Tips on landscaping a shady hill, with issues of erosion and squirrel sabotage

Asked January 31, 2017, 1:00 PM EST

I'm looking for advice on next steps for successfully planting on a shady hill (photo attached). A year ago (thanks to advice from Ask an Expert), I was able to successfully eliminate invasive English ivy, poison ivy, and poison sumac which covered the hill. I attempted to plant some shady-tolerant perennials such as pachysandra, pennsylvania sedge, and ferns, last spring, but they had a very difficult time taking root, and in the fall, I also had issues with squirrels digging them up. I invited a few landscaping contractors out, but was disappointed by their advice. One suggested English Ivy (ironic, because I had just eliminated that), while another is certain that I need to add terraces to have more level ground on which to plant, but I'm unsure of whether this is the answer. I'm looking for advice about what exactly I should do next, and when. In particular, (1) what should I plant on this very hilly, full shade area? (2) when should I plant it? (3) Any advice about getting plants to take to steep hills? Is there some kind of netting I should use? (4) is terracing necessary and recommended? (5) What should I do about the squirrels digging everything up? Thanks in advance for any advice you can give. My desired end result is a hill of flourishing perennials. I especially like low-growing ferns and sedges.

Montgomery County Maryland

1 Response

First take a look at some general landscaping information and best practices on our website.
We do not make site visits and can only offer information based on your photo. You need to start with a plan and address any erosion/water issues as it looks like you have houses above you. Work in stages if you cannot tackle in one season. You may want to plant some low growing shrubs and groundcovers or perennials such as:
Shrubs - Itea virginica.
Perennials, groundcovers - Hayscented fern, Christmas fern, phlox stolonifera, Pa Sedge, Packera aurea, Golden Groundsel. See our list of groundcovers for the shade for more selections
You can plant in the spring. Terracing in general helps slow down erosion. We cannot say for sure if this is needed on your site. You may need more site visits and recommendations from other landscapers if this is the case. If doing your self, you can lay sticks sideways along the slope and prop them up with stakes to prevent erosion while the ground covers get established.
There will be competition from tree roots so you may need to plant among the tree roots.
To stabilize the slope, plant the shrubs or transplants you choose in pockets dug in the slope and have the soil level, not sloped, when you replace the soil so that it catches rainfall. Mulch with about several inches of leaves or mulch. Keep the mulch away from the base of the plants. The plants will need to be watered for about two years until they become established. Water to keep the soil moist up until the fall when the ground freezes.
Squirrels - There are no magic bullets. You can cover the plants with bird netting.