Control the slopes

Slope gardens, so common here in southern California and other water-constrained areas like Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, epitomize conservation opportunities. Months of experimentation revealed seven water retention practices that curb slopes’ wastefulness, enabling us to cut run times in half and frequency by a third.

Even now, 18 months later in the 4th year of a drought, all is well with just 20% of the water we used before. Guided by the school of hard knocks, we learned that reducing loss and evaporation made a world of difference. These 7 slope consumption-slashers defy gravity and the elements:


  • 1. Small emitters: Use small emitters so roots can absorb the slow drip. Larger emitters’ drip runs on the surface beyond plants on a slope, especially in clay soil.
  • 2. Irrigation placement: Place drip lines and emitters above a plant, not beside or below, so water seeps down the slope to roots. Lay drip lines horizontally to maintain uniform water pressure.
  • 3. Spaghetti: Eliminate spaghetti connectors especially prone to disconnect on a slope. See Nix spaghetti connectors for alternatives.


  • 4. Cycle and soak: How do you water a dry potted plant? A bit, then a bit more, then more as soil softens to enable absorption. The same applies to dry slopes. Divide run times in half or thirds with an hour or two between applications.
  • 5. Critter control: For some reason, gophers and moles make themselves at home on slopes. Deal with them, and compact their tunnels that funnel water downhill away from plants.
  • 6. Saucers: Form depressions around plants to channel water to roots. Reform them as they crack or erode, which occurs frequently with slopes’ exposure and runoff.
  • 7. Mulch: Use mulch types like gorilla hair that stay in place better on slopes. Mulch shifts and deteriorates surprisingly often on steep land, so reapply it regularly.

Innumerable resources, such as Sunset’s Slope Garden Tips, Permaculture Research Institute’s Making a Terrace Garden, and Do It Yourself’s Terrace Gardening, show how to create slope gardens. Hopefully future releases will broaden to maintenance and sustainability practices such as those profiled here.

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