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Wednesday - July 22, 2009

From: Baltimore, MD
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Rain Gardens, Compost and Mulch, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Native plants for a bioswale in Baltimore
Answered by: Barbara Medford


What native plants would suit a bioswale in an urban part of Baltimore City? The clay soil gets waterlogged and the site has part shade.


Mr. Smarty Plants is not THAT smart, and can always learn something new. This time we learned about bioswales. Common swales are typically vegetated with turf grass and are a conveyance tool, basically a grassy stormwater sewer that conveys water as quickly as possible from Point A to Point B. A bioswale differs in that the turf grass is replaced with native prairie vegetation. This will significantly reduce the flow velocity (slow down of the runoff) in the swale’s drainage course. The residence time of the runoff is thus increased, which gives it the time to be stored, filtered, and infiltrated. These processes remove pollutants and suspended solids from runoff.

In terms of your clay soil, we found this information on bioswale construction from the USDA, which shows compost tilled into the native soil (clay, in this instance) to facilitate the drainage. The plants we have selected are all perennial, tolerate shade, and will grow in moist, clay soils. These are plants with fibrous roots that will hold in the soil when water is rushing by, help to slow it down, and permit the pollutants in the water to be filtered out. 

Since our suggestions are basically for prairie grasses, you might be interested in reading our How-To Article Recreating a Prairie, which has instructions for time of year to be planting, preparing the soil, planting and caring for the grasses. When you are ready to begin, go to our Native Plant Suppliers section, put your town and state in the Enter Search Location box, and you will get a list of native plant nurseries, seed companies and landscape consultants in your general area who can help you select the right plants for your purpose.

Andropogon gerardii (big bluestem)

Carex blanda (eastern woodland sedge)

Carex hystericina (bottlebrush sedge)

Carex texensis (Texas sedge)

Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats)

Elymus canadensis (Canada wildrye)

Elymus virginicus (Virginia wildrye)

Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass)

Andropogon gerardii

Carex blanda

Carex hystericina

Carex texensis

Chasmanthium latifolium

Elymus canadensis

Elymus virginicus

Sorghastrum nutans






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