En Español

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?


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

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
1 rating

Saturday - September 13, 2008

From: Valdez, NM
Region: Southwest
Topic: Shrubs
Title: Planting shrubs on a rocky slope
Answered by: Nan Hampton


I need to plant a rocky slope, facing south and west, to cut down erosion. Other than creating terraces, are there tricks for securing individual shrubs or trees to a slope when planting? What plants to you recommend for zone 4 (near Taos Ski Valley) at 7,500 ft.? I'm assuming the native ones like chamisa, sage brush, Apache plume, but others, too? Thanks! Helga


Planting on a rocky slope is tricky.  First, you are better off if you use shrubs that have meshed or intertwining roots rather than a tap root.  This type of root system is going to hold on to the soil better on the slope than plants with tap roots.  Mr. Smarty Plants found a forum, "Planting shrubs on a hillside", on GardenWeb with several useful suggestions. These include planting the shrubs in a plastic pot with the bottom removed.  The pot on the upside of the slope won't be visible and the edge of the pot on the downside of the slope will hold the soil and the roots in place until the plant is established.  You can then remove the visible plastic pot.  Another suggestion was to use plastic edging on the downslope side of the planting and fill with soil.  The plastic edging can be removed once the plant is established.  Still a more natural setting could be accomplished by making a small rock wall on the downslope side and filling it with soil.  It could be left in place or removed after the plant is established.

The three plants you mentioned—Atriplex canescens (chamiso), Fallugia paradoxa (Apache plume) and the sagebrushes,  Artemisia frigida (prairie sagewort)Artemisia ludoviciana (white sagebrush), Artemisia tridentata (big sagebrush)—are all good choices.

You might also consider using various grasses.  Grasses are great plants for controlling erosion since they have extensive fibrous root systems.  Here are a few suggestions for grasses:

Achnatherum hymenoides (Indian ricegrass)

Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama)

Bouteloua gracilis (blue grama)

Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem)

Sporobolus airoides (alkali sacaton)

Here are more small shrubs that would do well on your rocky slope:

Cercocarpus montanus (alderleaf mountain mahogany)

Dasiphora fruticosa ssp. floribunda (shrubby cinquefoil)

Ericameria nauseosa ssp. nauseosa var. nauseosa (rubber rabbitbrush)

Gutierrezia sarothrae (broom snakeweed)

Mahonia repens (creeping barberry)

Rhus trilobata (skunkbush sumac) and photos and more information

Sphaeralcea coccinea (scarlet globemallow)


Atriplex canescens

Fallugia paradoxa

Artemisia frigida

Artemisia ludoviciana

Artemisia tridentata

Achnatherum hymenoides

Bouteloua curtipendula

Bouteloua gracilis

Schizachyrium scoparium

Sporobolus airoides

Cercocarpus montanus

Dasiphora fruticosa ssp. floribunda

Ericameria nauseosa ssp. nauseosa var. nauseosa

Gutierrezia sarothrae

Mahonia repens

Sphaeralcea coccinea




More Shrubs Questions

Flowering evergreen shrubs for sun in Austin
August 09, 2010 - I am looking for a flowering evergreen shrubs that can take all afternoon sun(on the west side of our house. Preferably 2ft high and 2 ft wide. I had planted a few Salvia Greggii(Autumn Sage) which on...
view the full question and answer

Dog and kid barrier in East Wenatchee WA
October 01, 2009 - I have about a 8 foot section between my driveway and the neighbor's yard, and their kids and dogs like to run through it! I would like to plant a non-invasive 4-6 foot growing shrub/bush of some s...
view the full question and answer

Low-maintenance native plants for Arizona
March 12, 2009 - Will you please suggest some Native plants that can be left without care for the summer and survive - other than cactus?
view the full question and answer

Plants for steep slope in Pittsburgh PA
April 25, 2013 - I have a similar question to one from SC. I live in Pittsburgh, PA. We have a steep slope behind a newly built in pool. What type of plants can I put on the hillside to hold the soil. It gets a ...
view the full question and answer

Viburnum Leaf Beetle Damage to Native Viburnums
February 02, 2016 - Dear Friends, I am an officer of Protectors of Pine Oak Woods, a Staten Island, NY land conservation organization which also involves itself in forest restoration and invasive species control projects...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center