So you’ve decided it’s time to build a custom home with a beautiful view — are you concerned about what building on a slope would mean for your backyard?

Designing a sloping backyard certainly presents its own challenges, including: 

  • Slopes can be difficult to walk on
  • Landscaping on slopes can be difficult to maintain 
  • If done incorrectly, you run the risk of soil erosion and water drainage problems 

However, a sloping backyard also presents a unique opportunity to show off that beautiful view you’ve been hoping for, and create a unique sense of movement and variation in your landscape. 

Here are 10 things to do with a sloping backyard.


1. Determine the surface texture of your soil

The first thing we recommend when considering what to do with a sloping backyard is to determine the surface texture of the soil you’re working with. In fact, this is a good thing to consider before building on a slope at all, as it will directly impact your foundation and your landscaping capabilities. 

The surface texture of the soil refers to the amount of clay, sand, and silt present in your soil. To get an idea of the surface texture, simply rub the soil between your hands and note what you feel. 

Silky clay texture – This type of soil is difficult to work with from a foundational and landscaping perspective. It’s characterized by feeling soft and sticky when wet, but very hard when dry. 

Floury-feeling – This soil feels like exactly what its name implies — floury. It is ideal for landscaping and gardening, and is very easy to excavate.

Rough and gritty – Although this kind of soil is easy to excavate, it also poses an increased risk of soil erosion. Rough and gritty soil often needs moisture improvement before it can be used for gardening or landscaping.


2. Build a deck

Coming back to that beautiful view we’ve been talking about, incorporating a deck into your home design creates the perfect opportunity to entertain and show it off, or to put your gardening and landscaping on display. Depending on the angle of the slope and the overall design of the house, you can even make a multi-level deck, or create a storage space underneath. 


3. Try landscaping in tiers

Not only does creating tiers help manage erosion, it provides a unique opportunity to add variety and cohesion to your backyard, depending on how you choose to showcase different plants. Another plus? The tiers can be made from a number of different materials, including wood, paving stones, brick, and concrete, providing you more variety when it comes to choosing the look and feel of your backyard.

Depending on the slope of your yard and the height of your tiers, you may need to install railing for safety if you choose this route — our team at Westlake Development always adheres to correct building codes.


4. Create a winding path or a staircase

Adding a path or staircase to your backyard helps with multiple things, including:

  • Drawing the eye through the yard 
  • Making it easier to move throughout the yard
  • Providing a safe way to use the yard


5. Consider a landscape waterfall

This is a larger undertaking, but also the perfect opportunity to showcase a beautiful water feature in your backyard, and use a slope to your advantage. Not only do waterfalls add value to your home and provide great entertainment for family and friends, they also benefit your local ecosystem and create a relaxing, soothing environment.


6. Use the slope to your advantage when building vegetable beds

Planting a garden on a slope can be challenging with soil erosion remaining a large concern. However, one great option is creating raised vegetable beds that match the slope of the backyard. Not only will this make it easier to care for the garden, but it will also allow you to use the slope to your advantage — the deeper area of the bed can be used for root vegetables, while the more shallow area can house herbs.


7. Create a destination at the bottom of the slope

Help draw friends, family, visitors through your backyard and showcase the landscape by creating a fun destination at the bottom of the slope. This could be a fire pit, a gazebo, a flat seating area to take in a view or a deck perfect for BBQs…the sky’s the limit.


8. Choose low maintenance plants and be strategic about rock placement

Plants are a great way to transform a backyard and keep soil from sliding down a slope. When choosing plants for your sloping backyard, you’ll want to consider a few things: 

  • The kind of soil you’re using
  • How easy they’ll be to reach
  • How easy they’ll be to care for 

When it comes to plants and shrubs in Oregon, wild roses, Snowberry, Oceanspray and Red Flowering Currant are all recommended options. Ground cover plants are also a great and easy to maintain option. Silverweed, Kinnikinnick, and Coastal Strawberry are some native options to look into. 

Adding rocks of varying shapes and sizes to your garden helps create a more stable area for plants to grow, plus look great too.


9. Create flat spaces with retaining walls

One challenge presented by sloping backyards is creating functional areas despite the slope’s angle. Carving out part of the slope and adding a retaining wall to hold back the soil will allow you to create a flat area in your backyard. These can create planting areas, seating areas, or recreational areas for the family.


10. Make it easy to access all of the levels

If you’re planning to spend a lot of time in your backyard and use it for entertaining or gardening, we recommend being conscious of the type of access you have to all levels of your backyard. For example, you wouldn’t want to build vegetable beds or plant roses without an easy path to get there and care for those things, right? Whether through a winding path, a staircase, or level tiers, we’ll ensure you have a way to get everywhere you need to be in your backyard.


Contact Westlake Development today

Building a home on a slope can be challenging and stressful — but when you choose the right custom home builder, it doesn’t need to be. 

At Westlake Development Group, we’ve been building custom homes in the Portland metro area for more than 30 years, and take pride not only in creating beautiful designs, but in providing steep slope construction and earthquake preparedness expertise.

To learn more about how we can help you build the custom home you’ve been looking for, contact us today at (503) 327-8351 or online here