Updated: February 10, 2024

There have been few innovations in hillside landscaping technology that have provided both a sound structural solution with an aesthetically pleasing design element in the last few decades.

Hillside homeowners have had few cost-effective options for insuring that dirt and debris from shifting soils, ground movement, rain, or wind did not erode the foundations of their homes, and subsequently cause damage to the structures of their properties.

Thanks to the ingenuity from Dirt Locker, however, homeowners now have an innovative and cost-effective option to strengthen and beautify their surrounding sloped landscapes.

This article explores the landscaping challenges and dangers hillside homeowners face and how Dirt Locker’s solution is a viable DIY erosion control solution for rectifying these problematic hillside landscaping situations.

Table of Contents

Also see:


Hillside Soil Erosion and the Danger to Building Structures

Each year, many residential structures are threatened as erosion and landslides cause destabilization of the earth around foundations, which eventually leads to structural damage around homes. Evidence of slope slippage can be seen in:

  • Uneven flooring
  • Doors and windows that no longer close, and
  • Cracks in walls and ceilings

Soil slippage, or landslides, happen when the slope of the hillside begins to steepen (i.e. increase), as rains, high winds, and other natural phenomenon occur, such as unstable terrain collapsing due to gravity. In the most extreme cases, a home can be red-tagged, (a classification of being uninhabitable due to being in a dangerous state of disrepair), when falling off its foundation, and must eventually be demolished.

Aerial view of two homes on Via Estoril in Laguna Niguel that fell in 1998 when a rain-soaked hillside collapsed. Photo by Geraldine Wilkins–Kasinga and Los Angeles Times.

The aftermath of two homes that fell in 1998 when a rain-soaked hillside collapsed on Via Estoril in Laguna Niguel, California. 
Photo courtesy of Geraldine Wilkins–Kasinga and the Los Angeles Times.

However, earth movements, such as landslides, can be mitigated and prevented. Since land displacement is a naturally occurring phenomenon, being proactive is a good idea especially since there are cost-effective options to prevent a worsening situation.

Coincidentally, a mudslide occurred nearby in Southern California a few days after this article was originally published.

Mudslide damages homes in La Canada Flintridge

Video courtesy of KTLA 5 News.

KTLA 5 News aerial photo of a mudslide in La Canada-Flintridge, California on February 26, 2023

Photo courtesy of KTLA 5 News.



The Challenges of Hillside Landscaping

Depending on the degree of slope, a hillside can vary from a Moderate Slope of 0 to 8.5 degrees to a Severe Slope 31 to 45 degrees, and anywhere in between.

  • Flat to Moderate Slope: 0° to 8.5°
  • Strong Slopes (True Hillside): 8.5° to 16.7°
  • Very Strong Slopes: 16.7° to 24.2°
  • Moderately Severe Slopes: 24.2° to 31°
  • Severe Slopes: 31° to 45°

Landscaping a hillside is not an easy endeavor and maintaining the infrastructure can prove challenging over time. However, using landscaping to shore-up the natural cohesion of a hillside slope is the best defense against topsoil erosion. It is a lack of cohesion that will lead to an increase in slope stress, strain, displacement, and ultimately landslides.

Hillsides with dense plants that have deep roots to hold the soil are fortresses against heavy rains and strong winds.

However, getting that lush, healthy look on a hillside can often be difficult and expensive. Sloped land has drainage issues, as water naturally runs off more rapidly instead of soaking into the earth, maintaining necessary water and nutrients to nurture young plant roots. Initial installation of plant material and soil together with maintenance and upkeep can all be difficult due to the steepness and instability of the terrain.


Options for Stabilizing Hillsides

Many homeowners opt for the usual solutions to stabilize their hillside terrains, such as:

  • Masonry retaining walls
  • Wire-mesh covered with either burlap or jute erosion control blankets
  • Gunite or shotcrete sprayed hillsides

Masonry walls can be very expensive and must be well designed and constructed. In many jurisdictions, a permit is required for any new or reconstructed masonry retaining wall.

Once built, the masonry must be maintained annually, usually repainting, or patching of cracks or replacing of damaged cinder blocks, depending on the circumstances. Over time, masonry walls lose their strength due to material degradation caused by air pollutants, salts, mineral decomposition and other environmental factors.

Damaged retaining wall

Masonry walls are not fans of mature trees, as eventually tree roots will push against the masonry brick causing an eventual collapse.

Wire mesh with burlap or jute blankets, do not last more than 2-3 years and will eventually decompose from the UV light and rain, thus leaving you with the same problem and thousands of dollars less than before the project started.

While the plants are in their seedling stage, the result is not particularly attractive, as it will take several years for the plants to become firmly rooted into the earth. During this period, the soil is still very fragile and maintenance and upkeep are impossible until the plants mature.

Close up view of jute landscaping netting for soil erosion control

Neither option allows you to maintain the landscaping immediately once it has been installed. Pruning, weeding and fertilizing are still necessary for hillside plants to flourish, as they must still be accessible.

Gunite sprayed hillsides can be an effective solution for hillsides with severe slopes, but lack in aesthetic appeal.

Worker spraying gunite

The key to good soil erosion prevention is to lock in moisture and nutrients for healthy plant and tree maturity, which results in solid root anchors that hold the hillside stable.


Dirt Locker: Soil Erosion Prevention System

Developed by homeowner and avid gardener, Mark Trebilcock, the Dirt Locker was the result of multiple attempts to improve a hard-packed hillside in Santa Clarita, California.

Mark Trebilcock, Founder of Dirt Locker

Trebilcock attempted to correct his hillside erosion problems with multiple commercially available products, but to no avail. He finally approached his problem like an engineer and crafted an elegant, cost-effective solution that has become the Dirt Locker, sustainable erosion control landscaping system.

Trebilcock understood that landslides were the result of long, wet seasons that fill up “pore spaces” within large masses of dry, hardened hillside soil. With sustained rains, hillsides become engorged with water, especially into their pore spaces, and the extra weight of the water creates pressure that eventually gives way to gravity causing landslides.

He knew that he needed a system that would provide year-round density for plants, trees and their root systems, thereby eliminating the pores that collect water during hard rains. With a healthy stabilized root structure, hillsides should be able to capture the rain water and allow it to pass through the plants subsystem, thereby locking in moisture, soil and nutrients keeping plants and trees healthy, and the ground below more stable.

The concept of capturing rainwater, locking in topsoil and nutrients, and blending seamlessly into a micro-environmental ecosystem, with an FDA approved food-grade plastic, is the genius of Dirt Locker. An added benefit is that the interlocking system creates convenient and safe access to steep hillsides once installed.

Hillside with Dirt Locker Soil Erosion Control Landscaping System

CAPTURE Rainwater: Reduce irrigation & preserve water

LOCK in Topsoil & Nutrients: Stop erosion & loss of fertilizer

PROVIDE an Optimal Ecosystem: Enable plants get more robust over time

CREATE a Series of Steps: Allow safe hillside access

Colorful hillside with gravel steps using Dirt Locker's erosion control landscaping system

The patented Dirt Locker planter system, with its recycled, high-grade HDPE plastic, saves the equivalent of 13 plastic milk jugs from entering landfills and oceans.

Made domestically, and easily assembled, the Dirt Locker system requires no special tools or skills and can be DIY’ed for a stunning, series of terraced levels to beautify and maintain a stubborn hillside. Dirt Locker is committed to the environment and plants 6 trees for every 10 Dirt Lockers sold through the Eden Reforestation Projects.

Once installed, the Dirt Locker system allows native plants and trees to become acclimated and stabilized into the hillside by preventing “pore spaces”, as they create a denser ecosystem that allows native plants and trees to thrive, eliminating exposure to harsh elements.

The system has been proven across many different climates with harsh and challenging conditions, such as heavy rains, bitter winters, hurricane-level winds, and diverse soil conditions.

Unlike retaining walls, which weaken over time, the Dirt Locker system becomes structurally stronger as plants and trees strive. As plants grow and prosper, this coverage also gives the Dirt Locker plastic an added level of protection against harmful UV rays.

Lush Dirt Locker hillside

Another attractive trait of the Dirt Locker landscaping solution is that homeowners can first try their product on a small scale to test it out before committing to larger, more challenging sections of their properties. Smaller, initial projects can be helpful to get familiar with the overall process and will likely fuel creative ideas for more expansive, future projects.


Steps for Installing a Dirt Locker Landscaping System

Installing the Dirt Locker system does not require special skills or tools, as there are eight easy steps to follow:

Tools needed to install a Dirt Locker erosion control landscaping system

The video below goes over each step, as well:

Installing the Dirt Locker® Terrace Gardening System: Landscaping on Hill to Control Erosion of Soil

For those needing creative assistance, Dirt Locker also offers a digital rendering design service to help you visualize the potential of your landscaping.


Step 1: Measure the Slope Angle and Size of Your Area

Step 1 Dirt Locker Erosion Control Installation: Measure the Area

Measuring the slope of your hillside is critical to determine which sized Dirt Locker is best suited for your terrain. The video below gives a good overview of how to measure your slope, your area, and then how to use these metrics with Dirt Locker’s Project Estimator to calculate the number of system components necessary for your specific project.

How to Measure Your Slope & Project Area (w/ Quick Estimate)


Step 2: Review Obstacles

Review obstacles, such has mature trees and large boulders which must be factored into your overall landscape installation and design.

Step 2 Dirt Locker Erosion Control Installation: Review Obstacles


Step 3: Create a Layout Plan

Create a layout plan to understand visually what a post configured Dirt Locker system will look like before you begin.

Step 3 Dirt Locker Erosion Control Installation: Create a Layout Plan

Step 3 Dirt Locker Erosion Control Installation: Match Dirt Lockers to Your Layout Plan


Step 4: Choose the Side of the Collar Surface

Choose the side of the Dirt Locker collar surface you prefer facing outward, either Matte finish or Glossy finish.

Step 4 Dirt Locker Erosion Control Installation: Choose material surface, matte or glossy


Step 5: Pre-Assemble the Dirt Locker System

Pre-assemble the Dirt Locker system on a flat surface by locking the cell tab of one Dirt Locker into the cell tab of the adjacent Dirt Locker. It’s that simple.

Step 5 Dirt Locker Erosion Control Installation: Pre-assemble the Dirt Locker system


Step 6: Place the Dirt Locker System on Your Hillside

Pull the assembled Dirt Locker system and place it onto the desired location.

Step 6 Dirt Locker Erosion Control Installation: pull and place the pre-assembled system into the desired hillside location


Step 7: Backfill Each Dirt Locker Cell with Good Soil

Backfill each Dirt Locker cell with good soil. Make sure that as you backfill, the cell is rounded in curvature, and level.

Step 7 Dirt Locker Erosion Control Installation: back fill cells with quality soil


Step 8: Plant Your Desired Plants, Flowers, Trees and Shrubs

Plant your desired plants, flowers, trees and shrubs into your Dirt Locker cells.

Step 8 Dirt Locker Erosion Control Installation: plant your desired plants, flowers, trees and shrubs, and include steps

Make sure to leave some cells empty for gravel or stone to create steps that will allow you to walk up and down your hillside for maintenance or just enjoying your garden!

Dirt Locker Sloped Walkway with gravel steps, flowers and plants


Best Plants for Hillsides and Erosion Control

When it comes to selecting plants for your Dirt Locker systems, there are several options to consider that are ideal for hillsides and erosion control. When selecting plants, shrubs, grasses and trees for your hillside, it’s important to choose types that are well-suited to your particular hillside environment, taking into account critical factors such as sunlight, soil type, and water availability.

Here are a few suggestions:



Groundcovers are a great option for hillsides, as they help to stabilize the soil and prevent erosion. Juniper plants, like Blue Rug Juniper, are not only an excellent choice for planting on hills and slopes to control erosion, they also have the following additional beneficial traits:

  • Hardiness: evergreen shrubs that thrive in most US growing zones
  • Versatility: they add depth and color to any landscape
  • Easy Care: deer resistant, salt tolerant, and extremely low maintenance
Blue Rug Juniper groundcover plant for hillsides from Plantingtree.com

Sprawling Blue Rug Juniper groundcover from PlantingTree.com

Other groundcovers for erosion control to consider include creeping thyme, creeping phlox, and sedum.


Native Grasses

Native grasses are well adapted to their local environment and can help to prevent erosion. Good options include tall blue fescue grass, blue grama, buffalo grass, and switchgrass.

Blue Fescue Grass from PlantingTree.com

Beautiful Blue Fescue Grass from PlantingTree.com



Shrubs with deep roots can help to stabilize soil and prevent erosion. Some good options include serviceberry, sumac, and ninebark.

Gro-Low Sumac in the fall. Image courtesy of Conservation Garden Park

Gro-Low Sumac in the fall. Image courtesy of Conservation Garden Park



Perennials with deep root systems can help to stabilize soil and prevent erosion. Some good options include coneflower, black-eyed Susan, and aster.

Black-Eyed Susans on landscaped hillside

Black-Eyed Susans on landscaped hillside



Trees with deep roots can also help to prevent erosion on hillsides. Some good options include oak, hickory, and pine.

Small pine tree on landscaped hillside

Small pine tree on landscaped hillside


Dirt Locker Resources


Dirt Locker Discount Promo Code

For any purchases on Dirt Locker, be sure to use the PURGULA5 discount promo code, to receive a 5% discount on your order.


More Recommended Landscaping & Gardening Articles


Purgula is reader-supported. When you click on links to other sites from our website, we may earn affiliate commissions, at no cost to you. If you find our content to be helpful, this is an easy way for you to support our mission. Thanks! Learn more.