Keeping Grass Green on a Sloped Yard

There is a joy that comes with having a lush green lawn, which is why property owners spend good amounts of time and money to keep them looking their best.  Yet keeping grass thick and healthy in hilly or mountainous areas can be quite challenging.

Run-off and erosion are common problems with sloped lawns.  Run-off causes soil erosion, which then affects the amount of nutrients that penetrate the root.

Below are some steps that will improve your chances of success in maintaining green grass on a sloped lawn:

1. Prepare the Soil Properly

Detach the soil by removing weeds, debris, and vegetation.  Proceed to break up the soil to a depth of about 6 to 8 inches with a tiller or shovel.  Then fertilize the soil as you deem fit— if you think your soil requires it, apply about 10 pounds of 5-20-10 fertilizer per every 500 square feet.  Mix fertilizer into the top 4-inches of soil after evenly speeding it.

Integrating about 2 inches of compost with the top 6 inches of soil, using your tiller, will facilitate good soil structure.  Adding compost and/or rotted manure to the soil before planting ensures the nutrients stay in the soil and improves drainage.

Next plant a seed mixture of grasses with strong root systems, such as Zoysia, Dichondra, or Ryegrass.  If your sloped yard is shaded, make use of a seed variety that tolerates shade such as St. Augustine or Zoysia.  Alternatively, call your local sod farmer and have the grass delivered if you are afraid of the seeds being washed away, or would simply like to expedite the process.

When planting sod strips, make sure the strip faces the top and bottom of the hill.  This will reduce flood under the strip and prevent the soil from washing out in case it rains before the roots take hold.  Another easy trick is to insert a garden stake through the center of each sod section to prevent them from moving.  You can remove these after 2 weeks.

2. Watering Techniques

Watering your new lawn once or twice per day over the first few weeks will keep the underlying soil moist and encourage growth.  Watering schedules after the first weeks vary based on several factors such as rainfall, time of year, and geographic location.

Consult an irrigation specialist to place sprinkler heads in strategic areas— the goal is for water to flow evenly across the yard, so no one area is getting more than others.  While this may sound obvious, each property has its own quirks and water flowing downhill should be accounted for.  Another consideration is that shaded areas require significantly less water than those in the sun.

Low-pressure sprinklers are ideal as they provide ample time for water to soak into the soil and get to the grassroots.  If possible, avoid high-pressure sprinklers which lead to run-off and soil erosion.

3. Grass Height Plays a Major Role Too

John Deere’s principal scientist Mark Schmidt explains that "Taller grass holds more moisture and stays greener than short grass... Plus, it shades the soil, helping to keep the roots wet,” while professionals at Purdue University’s Turfgrass Science Program recommend a grass height of 3 to 3.5 inches in shaded areas.

There is science behind this: the longer the grass blade, the more surface area for photosynthesis.  Take it from the experts and don’t overcut your lawn.  This may mean mowing more frequently, but the lawn will benefit in the long run.

4. Aeration

Aerating is a process by which spikes are inserted into the lawn, severing or dividing the roots.  The broken roots then multiply which helps to reduce excess thatch build-up and improves soil drainage, reducing run-off and the risk of fungus on your lawn.  Aerating only needs to be done once per year and you can rent an aerator from a garden store if you don’t own one.

5. Mowing your New Lawn

With the planting process complete, it is important to maintain your new lawn using the appropriate tools.  For example, Zero Turn mowers are designed to handle areas with a maximum of 15-degrees incline, and are thus not suitable for slopes.  Not only will mowing becomes dangerous at this point, but the mower will also likely tear up your lawn.  Interview your landscaper to make sure he owns the right equipment.

Slope mowers are specifically engineered for continuous use on slopes without damaging the lawn.  These machines tend to have locking differentials, 4WD, and additional fuel and gas pumps to ensure safe operation and performance on slopes, all while protecting your lush green lawn.