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

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Sunday - May 18, 2014

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Erosion Control, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Fast-growing ground cover for creekside
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Hi Mr. Smarty Plants. I live in Austin Texas and am looking for an aggressively spreading ground cover or grass to plant along a small creek on the back of my property in order to help with soil erosion. Something that grows not-too-terribly tall would be nice so we can still walk around back there. Also the area is quite shady because of the trees growing along the creek now. As in shady to the point that even the horseherb (Calyptocarpus vials) that I planted there has failed to thrive. Any suggestions?

ANSWER:

Grasses are very good for erosion control because of their extensive fibrous root system.  Most grasses prefer the sun; but there is one grass, Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats), that loves the shade and grows well in moist or dry soils.  The species page says it can grow 2 to 4 feet high, but it usually stays within the 2 foot range.   It is a clumping grass and a perennial.   If you buy plugs to plant, you can space them so that you can easily walk between them; however, they will eventually spread to fill in the intervening space if you allow them.  In the winter they will turn brown but still look attractive with their drooping seed stalks.   You will probably want to trim them in the spring to allow room for the new growth.

Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass) is another grass that grows well in the shade.  It is also a perennial but during most of the year it is low-growing.   It can reach a height of 8 feet with its attractive flower/seed stalk.

Nolina texana (Texas sacahuista) is grass-like, but not technically a grass.   It is evergreen and grows in clumps in part shade.

Other possibilities for shade plants that will aid in preventing erosion are some of the sedges.   These recommended below are evergreen and grow well in the shade. 

Carex blanda (Eastern woodland sedge) grows to about 1 foot tall.  Here is more information from Illinois Wildflowers.

Carex cherokeensis (Cherokee sedge) also grows to about 1 foot tall.   Here is more information from Missouri Botanical Garden.

Carex planostachys (Cedar sedge) grows to less than 1 foot.   Here is more information from Uvalde Texas A & M Agrilife Research & Extension Center.

 

From the Image Gallery


Inland sea oats
Chasmanthium latifolium

Indiangrass
Sorghastrum nutans

Texas sacahuista
Nolina texana

Eastern woodland sedge
Carex blanda

Cherokee sedge
Carex cherokeensis

Cedar sedge
Carex planostachys

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