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Build It Up with Dirt and Stone: Landscape Strategies for Creating Useable Space in a Sloping Backyard

If your home is built on a lot with a slope, you know that you aren't getting as much use out of your yard as you would like. It's harder for the kids to play on a slope, and the incline of decline can affect your landscaping and garden planting aspirations. If you're looking for simple leveling solutions for a sloped yard, consider the following methods for creating a level outdoor living space for you to enjoy.

1. Tiering terraces

Often the simplest way to gain some level ground in a yard is to embrace the sloping nature and create separate spaces on two levels with a retaining wall. The lower portion of the slope is dug out, and the resulting ledge is retained with brick, wood, or stone. The excess dirt is used to fill the remainder of the sloping area higher up. This way, you can keep children's toys and patios on the lower level and put gardens and storage sheds higher up. You'll need to plan for accessibility—stone or wooden steps will often be needed to access the top tier. For extreme slopes, sometimes two walls are needed to separate the space into three sections that you can use creatively. 

2. Working with the hill

The next option is to do little about the slope but to simply build your yard features into the hill itself. For example, if you want a playscape for the kids, simply install a slide that descends with the grade of the hill. Carve out portions of the hill to make room for fire pits and use heavy timbers to create raised planters that can be set into the hill for a garden space. The downside to this option is that it can be more difficult to maintain; the maintenance goes beyond basic mowing and weed removal. You'll need a series of rocks and rooting plants to create a pleasing aesthetic in the yard, as steep sloping landscapes are not easy or possible to mow, so grass is typically not an option for these designs. 

3. Leveling the hill.

For gradual slopes, leveling can be a great option. Leveling is done with fill dirt -- this dirt is what is found below the layers of nutrient-dense topsoil and compost that you typically find on the ground surface. Fill dirt is heavier and made mostly from finely ground sand, clay, and other inorganic components. Fill dirt is better for leveling because it has such a low level of organic composition. Soil with high levels of decomposing matter will break down over time, reducing soil volume. For leveling purposes, this is not ideal, as the originally level surface can sink or pit. So, if you have access to a free load of topsoil, don't be tempted to use it to level your yard. It won't last the test of time on your sloped topography. For intense leveling, road crush (a mixture of gravel and fill dirt) may be used before fill dirt to provide more stability for the fill dirt and finishing landscape touches.

Use a generous amount of fill dirt to even out the slope. If the slope runs to the street, be aware you may need to install a retaining wall near your property edge to hold back the increased volume of dirt used to create the level yard surface. After the depressed areas have been filled and packed, you can finish the area with a layer of topsoil, plant grass and gardens, and install flower beds. 

For more information on using fill dirt to level your slope, contact a company that provides these services, such as Southern Landscape Materials