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Cannon: Landscape too flat? Bump it up with a berm

POSTED: March 8, 2013 1:00 a.m.

Do you have a berm in your landscape?

A berm is an easy and functional way to create height and can add interest to an otherwise dull, flat landscape. Berms are mounded hills of soil constructed to block out unsightly views, drain water or redirect foot traffic.

The most common reasons to create a berm are for aesthetic purposes, such as adding raised elements to the garden and emphasizing a main focal point in the landscape. Berms, when created properly, have a sloping natural look that flows well in the landscape. They should gradually trail or spread into a lawn.

Generally, a berm should be 4 to 5 times as long as it is high. They can vary in size and shape and can have more than one peak in an individual mound. But generally, a berm is no higher than 18 to 24 inches.

When creating a berm, think about the mature height and spread of the plants to be planted. This will give the gardener an idea of how many plants to use and how to space them. Take flour or spray paint and outline the desired shape of the berm. Most berms are given a crescent shape, but anything with natural curving look will work. Remember, the purpose is to create a continual flow throughout the lawn.

Usually the peak of the berm should be located near one side of the mound rather than the middle. If possible, install more than one berm in varying sizes and shapes to emphasize a natural design.

Since berms are sloped, consider the drainage surrounding them as it may affect drainage patterns by redirecting runoff. Adding a border to the berm will also keep the soil from eroding.

Dig up soil lightly to break surface crust before creating the berm, then bring in filler soil to make up the major portion. Spread out a layer of topsoil with composted material on top of filler soil; mix the two layers together 2 to 3 inches. Pile up the soil to create a sloping mound and create a pleasing shape that mimics the surrounding landscape.

As the berm begins to take shape, step back to see how it looks. When the desired natural shape is finalized, make sure the berm transitions well into the existing landscape. The slope of the berm should be a gradual transition to level ground.

When the berm is ready for planting, plant the tallest plants along the top level of the mound. Small trees like crape myrtles work well. Remember, a gradual downflow from top to bottom is the desired effect.

Add a second layer of shorter plants around the top planting. Perennials plants such as gardenia and azaleas would work well as second level plantings. Plant in groups of three to create balance.

Add a third layer of even shorter plants to give the berm a tiered effect. Plants such as pink muhly grass or hardy plumbago will add interest.

Finally, plant some low level annual blooming plants such as begonia or salvia in the summer and pansies and violas in the winter for a continual color change. Finish with a border plant such as dwarf mondo grass to define the edges and provide evergreen color year-round.

While these are only plant suggestions, the choices are endless as to what can be planted to create flow and texture within a berm.

Berms should enhance and blend into the overall design of a landscape and should imitate the surroundings. By creating asymmetrical mounds that imitate natural settings, you add interest to a flat landscape. Now is a great time to design a well thought-out berm. Spring is right around the corner!

Wanda Cannon serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the Hall County Extension office. Phone: 770-535-8293. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.


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