Landscaping a hillside

Hillsides and excessive rain are not compatible, but slope landscaping and terracing can create a beautiful relationship.

I have heard the Seattle area referred to as "the city of seven hills", but we know there are a lot more from all the hilly backyards and front yards. We have landscaped a lot of them in the communities around Seattle. Hillsides and excess rain may not be natural friends, but they can co-exist. We have seen the damage caused by excess rain. Landscaping a hillside is one of our most common requests this time of year, so we thought we'd share some thoughts about this type of landscape design.

Slope landscaping

Many people see a hilly backyard as wasted space. Take heart! With just a bit of slope landscaping you can turn an area that is susceptible to erosion and difficult to mow into a beautiful and productive space. Here are a couple recommendations for those landscaping a hillside.

  • Choose native perennials. These plants grow the best in our Seattle area and will be your best bet for success.
  • Select slow growing, non-invasive plants. It is more difficult to prune plants on a hillside so it is best to stay clear of those that spread quickly or need regular pruning.
  • Ground cover is a suitable plant selection for many hillsides, but we do not recommend English Ivy as it is much too invasive.
  • Plants that seem to grow best on a hillside are those that do not need a lot of water. Since water tends to flow down a hill instead of penetrate, some plants many not always get their share.
  • It is best to choose plants that have a thick root system that will spread out and hold the ground in place.


Landscaping a hillside using a terracing approach has been used and perfected since ancient time. It is amazing to see the terracing of rice fields in many parts of Asia. Here in the Seattle area, we like to use terracing as a means of creating more flat, usable gardening space. Many different building materials can be used to support the terraces, such as lava rock, large stone, cinder block, or wood planks. When terracing is used in landscaping a hillside, there is much more freedom to select interesting plants.

Don't fight the water!

Seattle rain and the resulting water flow is an element to be expected and embraced. We think it is better to prepare for excess water than fight against it. This means landscaping a hillside should incorporate areas that are designed to work with the water, not against it. If you live on a steep slope, consider designing a gently sloped area in the hill that will form a natural waterfall which will cascade beautifully over the terraces during the heaviest rain.

When designing a waterfall, the channel needs to be lined with hardscape materials in order to slow the water flow and prevent erosion. Be sure to Contact Us at Environmental Construction when designing a hillside waterfall feature. Our landscape designers are well qualified and have the tools needed for landscaping a hillside. Refer to our webpage about Erosion Control and Hill Stabilization for more information about the services we offer.

Include landscaping steps

Even if there is no viable pathway on the hillside, you might appreciate having easy accessibility to the plants of the hillside. A stair system made from large flat stone, wood or brick will make maintenance much easier.

Whether you decide to leave the hillside in its usual form and add special hillside plantings, or cut into the hillside and install an interesting retaining wall and terracing, landscaping a hillside will create opportunity for unique landscape design.

Now begin landscaping that hillside...then sit back and enjoy the rain.

Category: Landscape Design

Environmental Construction, Inc.

It's not simply about designing and building beautiful garden spaces, it's about providing a landscape oasis where you can relax from the daily grind and recharge. Let us create an outdoor space that will enhance your home and quality of life.

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