En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Sunday - May 04, 2014

From: Edwardsville, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: Erosion Control, Ferns, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Ground cover to control hillside erosion in Illinois
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I have seen some other questions regarding native plants for erosion control, but I am looking specifically for plants that will do well on a hill in partial to full shade. I am told the soil in our area in Southern Illinois has a very high pH also. I have asked around for advice but most people recommend invasive ground covers. Our hill is completely bare right now, so we need something that will take root quickly. Thank you for any advice!

ANSWER:

Grasses are an excellent solution for erosion control because of their extensive fibrous root systems.   Most grasses grow best in full sun; however, there are some that will do well in shade and part shade.  Here are some that are native to Illinois.

Andropogon virginicus (Broomsedge bluestem) is noted for its use for erosion control and grows in partial shade and can grow in very acid soils.

Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats) is an attractive bunch grass that grows in shade and part shade and in soils with pH 5.0 to 7.0.

Elymus canadensis (Canada wild rye) grows in sun and part shade with a soil pH range of 5.0 to 7.9.

Elymus virginicus (Virginia wildrye) grows in partial shade and grows in soils of pH 5.0  to 7.4.

Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass) grows in sun and part shade with a wide range of soil pH values, from 4.5 to 7.5.

Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass) grows in sun, part shade and shade.   It will tolerate a wide range of soil pH values, from 5.0 to 7.8.

All the above grasses can grow from 2 to 5 feet tall (even 8 feet tall—Indiangrass).  You could potentially use a variety of them for an interesting appearance.  Sedges are very grass-like and tend to be shorter and of a more even height.  Many of them are evergreen.  Here is one recommended one:

Carex blanda (Eastern woodland sedge) is an evergreen sedge that grows in sun, part shade and shade and will grow in very acidic soils from pH 4.4 to 7.0.

You could also add low-growing shrubs to the mix.  Here are a few:

Aralia nudicaulis (Wild sarsaparilla) grows in the shade and prefers acid, sandy soil, pH 5 to 6.

Chimaphila maculata (Striped prince's pine) is a low plant with striped, evergreen leaves that grows well in acidic woods.

Chimaphila umbellata (Pipsissewa) also has evergreen leaves (but without the stripes) and grows in acidic soils, pH 5 to 6.

Ferns and other non-flowering plants that grow in the shade are other good choices:

Lycopodium obscurum (Rare clubmoss), an evergreen, non-flowering plant that grows in the shade and tolerates a wide range of pH values.

All the ferns listed below grow in the shade and in acidic soils.

Athyrium filix-femina (Common ladyfern)

Dryopteris carthusiana (Shield fern)

Osmunda cinnamomea (Cinnamon fern)

Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern)

If your slope is very steep and bare, you may want to consider erosion-control blankets to stabilize the erosion area so that seeds have a better chance to germinate and become established. The erosion-control fabric works by slowing the runoff water and allowing sediment to fall out rather than be washed away. Seeds are sown under the erosion-control material and grow up through the matting when they germinate. Underneath the matting the roots of the plants growing through the erosion-control material anchor the soil to stop the erosion. If you use erosion-control blankets made of biodegradable material, they will eventually disappear leaving the plants to control the problem. Seeds can be sown under an erosion control blanket or grass plugs and other plants can be planted by cutting holes through the blanket.  This material is available at most nurseries.  In the linked article above from the University of Washington there are descriptions of other erosion control materials that can be used.  Your slope might also benefit from some of the other methods discussed there.

Below are photos from our Image Gallery of some of the recommended plants.

 

From the Image Gallery


Broomsedge bluestem
Andropogon virginicus

Inland sea oats
Chasmanthium latifolium

Virginia wildrye
Elymus virginicus

Switchgrass
Panicum virgatum

Indiangrass
Sorghastrum nutans

Eastern woodland sedge
Carex blanda

Wild sarsaparilla
Aralia nudicaulis

Striped prince's pine
Chimaphila maculata

Pipsissewa
Chimaphila umbellata

Rare clubmoss
Lycopodium obscurum

Cinnamon fern
Osmunda cinnamomea

Christmas fern
Polystichum acrostichoides

More Erosion Control Questions

Grasses for a pasture in Hays County, Texas with horses
March 20, 2015 - I intend to sow grass seed over a few acres of pasture on which I'll have a couple of horses in Driftwood, TX. I'd like to know what variety of seed(s) would be most beneficial to the land - and th...
view the full question and answer

Hillside Erosion Control for Gainesville GA
August 07, 2013 - I have a steep bare hill and the runoff from it is heavy this year. I need help with a fast growing groundcover that will help control erosion and runoff. Planting on the hill is difficult because you...
view the full question and answer

Environmentally friendly native erosion control plants for arid hillside in Austin
July 15, 2006 - Hi, I'm moving into Agave, the new east side development in Austin. It's currently an arid hill with almost no trees and a steep (by gardening standards) hill. As a community, we'd love to...
view the full question and answer

Non-allergenic landscape in Fairfield, CT
April 18, 2009 - I live in Fairfield, CT and need to have a non-allergenic landscape. Can you please list plants, ground covers, and trees/shrubs that would be beautiful, and help in this critical situation? The lan...
view the full question and answer

Plants for slope in central Alabama
July 26, 2011 - Our home is atop a 20-25' eastern facing sandy loam slope in central Alabama. It was previously covered w/ kudzu. After 3 yrs. of eradication of the kudzu we are ready to plant with native grasses/pl...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP | STAFF
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center