Sometimes, life throws you lemons in the form of a slope as the only option for a vegetable garden. Making a blooming vegetable garden lemonade can be a challenge akin to the uphill struggles people face daily.
Fortunately, there are several ways you can take up this challenge successfully. As long as the slope is not impossibly steep and you can work comfortably on it, a vegetable garden can be made to work despite the unusual terrain. If the slope is too steep, though, your efforts might come to naught as rainwater easily washes the soil downhill no matter your best efforts.
So if you have a sloping piece of land you want to use to grow your favorite crops, you’d be shown all the strategies on how you can plant a vegetable garden on a slope.
Can You Plant A Vegetable Garden On A Slope?
All folks with an interest in gardening would prefer flat land but the reality is, this isn’t always an option. If your only choice is a sloping land, it doesn’t have to be a deterrent. With a bit of effort and dedication, a vegetable garden can be made to grow there.
Planting on a slope follows a similar pattern to planting on level ground. All the steps, bar a few, required to prepare the land are basically the same. But you must be prepared for the extra labor and costs you’d have to put in to get the land to a level suitable for growing vegetables.
Generally, the process of creating a vegetable garden on a slope involves the following steps:
- Selecting a suitable site for the garden
- Preparing to soil for planting
- Constructing the garden bed
- Watering/ irrigation
You’ll quickly gather from the explanation coming next that constructing the garden bed is the most difficult aspect of the project. The difficulty level is loosely proportional to the steepness of the slope. Essentially, your work is cut out for you if a rather steep slope is what you have to work on.
Selecting a site for your vegetable garden
The degree of slope is very important when choosing a site to locate the garden. As earlier stated, a gentle slope is easier to garden than a steep one.
If you can help it, choose the site of the land that receives the most sunlight daily. In this case, the side of the hill that faces the South is what you are after. This side of the slope also warms up faster; a vital factor in vegetable gardening.
On the other hand, if you have to choose between a West-facing slope and an East-facing slope, choose the latter. This is because East-facing slopes get the benefit of the morning sunlight. The vegetables would also be protected from the harsher afternoon sun.
If you are picking this less than ideal East-facing slope, Ensure you plant the lowest-growing plants higher up the slope to avoid creating unnecessary shade is for the plants on the downhill side of the slope.
To optimize crop productions, you could also take advantage of the climatic conditions around the hill. As well as being warmer than the bottom, the topside of the hill is certainly going to be drier relative to the bottom. Taking this into consideration, plant crops that love lots of moisture at the bottom of the hill for a good yield.
Prepping the Soil
Prepare the garden soil like you would a normal garden. This means removing all weeds and debris first.
To control the erosion hillsides are prone to, add up to 3 inches of compost to improve the structure of the soil. Still, on soil improvement, it is recommended that you add an all-purpose fertilizer specifically designed for gardens. This is to compensate for the inevitable soil nutrients loss: a direct result of the fact that slopes lose water (along with the nutrients dissolved in the water) quickly.
Ensure you read and follow the accompanying instructions on how to apply the specific fertilizer you want to use.
Creating beds for the slope vegetable garden
How steep the slope is would also affect the kid of garden beds to use for the vegetables. Generally, there are 2 options possible for garden beds on a slope: perpendicular contours and terraced beds.
The first option involves making the beds like it is done on relatively flatter lands. Here though, the rows are created perpendicular or horizontally across the hill if the slope is not too steep.
Straight gardening rows (vegetable beds) would channel water away from the plants and aid erosion.
For extremely steep slopes, building terraced beds is the recommended option. This is done to stabilize the slope since water running can compromise the integrity of the soil through erosion and loss of nutrients.
Ideally, the design of the terraced beds should make it easy to plant and maintain the garden.
A Terraced vegetable garden is mostly about building raised garden beds. And when making the beds, it is better to start at the bottom of the slope and work uphill.
Terracing is especially beneficial to soils that don’t drain well. With terracing, you can easily raise the garden bed to a level to aid drainage.
Below are some of the ways to make a steep slope suitable for vegetable gardening via terracing.
Dry Stack Walls
These are walls built using natural stone without mortar. The stones are stacked on top of each other to create the wall. Stacked walls are naturally draining and this is important in retaining the soil making them the top choice for terraced beds for hillside vegetable gardening.
The walls are designed so they tilt slightly backward. Subsequent planting seasons would require just minor restacking to keep the walls steady.
If you don’t have stones to make the walls, you could purchase concrete wall products in any building supply stores for the project. They are easier to use than natural stones. The uniform sizes of the concrete blocks make stacking faster and easier.
Wood boards or logs
Another terracing option for slopes is by using wood-based materials such as landscape timbers, logs, or wood boards (preferably 4x6s). But, since the wood is untreated, it is susceptible to decay and unlikely to last long in wet soil. The decaying wood might need replacing every few years.
There is an upside to using this method though. The decaying wood encourages the growth fungi that release mycelium to the surrounding soil. In effect, the soil is made richer by the decaying wood.
Plastic and Steel panel walls
Terracing using steel panels and plastic materials designed to look like lumber is becoming more trendy. Though more expensive, they can last for as long as you have the garden making this a one-time investment with the attendant benefits in cost savings and reduced labor over time.
However, there are concerns related to the chemicals likely to be released by plastic materials into the soil. So you have to be careful that the plastics you use are devoid of toxic chemicals.
Watering and irrigation
It’s taken for granted that when siting a vegetable garden, water shouldn’t be an issue.
Since vegetable gardens situated on slopes or hillsides have to deal with increased airflow and fast drainage, the soil dries faster when compared to gardens on flat ground.
This makes it necessary to water the plants more often to keep the moisture content in the soil at the required level consistently. To help with moisture retention, you could apply mulch around the plants when they are several inches above the ground.
This would also help reduce your weed problem and keeps the plants cool in very hot weather.
Tips for planting a vegetable garden on a slope
- To make it easy to maintain the garden, create clear paths between the beds and around the garden.
- Consider using stepping stones in and around the garden. If you are the creative type, the stones can be arranged to make the garden more beautiful.
Stepping stokes me it easy to access the beds and ensure you don’t have a hard time climbing up and down the slope.
- To avoid the bare look of the vegetable garden during the winter, also include perennial crops instead of only annuals that die off especially in the fall.
While harvesting, avoid cutting the perennials all the way to ground level. Leave a portion of the plants above the ground to provide cover for the soil in winter.
- To optimize the land, plant certain crops together. For instance, planting corn and beans together would be great. The beans can use the corn stalks for climbing. This saves you the labor of staking.
- Plant vine crops such as potatoes. Like mulch, they help soil moisture retention capacity, keep weeds to a minimum, and ensure the soil is cool in hot weather.
- You could also plant beneficial flowers and herbs around the garden. In combination, these plants help to mitigate the problems caused by insects preventing you from resorting to chemical solutions.
The flowers especially attract only insects that would be of benefit to the plants in the garden.
For many folks, the only option for a vegetable garden is a slope or hillside. The work required to turn the slope into a thriving garden for vegetables is dependent on the steepness, with steeper slopes requiring more work.
However, no matter how steep the slope, the important consideration is to the control of erosion caused by water running downhill with the attendant depletion of soil nutrients.
For gentle slopes, vegetable beds perpendicular to the slope might be all that is required after choosing the best location for the garden. for steeper slopes though, a combination of garden terraces and raised beds would be needed. This is vital in providing a level ground for the vegetables and reduce the impact of erosion.
With planning and if the crops are tended carefully, the labor expended in getting the land ready would be offset by the expected bountiful harvest.