Groundcovers help stabilize the topsoil.

Types of Groundcover for Hillsides

by Karen Carter

Hillsides and slopes present a gardener with issues such as unstable soil and erosion, which groundcovers can fix. Many hillsides with steep slopes suffer from soil erosion, because water runoff causes unstable topsoil to slip. To prevent this, use a variety of low-growing spreading plants to anchor the soil in place with their roots. Choose low-maintenance groundcovers for hillsides where regular maintenance is difficult.

1. Coniferous Shrubs

Conifers are not just towering trees. Sprawling forms of coniferous shrubs protect dry soil from blowing away during windy weather. One conifer that acts as a groundcover is the “Blue Forest” Savin juniper (Juniperus sabina “Blue Forest”), which grows best in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 7. Blue-green needles cover the thick branches, which reach 30 inches tall and spread 48 inches wide when grown in full to partial sun. Another low-growing conifer is the Emerald Spreader Japanese yew (Taxus cuspidata “Monloo”), reaching 30 inches tall and 8 to 10 feet wide in USDA zones 4 through 7. This bush produces dark evergreen needles in full to part sun.

2. Evergreen Perennial Flowers

Flowering groundcovers produce bright color spots that cover hillsides with a carpet of showy blooms. Flowering evergreen plants keep the ground protected even when the plants are not in bloom. For a mass of spring and summer flowers, plant the “Rokey’s Purple” aubrieta (Aubrieta x cultorum “Rokey’s Purple”). In full to partial sun exposure, this flower produces purple, open-faced blossoms floating on top of gray-green leaves. This moisture-loving plant reaches 4 to 6 inches tall and spreads 12 inches wide in USDA zones 5 through 7. The RAVERS Pumpkin Pie African daisy (Arctotis hybrid “Archley”) grows well in USDA zones 8 through 11, forming clumps of silver-green leaves 10 to 12 inches wide and tall. Large showy orange blossoms possess a contrasting black eye and open from spring through the end of summer.

3. Shade-Loving Ferns

Ferns give a lush look to shady areas on hillsides and need little regular maintenance. One colorful fern for moist slopes is the “Pictum” Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum “Pictum”). This fern reaches 8 to 12 inches tall in USDA zones 5 through 8 with purple stems and green fronds covered with silver markings. Southern maidenhair fern (Adiantum capillus-vereris) grows best in USDA zones 7 through 11, producing fluffy green fronds reaching 6 to 12 inches tall.

4. Sun-Loving Succulents

Low-growing succulents require little maintenance. Their thick leaves and stems store moisture for times when the weather turns dry, so irrigation is not necessary. One clump-forming succulent is the orange stalked bulbine (Bulbine frutescens “Orange”), which produces narrow green leaves that resemble thick grass. The clumps reach 12 to 24 inches tall, spreading 3 to 4 feet wide. In full to part sun locations in USDA zones 8 through 11, clusters of orange flowers appear from spring through late summer. Variegated stonecrop (Sedum spurium “Tricolor”) grows well in USDA zones 4 through 9, reaching 4 to 6 inches tall and 12 inches wide in full sun locations. This succulent produces pink summer blossoms and thick green leaves edged with white that develop a pink tint in chilly weather.

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