How to turn our tiny front hill into a pollinator-friendly city retreat!

Asked May 13, 2019, 7:25 PM EDT

Hello Extension Experts! My name is Alyssa - my partner, Tyler, and I live in a tiny little yellow house in south Minneapolis. Between our house and the street is a fairly narrow area of grassy/messy/weedy stuff, most of which is a hill - there's also a little boulevard strip between our sidewalk and street. We are fairly new homeowners and would like to do something with this little front hill - we'd like to turn it into a pollinator/butterfly-friendly space and have purchased some seeds for native pollinator-friendly flowers. But we are trying to figure out what would be the best way to get this hill ready to plant things in. For awhile we considered just adding the seeds to what is already there (but we're not sure if they'll take, since the current stuff does grow quite thick/tall in the summer). We considered renting a roto-tiller, but have also been told that it could be difficult to use on the hill, and may likely not get rid of any of the weeds - one person told us we may be better off covering the hill with a tarp for most fo the season to kill off everything, and then plant seeds in the fall. I'm inclined to avoid using any chemicals because I imagine that would be harmful to the future pollinators. What would your advice be - what is the best way to prep our hill and begin planting here? And on a related note, we have one other thing we're looking for advice on. We were initially really interested in planting some kind of native grass onto our hill to also be good to pollinators, and also to hopefully avoid future erosion. But we've been told that many grasses that are truly native to MN grow really tall and really wide, and may not be a good fit for our small yard (one person told us they may block the windows to our house even). I don't want to do an ornamental grass that looks nice but wouldn't be helpful to the pollinators, but I'm not sure if a good middle grown exists. Do you have any suggestions for a potential grass? Thank you so much! Alyssa

Hennepin County Minnesota landscape design pollinators horticulture

4 Responses

It is not clear from the photo on what side (compass direction) of the house this area sits. This is quite important: if the area is on the north side of the house, the list of plants will be quite different than if it sits on the south side.

Besides the plant selection issue, the hill will present problems. A rototiller would indeed be hard to use here. Adding soil amendments and getting plants started will also prove difficult. One admittedly expensive suggestion would be a short retaining wall to make your garden level.

The advice about native grasses is not correct. There are several small native grasses that would be good choices (depending on the amount of sun). Prairie dropseed, for instance, is not tall.

Here are some references. First, for general landscaping:
https://extension.umn.edu/lawns-and-landscapes/landscape-design

For pollinator friendly gardens:
https://extension.umn.edu/lawns-and-landscapes/flowers-pollinators

For landscaping slopes, this publication (pdf link on the site) has a section:
https://conservancy.umn.edu/handle/11299/51549

For a retaining wall, this reference is from Oregon State. I'd suggest hiring a professional for this kind of job:
https://extension.oregonstate.edu/gardening/techniques/building-landscape-retaining-wall




Hello!

Thank you for the response - I appreciate the suggestion for native grass varieties.

To answer your follow-up question, this hill is on the north side of our home. The biggest question I still have is about how to prep our hill for planting. We already have seeds for our plants so aren’t looking for any further suggestions - we just want to know the best way to go from the current weedy hill to being ready to plant.

In ypur precipus response you mwntioned that a reyaining wall would he an would be an ideal option, but that is not possible for our budget unfortunately. However we would still love a suggestion! Should we cover everything with a tarp to kill the current weeds and the plant seeds this fall/next spring? Is there any other way to get our small hill ready to plant pollinator seeds?

Thanks,
Alyssaa

Hi Dennis!

Thank you for the response - I appreciate the suggestion for native grass varieties.

To answer your follow-up question, this hill is on the north side of our home. The biggest question I still have is about how to prep our hill for planting. We already have seeds for our plants so aren’t looking for any further suggestions - we just want to know the best way to go from the current weedy hill to being ready to plant.

In ypur precipus response you mwntioned that a reyaining wall would he an would be an ideal option, but that is not possible for our budget unfortunately. However we would still love a suggestion! Should we cover everything with a tarp to kill the current weeds and the plant seeds this fall/next spring? Is there any other way to get our small hill ready to plant pollinator seeds?

Thanks, Alyssa

Using a tarp (or several layers of newspaper) will eventually kill what's under it. But it will take time. And the slope poses the challenge of keeping the cover in place. You could use landscape stakes for this purpose. The herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) will work much faster, if you are thinking of planting this season.

All the things you'd ordinarily do for any garden bed should be done here (add organic matter, get a soil test done, and so forth). But when working the soil, be careful not to lose topsoil to erosion.

For planting, you could try a seed mat, which will perhaps hold seed in place until it takes root.

Cheaper than a large reinforced retaining wall would be terracing.

And, finally, although you said you've selected plants, be sure they are site-appropriate. North sides of houses, especially with mature trees around, don't get a lot of sun, and many pollinator mixes contain mostly sun-loving plants.

Check this website:
https://www.purdue.edu/hla/sites/yardandgarden/plants-for-steep-slopes/