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

Landscaping Near Me: Why Lake of the Ozarks Landscaping is Difficult

Most homeowners desire an attractive, well-designed yard and outdoor living space. However, Lake of the Ozarks landscaping usually comes with some challenges that will need to 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.

These represent a few of the landscaping problems that play a major role in the design choices, the layout, and even the choice of shrubs and plants for your property. 

So, it’s good for new homeowners moving here to understand that though they have likely searched “landscaping near me,” things are often different in the Ozarks. Landscaping companies may have to use more strategic approaches. 

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

Other questions we often encounter can range from how to block out noise from lake boating traffic or how to create windbreaks. Are you looking to create a kid-friendly yard or are you at a place in life where you just want a private oasis for you and a few adult friends? Once you have determined just what you want then 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 often confronted with landscaping “Lake of the Ozarks style.” Here are just a few of the reasons why Lake of the Ozarks landscaping can be challenging, and 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 tends to present 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 so that you can make informed decisions. This can save you from opting for extraordinarily expensive choices that will have a profound effect on the stability and the desirability of your property.

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? It’s usually 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. 

When considering landscape or hardscape projects, think through 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 on 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. By doing so, you can break up the climb as well as planting nice flower beds, building a fire pit, or a barbecue grilling area with a table and some outdoor seating.

Some homeowners opt for a winding paver or natural stone pathway, similar to how a switchback works on a mountainside. This can afford some very nice softscape opportunities with flower beds, shrubs, butterfly garden spaces, or ornamental trees decorating 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. 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. 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 any hardscape features such as patios, walkways, foundations or flooring for outdoor kitchens and living spaces will require excavation. You need to be aware that some soil conditions can make the use of certain kinds of necessary landscaping equipment impossible.

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, render it 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 greatly impact the cost of your estimate.

Even simple jobs like planting shrubs and ornamental trees or building a fence can prove to be quite difficult in our rocky ground. 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’re going to need a surface and sub-surface that is 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 caught by surprise 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 both 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, be sure to 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

In order to make sure your land drains correctly and supports 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 grading may not be easily accomplished. The cost of repairs, parts, and labor may fall to you, as well as delaying the timeline of your landscape work.

A landscaping contractor can encounter a wide range of rock sizes when grading 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 out, your costs will undoubtedly go up.

So, it cannot be overstated that there is wisdom in researching and hiring a landscape company with proven experience at managing this kind of work. 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 a good 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 a project as accurately as possible, it’s fairly common that your contractor will encounter unforeseen obstacles that will impact the final price of the bid. Imagine the problem of discovering that there are underground boulders or even a large underground rock shelf disrupting the excavation.

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

At the end of the job, you could be surprised 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 and all 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 and 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. As rain falls on bare soil or areas of scant vegetation, the dirt can be displaced. 

As the runoff continues downhill, more soil gets dislodged and picked up in the flow. This process is continued throughout a rainstorm and gets multiplied by the number of rains over time. 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 as well as sudden slides.

There are different strategies that can be applied to each slope as needed or desired.

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 a variety of shapes and colors. At the lake it is often used on steep hills that run all the way 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 changes in elevation, 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.

Water can’t pass through most retaining walls so engineering effective drainage is extremely important. 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 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 to 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 filter more gently 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 to stabilize 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 both 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 a great choice for developing a lawn quickly.

Your Lake of the Ozarks landscape contractor will be well-acquainted with our local soils and which plants will 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, but they also provide effective management for drainage problems and help reduce erosion from rainwater runoff.

Dry creek beds typically follow natural or man-made gullies and are lined with colorful or decorative stone. Various sizes of cobbles, Mexican beach pebbles, and other rounded or smooth stones and river rock 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 want to 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 in difficult spaces 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 own 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 useful 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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