Paris

If your board or whoever will let you build a border, this would be your solution.

To add 4" of soil or mulch, you'll need to install a border of some kind around the entire hill, either of landscape timbers or of pavers, making it into a raised bed around the tree, to hold the soil or mulch in place against washing downhill every time it rains.

Same thing for gravel which needs something to hold it in place, otherwise time and traffic will slowly but surely move it all down the hill (and out into the street and parking lot), leaving the area under the tree bare again.

But if they won't let you build the border, then you can't cover up the roots, and then you can't make it into a place for people to congregate because they will trip over the exposed roots. You can't even put some benches directly on the ground or around the tree trunk, because people will trip over the roots.

You can't lay a path on top of the roots, so it would need to be quite far out from the tree, away from the roots, and thus would be quite a large path, whether it went anywhere or just went around in a circle.

If you're going to cover the roots with 4" of anything, no matter what the diameter of the space you're going to cover, whether a tiny border just around the tree trunk, or a huge border around the entire hill, it needs to have a paver or landscape timbers border constructed around the perimeter to hold it all in place. It will be a terrace, elevated above the surrounding parking lot by about 6".

People may trip over it, or drive over it, so your board needs to check their insurance.

You cannot restore the grass because, although the area is heavily shaded by the tree and you could plant a shade mixture there, the amount of traffic that has worn it away to mud as people take shortcuts across it would mitigate against any grass taking hold there. Anything you plant will simply get trampled on again, because people don't change their habits.

They're going to cut that corner no matter what's growing there.

The only way you'd be able to restore lawn there would be if you were to build a fence or hedge around the entire corner, or if you were able to build a border to hold the necessary soil in place, which border--theoretically at least--would also serve to warn drivers not to drive there.

Generally a fence or hedge needs to be at least 3 to 4 feet high to discourage people from simply stepping over it and taking their usual shortcut, and to make it obvious to drivers.

You could plant a ground cover there without adding any soil, but it would hide the tree roots, and people would trip over them as they cut across the ground cover. So, again, you'd need a pedestrian-proof fence. Or else a border, and some soil.

I don't understand where a path would go. Just around the tree in a big circle? Generally a path goes from Point A to Point B, not simply around in a circle.

You could potentially put a pathway around it, but due to the high level of pedestrian traffic and the potential for litigation, a flagstone pathway would probably not be a good idea, as even well-positioned flagstones can catch a heel and trip someone, so that leaves a poured concrete sidewalk, which may be a little beyond your skill level.

Quite frankly, I think you've been given very difficult task, and you are not wrong when you are feeling out of your depth.

This is a project that would be a challenge even for a semi-experienced DIY homeowner to implement on his own property.

The people who suggested this to you don't know what to do with it, either, and they're hoping you can come up with something. There would be absolutely no shame in a high school kid saying, "Uh, I think I'm in over my head here", and passing on the project.

Part of being smart is knowing when to back away.

If you just need a project, one thing you could do would be a much smaller version of the raised bed border, just around the tree trunk, about 3 feet wide out from the trunk.

This is standard around trees, it's easy to build with pavers or bricks, and you simply pour a couple inches of mulch into it and you're done. It doesn't address the entire corner with the hill and the roots, but it does make the tree itself look nice.

You could then place a bench or two on top of the soil or mulch which is being held in place by the landscape timbers or pavers.

Benches don't necessarily need a pathway unless someone's going to make an issue of wheelchair access.

Paris

I'm looking at a couple things I found when thinking over the tarp idea, mostly UV resistant commercial grade groundcovers.

One of them is inexpensive concrete stones are one of the better solutions to muddy areas. They're fairly indestructible and they stop most weeds.

In theory you could cut 7 mil tarp into 2' wide strips and just sort of staple / landscape stake it into the ground, then cover the entire thing in mulch, and weeds would have a difficult time growing into it, and it would survive being hit with a shovel. I think it would be both cheaper and more durable than landscape fabric.

I mean ideally you'd dig the whole path out and have it filled with gravel, but that's a lot more expensive and digging that long of a path would be an insane undertaking - you'd have to rent a digger.

Yet if you're putting mulch over a tarp the tarp isn't doing much. Most weeds won't grow through 3-4 inches of mulch, but rather grow from seeds on the surface.

I know that works great on a flowerbed or around trees or other large plants, and I've used it myself. The problem with using bark or wood chips on high traffic walk paths is that it breaks down faster than it does in a place where it rarely/never gets walked on.

Last spring I removed the last path that had bark/wood mulch on it (this was a mix of wood from the wood chipper, and stuff that was raked up from the area I split firewood) which had originally been a minimum of 3 inches deep. After 1 year it had basically 1 layer of intact chips/bark/large pieces on top (stuff that could dry out in the sun), and under that was 1.5 inches of what can only be described as wet sawdust compost.

It just doesn't hold up to being ground together every time I step on it, hour after hour, day after day all year, combined with being essentially wet all the time and then buried in snow for 5 months.

Paris

Here are a few tips for next time you are up for some DIY concrete landscape curbing.

Set the top of your forms to the height of your curb that way when finishing you can just skim over the top of your forms instead of trying to work a trowel in between them. Then just take a bullnose trowel and slide it along the inner edge of the form to round your edges and to prevent cracking the concrete when you pull the forms.

If you want to stick with the same width, put beer cans along the inside of the benderboardabout every foot as you are making your curves.

This will keep the spacing between the forms more consistent. Fewer curves, and bigger radius curves. The tight curves really make it difficult to keep the forms a consistent width.

Bigger and fewer curves will give you a much easier job, and in the end, will be more aesthetically pleasing. It is also a pain in the ass to mow and edge in those tight curves.

Wider curbing.

The first few I did were pretty narrow, and since I am not a pro, I too had some inconsistency with the width along the forms. The last one I did, I increased the width of the curbing to about 1'. At first, I thought it would look too wide, but once done, it turned out to look pretty nice.

Also, any changes in width along the curbing are much less noticeable.

A tip for next time.

I also gave the surface a distressed look.

First, I threw down a black color topper in random spots, then I laid down a concrete stamp when the cement was starting to set up. I struck the backside of the mat with a rubber mallet and made some pretty drastic depressions. I jointed every 12". The result? It sorta looks like 12" stones stacked side by side.

We like it.

Paris

I feel like I deal with grading issues often. Basically this area is just a glorified swamp.

Dig trenches (have someone do this or get a backhoe), line with perforated pipe and cover with 3/4 gravel. Perforated pipe is about 50 bucks per hundred feet at Home Depot. This all needs to drain into a catchment area. 3/4 inch gravel is about $44 dollars per ton or less.

My neighbors have almost the same situation as you do, but we have drainage ditch that is a seasonal steam that flows to the nearest river.

If the surrounding area outside your property gets saturated with water and there's no way for it to drain, there isn't much you can do except to help that area drain. For that, you'll need to figure out how to handle that.

Depending on where you are, I can recommend some guys who are good at putting in drainage.

Dry wells are tricky, they only solve a problem if they can dissipate water faster than they take it in.

Even with large dry wells, if the water table is high enough, which it would be if you have standing water, it will fill up and slowly dissipate the water into the ground table. I think it would help some, since depending on how much rain you get in one shot it would store the water there opposed to it being standing in your yard.

You just have to make sure you don't run into conservation commission issues. Some towns have those.

It's simply moving the water away. If there is no place for the water to go to, it will still fill up.

If you have the money, it can be done, but I'd make sure you know that

After a trench is dug, then you have a truck come by with a few tons of 3/4 gravel. You shovel those into a wheel barrow and push it over.

Then you get perforated pipe and lay it down in the trench and cover with 3/4 gravel.

But if there is nowhere for the water to go, then you're screwed.

You can contact en engineering firm and they can let you know what your options are.

I've paid about 2-3 grand to trench out my back yard, but there is a place for the water to go.

If there is no place for the water to go, then you need to create a place for the water to go.

A rain garden is your best bet for landscaping wet sites.

Trees:

  • RiverBirch
  • Willow
  • Bald Cypress

Shrubs:

  • Inkberry Holly
  • Red Twigged Dogwood
  • Winterberry Holly

Perennials:

  • Blue or Yellow flag Iris.

I would also try to dig a diversion ditch, as you were discussing, to take the water away from the affected area. The goal would be to take it off of your property. If that is not possible, however, take it to a low point and create a rain garden.

Paris

My backyard has everyone else's drain into mine. I have a swale going across the back lawn to divert the water, but this year also dug a trench and put the flexible pipe with a drainage basin at each end.

First, the purpose is to catch the water coming into the yard to take pressure off the swale, and having it all run across the lawn and possibly over flow into my yard which it's done in large rain events and snow melts.

Second, I have a basin at the other end, which the first one is connected to. This whole system drains to our front ditch. Thirdly, all of my downspouts are tied into piping to drain away from the house as well. I don't think a sump pump is a good idea, and have never heard of anyone using one.

You should be able to rent a trencher if you don't want to dig a trench. I'm going to be putting larger river rock down my swale next year and plant some water loving plants in it to suck more water up.

Cost for my most recent drainage project was only $200 with the flexible drainage system from Lowes.

Paris

We recently got three quotes to do some grading around the house we moved into. We're also getting our down spouts put into the ground and emitted out further from the house.

It's been difficult to compare them and figure out what way to go as they seemed to have all included different things and all recommend different things. One had very little description on the quote so I had to repeatedly ask for clarification. How do you all recommend getting quotes and comparing them? I feel like if I had known more as to what needed to be done ahead of time it would have been smoother.

However I didn't know everything I needed or wanted until after talking to all of them.

I would not hesitate to add more detail and get another round of quotes from the less expensive contractors. The downside is that they will likely not be proactive, whereas the expensive contractor, by your description, sounds savvy enough to do the "right" thing when it comes to the minutiae you may not be aware of.

They may be folding extra digging, more/higher quality materials, etc. into their estimates.

The more I write here, the more I lean towards the expensive place.

But the price difference is significant. Could I go with a cheaper option but just add on the additional items and be confident that they'll do a good job? All have excellent reviews online.

Looking at how the grade matches the driveway until it gets close to the house, I do not see how one could create a positive slope without bringing in fill dirt. I don't expect the leftover dirt from the downspout job would be enough.

Sadly, when it comes to the trades, I've found you often get what you pay for.

Price is important when evaluating a bid, but it is not the only factor. In fact, I have reached a point where professionalism is all-or-none. I will fire a tradesman if they are a no-show and don't call ahead of their scheduled arrival--no second chances.