Creating a landscape berm or mound is one of the best ways to add instant height and interest to your yard landscaping. It’s also a good way to fill an empty spot or eyesore in your yard. In my case: replacing a juniper bush.
My front yard was spoiled by an overgrown juniper. It was 20 feet wide and close to five feet tall at the highest point.
Worse, there was a blackberry bush growing through the middle of it that we couldn’t reach to remove, so it was spreading its invasive seeds throughout the land. These scourges had to go.
As part of my five-year plan for fixing up my house, I wanted to get rid of the juniper, build a landscape berm and fill it with low-maintenance plants. I finished the berm this year, and I have to tell you that building a berm is fun!
If you feel like your yard is missing a special focal point, you may want to DIY a landscape berm. This is a rewarding project that can make a huge difference to your yard design and curb appeal. Here’s the easy tutorial to build your own berm!
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How to Create a Landscape Berm
- Bow rake
- Gloves (this is my favorite pair for tough yardwork)
- Weed barrier
- Landscape staples
- Jute netting
- Mulch or bark chips
- Landscaping plants (see my favorites listed below)
- Large landscaping rocks
- Wheelbarrow (optional, in case the soil isn’t delivered straight to the berm location)
Decide Where You Want Your Berm
First you’ll need to plan where you want to build a berm.
Do you want a landscaping island in the middle of your yard? Are you adding a berm along the side of your front yard to frame the street view of your home? Or maybe you want a garden mound at the far end of your backyard to create some privacy?
You’ll also want to consider rainwater flow and drainage. If you build a berm, will this block or change the way water drains from your yard? You may want to check with an expert to make sure you don’t end up diverting water in an undesirable direction.
Also think about what shape and size of berm will look best in your yard. Berms look good with an asymmetrical shape, like a kidney rather than a circle.
I built a kidney-shape berm in my front yard, where it adds a little bit of privacy but still leaves the house in view from the street.
Clear the Space for Your Landscape Berm
Now that you know where and how big you want your berm, you can clear the space to make room. Remove or transplant any plants from the area.
If you are creating your berm over a lawn, you can leave most of the lawn in place because you’ll be covering it up with cardboard. But it’s a good idea to dig up the lawn along the edges of your future berm and use the pieces to start building up the berm.
My husband Eric and I had this giant juniper to remove. We tried to cut away at it, but it seemed to be growing back as fast as we could cut it. Ultimately we used truck power to rip it out (with extreme caution).
Cover the Area With Cardboard and Weed Barrier
Next it’s a good idea to cover the area with cardboard and weed barrier. This is when your Amazon shopping habit pays off. Flatten those cardboard boxes and lay them out, slightly overlapping each other.
Optional: Add Berm Filler From Your Landscaping Rejects
Now I have to ask you, is there anything you’re dying to get rid of? Do you have lousy fill dirt, broken bricks or ugly landscaping rocks taking up space elsewhere in your yard? If it won’t decompose, it could be good berm filler.
The base of your berm doesn’t have to have quality soil. A lot of people use clay or fill dirt on the bottom of their berms, and then add the more nutrient-rich soil on top to feed their plants.
So that base level is where you can stick your landscaping rejects to start building up your berm. Eric says he’d use season 8 of Game of Thrones as berm filler, but I wouldn’t do that. #TeamStark
Place the rocks and filler toward the middle of your berm so they don’t poke out the lower levels of the berm. And avoid materials that will decompose and cause your finished berm to sink a bunch (like large amounts of leaves and grass clippings).
Order More Dirt Than You Thought You’d See in a Lifetime
Next it’s time to have soil delivered to build the bulk of your berm. You can use a cubic yard calculator to figure out how much soil you need based on the planned size of your berm.
I ordered a full unit of soil, which is 7.5 cubic yards. Here’s what a unit of soil looks like:
It seems like a lot at first! But once you spread it out and it settles, it ends up being just right.
Shape the Berm
Now grab a shovel and start moving the dirt around until you get the berm shape you want. It looks good to give it more than one peak. Use a bow rake to smooth it out, and make sure to give it a gentle slope from the peaks to the bottom of the berm.
It took me about two hours to shape my berm working alone. I gave it two peaks: one where the soil landed out of the truck, and one in the spot where I could throw a shovel-full of soil from there. This is my DIY efficiency trick. 😀
I added a layer of pine needles because 1) my yard has a ton of pine needles, and 2) pine needles tend not to wash away, so they can add a little bit of stability to your berm. This is just an option if you have lots of pine needles.
Once you’ve shaped your berm, I recommend wrapping it in jute netting. This will help hold the shape of the berm together while your plants fill in, and then it will eventually decompose. Just roll out the jute over your entire berm and fasten it in place with landscaping staples.
Finally, cover the jute with mulch or bark chips to finish up your berm. This is what three cubic yards of mulch looks like. I only needed about two yards of mulch and moved the last yard to other parts of my landscaping.
By this point in the project, I have to be honest that my body felt broken from all of the shoveling, shaping and landscape staple pounding. But I was still having fun! Just remember to take a break if you need to, for the sake of your back.
Landscape Your Berm
With your berm now built, it’s time to fill it in with beautiful plants. I recommend using mostly evergreen and drought tolerant plants.
Evergreens will provide year-round greenery, so you’re not looking at a mound of sticks in the winter. And drought tolerant plants are nice for slopes (and forgetful gardeners).
Add your bigger plants and trees first. I would plant them up on the peaks of the berm.
Then add rocks if you’d like. Believe it or not, my berm has over 850 pounds of gray basalt rock. Doesn’t look like it, right? Bigger is often better, but you may need help getting rocks and boulders delivered.
Finally, add smaller plants around your big plants and rocks. Try grouping similar plants together for bigger impact.
Easy-Care Plants for Berm Landscaping
Once established, these plants can live year-round without regular watering from me. They have all been great survivors in my zone 8 climate. Find your planting zone here.
Weeping Blue Atlas Cedar (Zones 6-9)
This evergreen and drought tolerant blue pine is the focal point at the main peak of my berm. I transplanted it from another spot in my yard, then read that these trees don’t like being transplanted! It dropped a bunch of pine needles, but I watched and watered it every day. After a month or two it recovered and is now re-established and happy.
Forsythia (Zones 3-9, varies by type)
This is the only deciduous (non-evergreen) plant in my berm, on the second peak. Forsythias turn to sticks in the winter, but then they have irresistible yellow flowers in late winter/early spring, and green leaves in summer and fall.
Dwarf Mugo Pine (Zones 2-8)
Evergreen and drought tolerant, these hardy little pine shrubs will slowly grow up to five feet tall and ten feet wide. I’ll keep them cut back a little smaller than that. They make a nice complementary shrub among the showier evergreens.
Candytuft (Zones 3-9, varies by type)
This is one of my favorite mounding perennials. It is low maintenance and doesn’t need much water once established. The leaves stay green all year, and it has little white flowers in spring and/or summer.
Cherry Tart Stonecrop (Zones 4-9)
This tough little succulent has turned out so cute! It was the only plant in my berm that I hadn’t tried before. It started out green and pink when I planted it in the spring and then turned to this full-on beautiful pink color in the summer! This one pairs beautifully with the sedum tiles and rocks, and it has grown and thrived in the hot sun.
Elijah Blue Fescue (Zones 4-11)
These modern looking grasses are so easy, I have dozens throughout my yard and I’ve never lost one! They grow to about a foot wide and tall, with foliage colors ranging from green and blue to silver and yellow in the summer. I’ve seen them marked as part-sun or full-sun; they love the heat and have done well with both in my Portland yard.
Sedum Tile (Zones 3-9, varies by type)
Sedum tiles are drought tolerant little succulents that offer year-round interest and ground cover. Just tear the tiles into five-inch squares and place them throughout your berm to help fill in the gaps. Look for tiles that have lots of different colors and types of sedum in them. They’re really pretty around rocks!
Updating Your Yard
A landscape berm can add so much beauty to your yard, and they’re sort of addicting. I’m already thinking about where I could add a berm to my backyard.
As you update your landscaping, you might also like these 7 quick wins to make your yard look like a million bucks.