Steep hilly yard with retaining walls, stone steps, and patio at Lake of the Ozarks

Lake of the Ozarks Landscaping Challenges & Why We’re #1

Most homeowners desire an attractive, well-designed yard and outdoor living space. However, Lake of the Ozarks landscaping usually comes with some challenges that must be overcome. Our long sloping hills, excavating in rocky soil, the need to reclaim unusable space. And serious erosion problems are common in the Ozarks!

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These problems represent a few of the landscaping challenges that play a significant role in your landscape design choices. The layout and the choice of shrubs and plants for your property matter. 

So, it’s good for new homeowners moving here to understand that things are often different in the Ozarks. Landscaping companies may have to use more strategic approaches. 

Landscape design issues like those we’ll discuss often require creative solutions to achieve your goals for the look of your home or business property.

Other questions we encounter can range from how to block out lake boating noise or how to create windbreaks. Are you looking to create a kid-friendly yard? Or are you at a place where you want a private oasis for yourself and a few adult friends? Once you have determined what you want, it’s just a matter of how to make it happen.

When people relocate here from Kansas City, St. Louis, or other major cities, they are confronted with landscaping “Lake of the Ozarks style.” Here are a few reasons Lake of the Ozarks landscaping can be challenging. And you’ll learn how local contractors overcome these challenges to give you a beautiful property you can be proud of.

1. Lake homes on hillsides require a strategic approach.

Hillside landscaping presents the most challenging problems for most Lake of the Ozarks landscape companies, especially those who design and install hardscape features. 

Depending on whether we’re dealing with a natural undisturbed hillside or a slope that has been cut away and refilled, there are a few landscape design essentials you’ll want to bear in mind. 

And not all landscape contractors or designers will be as well-versed as others in dealing with these situations. So you will want to be aware of your options to make informed decisions. This can save you from opting for costly choices that will profoundly affect your property’s stability and desirability.

Natural gravel landscape and firepit on a steep hillside overlooking Lake of the Ozarks

Protect your view while addressing the challenges.

Why do homeowners choose homes on hills? Generally, it’s for the great view!  A great deal of the value of the home depends on this. Therefore, any landscaping choices need to maximize the beauty of the view or at least preserve it. 

So when considering landscape or hardscape projects, consider how they will affect the view. Is your existing scene from the interior of your house panoramic, or do you have a narrow view corridor? Determine how things will look from your favorite windows when implemented, and do your best to preserve or improve it.

Try to make slopes easier to navigate.

Many of our lake homes have had narrow winding staircases in the past. Consider employing terraced landings and retaining walls to provide more level spaces wherever possible when landscaping hillsides or sloped areas.

You can install nice stone stairs between levels, followed by larger level landing areas. Plus, by doing so, you can break up the climb and plant nice flower beds. Or building a fire pit or a barbecue grilling area with a table and outdoor seating can add functionality.

Some homeowners opt for a winding paver or natural stone pathway, similar to how a switchback works on a mountainside. As a result, this can offer some charming softscape opportunities with flower beds, shrubs, butterfly garden spaces, or ornamental trees to decorate the area.

Stone steps by a lake home on a hillside with lush green grass

Keep accessibility and maintenance needs in mind.

Hills and steep slopes can make lawn mowing difficult and even dangerous. However, many people hate to give up lovely grassy lawns, which we totally understand. That being said, many of our lake residents are retirees, and safety can become an issue when trying to care for a steep lawn area. Some hills are simply easier and safer to maintain when covered with decorative gravel and low-maintenance xeriscaping with hearty indigenous plants. 

We’ll address runoff and erosion issues a little later on, but suffice it to say that solutions for these will often include the strategic use of retaining walls, terracing, gravel, and landscape rock.

Also, you may want to consider planning for accessibility paths for trucks, gators, and trailers to be able to reach important access areas for property or equipment management.

2. Landscaping rocky ground: Excavating can be difficult in the Ozarks.

There are many ways that landscape rocks can be incorporated into front yard or backyard landscape designs. Your choice of rock, from boulders to ledge stone to landscape gravels will determine how and where they can be implemented and whether they will be problematic.

Though rocky ground will not keep you from building your design, it can significantly affect how much landscaping costs for your property. Therefore, we can’t emphasize strongly enough that you should hire only professional landscape companies with the experience, skill, and proper equipment to effectively work in the rocky soil of the Ozarks.

How to Manage Excavation

Building hardscape features such as patios, walkways, foundations, or flooring for outdoor kitchens and living spaces will require excavation. So you should be aware that some soil conditions can make certain necessary landscaping equipment unusable.

For instance, if you need an electrical or plumbing trench dug, large rocks or a rock shelf could damage the contractor’s equipment. Or, at best, it may become ineffective. If a trencher can’t be used, then the contractor will have to resort to hand digging or bringing in larger equipment. This can significantly impact the cost of your estimate.

Our rocky ground can complicate even simple jobs like planting shrubs and ornamental trees or building a fence. Experienced and reputable Lake of the Ozarks landscape companies will know how to inform customers during the bid process. Plus, the best landscapers will have the resources and equipment to handle whatever excavation needs may arise.

How to Create a Lawn

If you want good, healthy turf grass, you will need a surface and sub-surface free of stone and excess rocks. This way, your grass can root well, and you can mow it without hitting rocks that work their way up to the surface. 

Any good professional landscape contractor will know how to grade and clean the area before planting grass seed or laying sod.

How to Handle Rock Removal

After an Ozark landscaping or hardscape project, you will have a pile of rock to remove. Many homeowners are surprised when they’ve undertaken the landscaping of their property themselves, and there’s a harvest of rocks to manage.

Moving large rocks and extra stones requires a place to take them and a means of lifting and transporting them. If it’s a large project, it will require a dump truck and dumping fees.

Some of the rocks may be repurposed and used for future projects. If this is the case, make a plan for stockpiling them or adding them to your existing project. They can also be used for lining small slopes against erosion, providing underground drainage for other landscaping or hardscape needs, rip-rap ditch drainage, or even for other masonry projects.

How to Plan for Grading

To make your land drain correctly and support your hardscapes, grading rocky ground may be required.

Rocky areas like the Ozarks with such large hidden stones have been known to damage Bobcat blades and even graders. This means that some of your grades may not be easily accomplished. The cost of repairs, parts, and labor may fall to you, as well as delay your landscape work’s timeline.

A landscaping contractor can encounter a wide range of rock sizes when they grade your property. They must be able to provide heavy enough equipment to handle the heaviest and largest stones they expect to encounter. If they’re forced to rent a larger dozer or subcontract the grading, your costs will go up.

So, it cannot be overstated that there is wisdom in researching and hiring a landscape company with proven experience managing this kind of work. And it may even be worthwhile to enlist the services of an engineering contractor for your improvements if you already know that excavating or grading rocky ground is going to be an issue. 

A simple online search of terms like “landscaping near me” or “landscape companies near me” is an excellent place to begin. Then be sure to find and read Google reviews on the companies that are popular in those searches. A phone call to interview them would be in order, as well.

Honest contractors...want to be able to work within your budget to deliver the best solutions and results possible.

How to account for Hidden Costs

Though they try to bid on a project as accurately as possible, it’s relatively common that your contractor will encounter unforeseen obstacles that will impact the final price of the bid. Imagine the problem of discovering underground boulders or even a sizeable underground rock shelf disrupting the excavation.

It will cost the company more than expected if they expend extra service hours or encounter unexpected charges for hauling, subcontracting, or equipment rental or usage.

You could be surprised at the end of the job as these costs add up. Here are some helpful ways to help you plan for this:

  1. Be aware that problems and obstacles are often part of the process, and it doesn’t mean that your contractor is inept or trying to cheat you.
  2. Make sure that it is clearly understood by both parties that you must be asked to approve any additional services before they are implemented. The additional costs need to be described, and it’s best if these agreements are done in writing.
  3. Realize that all honest contractors dislike this part of the process. Instead, they want to be able to work within your budget to deliver the best solutions and results possible.

3. Rapid water runoff and erosion are problematic.

In the Ozarks, there is always a high potential for erosion. Consequently, how you treat your hills and slopes is very important. The dirt can be displaced as rain falls on bare soil or scant vegetation. 

As the runoff continues downhill, more soil gets dislodged and picked up in the flow. This process is continued throughout a rainstorm and multiplied by the number of rains over time. So it becomes easy to understand how you can lose so much ground to unabated erosion.

Sometimes the moisture seeps down into the ground and finds no adequate means of drainage. In a worst-case scenario, this underground moisture can eventually destabilize portions of the ground, causing larger areas to break loose and slide down the hill. This is often seen along highways where hills have been cut away with large areas of open ground exposed. Where there is no rip rap to help hold the soil in place, you will see large areas of land give way to slow erosion and sudden slides.

Different strategies can be applied to each slope as needed or desired. Your Lake of the Ozarks landscaping plan must address these challenges.

Decorative Gravel

Many are turning to decorative landscape gravel as a viable and sustainable substitute for a lawn. The use of gravel provides solutions for many problems in landscaping. It’s low maintenance, helps hold dirt in place, acts much like a mulch where desired, and provides a clean and attractive look with various shapes and colors. At the lake, it is often used on steep hills that run down to the water, preserving precious soil against erosion. Plantings, walkways, terraced patios, flower beds, and stone landscape steps all help make these properties extremely attractive and safe.

Before deciding whether using gravel in your landscape to help with erosion is the best choice for you, consult with your Ozarks landscape professional.

Retaining Walls

With steep elevation changes, retaining walls are often used to hold soil in place. By building retaining walls up the hillside, you can create a terraced yard where there was once a steep slope, reclaiming nice areas of level usable ground.

As an aesthetic value, your retaining walls can be designed as planting beds to provide accents and beauty in addition to their functional purpose.

Since water can’t pass through most retaining walls, engineering effective drainage is essential. If efficient drainage behind the wall isn’t present, hydrostatic pressure will build until it damages the structure. Are there cracks or bulges appearing in your retaining wall? It can be a warning sign that there isn’t proper drainage.

Check with your Lake of the Ozarks landscaping contractor to make sure they understand the need for proper drainage measures behind the wall. One would expect this to be common knowledge and practice. But unfortunately, these methods are either unlearned, overlooked, or perhaps even skimped on by unscrupulous contractors.

Terraced Landscaping

As mentioned above, homeowners can ask their hardscape contractors about how to terrace a hillside to reclaim more usable space. It always adds value to your property when you create more square footage for outdoor living spaces, landscaping, or gardening.

Three terraced patio levels on a slope by Lake of the Ozarks


Plants are one of nature’s own best defenders of soil. Tree and plant foliage act as umbrellas over the ground to deflect rain from landing directly on the soil. Raindrops are diverted to gently filter down to the soil with less energy.

Below the ground, the roots of our beloved plants help hold soil in place. For the most effective erosion-stoppers, choose plant species with fine roots that tend to spread out of a large area. These can be very helpful in stabilizing the soil in your sloped areas.

Where possible, one should choose a diverse variety of plants. Indigenous plants are best, but you can mix other decorative plants into your planting design. This way, if one of your species is endangered by disease, animals, or insects, you will have others that survive to hold your soil in place.

  • Choose groundcover plants to help protect against surface erosion. 
  • Avoid surface and subsurface erosion with creeping shrubs whose root systems are far-reaching. 
  • Employ hydroseeding (hydraulic mulch seeding) for quick coverage to help hold the soil in place until your other plants grow.
  • Pre-seeded flower mats have grown in popularity and are quick and easy.
  • Sod is an excellent choice for developing a lawn quickly.

Your Lake of the Ozarks landscaping contractor will be well-acquainted with our local soils. And they can recommend the best plants to create a healthy safeguard and decor for your slope.

Dry Creek Beds

Dry creek beds are also referred to as dry stream beds. These natural stone features aren’t just attractive. They also effectively manage drainage problems and help reduce erosion from rainwater runoff.

Dry creek beds typically follow natural or man-made gullies lined with colorful or decorative stone. Various sizes of cobbles, Mexican beach pebbles, and other rounded or smooth stones and river rocks are best for this project. To add further beauty, consider edging the bed with large stones, small boulders, pavers, or bricks. Some homeowners opt for edging the bed with plants for a more natural aesthetic.

If the runoff flows rapidly through your dry stream bed, you may consider using mortar to hold the rock in place.

Rip Rap

Riprap is a natural stone solution to slow water velocity and reduce or prevent erosion. It is composed of various kinds and sizes of rock and is commonly used on hillsides and steep slopes, along shorelines, and even for lining ditches or other drainage ways.

The size of rocks used for riprap can range from 4” to more than 2’. The pitch of the slope and speed of the runoff will determine the size of the rock required to protect against erosion.

The main disadvantage is that riprap isn’t easy for people or animals to walk across. The best solution is to fill the spaces that are difficult to traverse with gravel, smaller rocks, or dirt.

4. About Sustainability

How do I know if a slope is too steep and needs to be terraced?

2:1 Slope Ratio

This is a vertical drop of one foot per two horizontal feet. At this pitch water runs off quickly, often before it can seep into plants’ root zone. It is viewed as the most extreme slope where plants may still grow, although they still often fail.

3:1 Slope Ratio

A 3:1 slope ratio is milder, but you will still need plant species that are drought tolerant. At this pitch plant roots will get water and they can survive and do well. 3:1 is the maximal pitch to consider a grass lawn.

Less than 3:1 Slope Ratio

The more highly favored slope ratio is less than 3:1. More types of plants can thrive at this pitch since there will be greater availability of water at the root level.

Colorful flowers and plants on a hillside for the purpose of erosion control. on

Choose The RIght Plants for Your Slope

Different states will have their indigenous species of groundcover plants, creeping shrubs, and trees that are best for their microclimates. Missouri is no different. And our state, like many others, can even vary from region to region. 

For the best local plant options, the Missouri Botanical Garden website provides info on what native plants, shrubs, and trees are recommended. For more information, you can contact the Missouri University Agricultural Extension office.

In Conclusion

We hope you will find this information guide helpful to learn about and consider the challenges you may face in your Lake of the Ozarks landscaping project. 

Call now to speak with a friendly, qualified representative for one of the best landscape companies at the Lake – Heartland Landscape Group.

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