Sunny daffodils bring spring color to an embankment.

Embankment Planting Ideas & Plans

by Amie Taylor

While children may love a grassy embankment where they can ride their bikes up and down or a hill where they can sled in the winter, chances are you'd rather landscape the space to make it attractive. At first glance, an embankment may appear to present difficulties that you're not sure how to overcome, but you still have plenty of gardening choices open to you.

1. Terracing

You can use the embankment to create several terraced levels. Start at the bottom of the slope and cut into the soil with a shovel to dig a trench where you can place a landscape timber or railroad tie. Other options include bricks, stones or cement blocks. When the terracing is finished, sow grass seed or cover with sod. Place containers filled with plants, such as zonal geraniums (Pelargonium x hortorum), which grow as perennials in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 11, which bloom continuously in a variety of colors, or pansies (Viola x wittrockiana), which grow in USDA zones 6 through 10, herbaceous perennials that bloom in numerous colors and attract butterflies on the levels of the terracing. You can grow zonal geraniums and pansies as annuals in cooler climates or as seasonal color.

2. Ground Covers

Ground covers usually grow quickly, need little maintenance and grow in a variety of conditions. They work particularly well for covering embankments and other slopes. Ground covers also alleviate the need to mow a grassy embankment, protecting you from the injuries that can result from an overturned or runaway mower. Lace shrubs (Stephanandra incisa "Crispa"), which grow in USDA zones 4 through 7, bloom with white or yellow flowers from May to June and thrive in full to partial sun. Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica "Gro-Low"), which grows in USDA zones 3 through 9, is low-maintenance, blooms in early spring and grows even in shallow, rocky or dry soil. Both ground covers help reduce soil erosion.

3. Shrubs

While shrubs may not be the first answer that spring to mind when planning how to landscape an embankment, they're a viable option. Choose shrubs with vigorous root systems that hold fast throughout rainy weather to ensure they stay put on the slope. Dense shrubs deflect the rain from bombarding the soil and eroding it during heavy rains. Forsythia (Forsythia spp.), which grows in USDA zones 5 through 8, is a deciduous shrub with yellow blooms that grows to a height of 1 to 2 feet in full sun to partial shade. Another option is St. John's wort (Hypericum frondosum), which grows in USDA zones 5 through 8. It is drought-tolerant and grows to a height of 3 to 4 feet in full sun to partial shade.

4. Flowers

Flowers planted on an embankment provide a burst of color above and beyond what those planted on level ground do because you're able to enjoy several levels of foliage and flowers. A wildflower seed mix gives a natural appearance to the embankment and requires minimal maintenance. Alternatively, flowering bulbs such as trumpet daffodils (Narcissus spp.), which grow in USDA zones 3 through 8, and tulips (Tulipa spp.), which grow in USDA zones 3 through 8, can be planted in fall so they bloom in the spring and cover the slope with their brilliant hues.

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