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Thursday - December 04, 2008

From: Rapid City, SD
Region: Midwest
Topic: Erosion Control
Title: Native plants for erosion control in South Dakota
Answered by: Nan Hampton


Dear Mr. Smarty Plants: I live in the Black Hills of South Dakota at about 5000 feet ASL. My house is on a steep hill. I had to clear a perimeter around my house of all the pine trees for fire suppression reasons. Now I have a bare, steep slope, and it only gets about 2-3 hours of direct sunlight, but filtered light all day. The house and the forest block direct light except from about 10-1. I want to plant native species plants that would control erosion, add color, and hopefully feed birds. Because of the steep slope, I was hoping to find a mix that could be planted beneath an erosion blanket. Otherwise, if I surface sow, I think all the seeds will end up at the bottom of the hill after the first rain. Do you have any suggestions.


Your idea about using erosion-control blankets is certainly the way to go.  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 biodegrable material, they will eventually disappear leaving the plants to control the problem.

Grasses are excellent plants to stop the erosion because of their extensive fibrous root systems which hold the soil in place.  The challenge is to find grasses and other plants that will grow well in your partial shade.  The first three are attractive tall grasses (3-8 feet) and grow in sun or partial shade (2-6 hours per day):

Panicum virgatum (switchgrass)

Andropogon gerardii (big bluestem)

Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass)

The following grasses tend to be less than 4 feet, but all will grow in sun or partial shade:

Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama)

Elymus canadensis (Canada wildrye)

Pascopyrum smithii (western wheatgrass).  This grass is widely used for erosion control.

Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem)

Some of the grasses have seeds that do not germinate well (e.g., western wheatgrass, Pascopyrum smithii) and do better by planting rhizomes.  This can be accomplished by making small holes in the erosion-control cloth. Be sure to check the PROPAGATON information on each of the species' pages.

You can add other plants to the grasses and you can find recommendations by choosing South Dakota from the map or the pull-down menu on our Recommended Species page.  This will give you a list of commercially available native plants that will do well in South Dakota landscapes. If you choose the Narrow Your Search option, you can select for shade tolerant plants under "Light requirement" by selecting "Part shade - 2-6 hours of sun per day".  There are also choices that you can make for "Soil moisture", "Habit (general appearance", and more.  Here are a few recommendations from that list:

Actaea rubra (red baneberry)

Anemone cylindrica (candle anemone)

Cornus canadensis (bunchberry dogwood)

Geum triflorum (old man's whiskers)

Hydrophyllum virginianum (eastern waterleaf)

Phlox pilosa (downy phlox)

Solidago nemoralis (gray goldenrod)

Symphoricarpos albus (common snowberry)

Panicum virgatum

Andropogon gerardii

Sorghastrum nutans

Bouteloua curtipendula

Elymus canadensis

Pascopyrum smithii

Schizachyrium scoparium

Actaea rubra

Anemone cylindrica

Cornus canadensis

Geum triflorum

Hydrophyllum virginianum

Phlox pilosa

Solidago nemoralis

Symphoricarpos albus






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