’s more scrubby, from what I can see.

    This was a dilemma I faced when the power company cut down a number of trees on part of my sloped lot. Increased sun grew more weeds plus no trees to absorb runoff water. But nearby trees still shed acorns and gum balls to grow volunteers. Birds and wind disperse many weed seeds. It still may be just as well to let weeds and brambles grow back, with just some judicious whacking seasonally. But that is definitely a different look.
  • 5 months ago

    The slope is definitely scrubby with weeds, vines and bramble. Right now my inclination, as suggested by Marmiegard _z7b, is to go the “judicious whacking” route. It’s quite steep at some points so the whacking will be an adventure!

  • 5 months ago

    That's why I posted the picture I did. I don't find it unattractive, and it doesn't seem to get more care than lawnmowing the flat parts. If you let the trees grow, they will shade out some of the 'weeds', and the edge may become a small enough area to cultivate. There definitely is an ugly duckling stage that has to be lived through.

    I know people who are involved in viewshed management, so they don't have the option of letting their slopes go. Trust me, they wish they did.

    BTW, are you in the Berkshires, or the Hudson Valley. They aren't exactly the same thing. Either way, you should probably do the estate crawl next spring, and see how others handle steep dropoffs.

  • 5 months ago

    This is the Berkshires I remember from living there years ago. I see vestiges of what once was (white pine and white or gray birch in some of the photos) and could someday be again. Granted, not any time soon, but this is what this land wants to be and will become if we just let it.

  • 5 months ago

    in Canaan NY. Near Chatham, 2 miles from Richmond, MA.

  • 5 months ago
    last modified: 5 months ago

    "Before" photo, I think (matches the OP's thumbnail; the slope in question is probably the lower left corner of this picture):

    If the woods in the now-cleared slope seemed more scrub than forest, that's probably because the area had not fully recovered from the last time it was cleared (presumably to open a view). There will be a natural progression any time woods is cleared in the Northeast. With the canopy gone, sun-adapted species will sprout from seeds that lay dormant in shaded soil. Shrubs and trees will also sprout. If not removed, they will eventually grow to shade the area again. The sun-adapted species will die out (leaving their dormant seeds), and canopy trees plus shade-adapted species will become dominant. Eventually there will be a mature forest with tall canopy trees sheltering an understory of small trees, shrubs, and ground layer plants (ferns, mosses, wildflowers).

    I personally enjoy watching what nature does to repair the damage we do to the earth. I would do as others have said: let it grow back, and, at most, selectively remove undesirables. I would not plant anything that does not belong to your lovely natural area.

  • 4 months ago

    thank you simply natural. you are correct that the slope is in the lower left of the thumbnail and it was in fact cleared to open up the view. in light of your response as well as some others, I’m inclined to follow your advice to let it grow back and then selectively remove undesirables. i will need to get a plant identifier app come spring and summer! thx to all!

  • 4 months ago
    last modified: 4 months ago

    Id apps, as I mentioned above, are not reliably going to give the correct answer. There is a forum here, hhttps://www.gardenweb.com/discussions/namegal which can usually give you a name, and you do not need to wait until summer if you have seed heads, stems or overwintering foliage. That's sometimes all that's needed. (Put something for a scale in the picture e.g. a finger.)