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?


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

Tuesday - March 31, 2009

From: Edom, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Erosion Control
Title: Erosion under a Live Oak in Edom TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford


We have a large Live Oak tree in the front yard that I wouldn't part with for the world. The soil is almost solid sand underneath the tree, and in deep shade. It is on a slight slope and eroding with each rain. Is there anything that would stop the erosion and satisfy the family's need for a lawn to play on? We have tried St. Augustine, but there has been too much drought to keep it watered.


You have several issues in this situation. The sand, pretty normal for East Texas, is more prone to erosion than some of the firmer limestone or clay soils. The deep shade under the live oak is going to discourage many ground covers. Oak trees have a tendency to allelopathy; that is, they emit chemical substances to inhibit the growth of competing plants beneath them. We're sorry your St. Augustine failed, but not real sorry, because it is a non-native grass that slurps water. Although it is a shade-tolerant grass, the various problems cited above were probably too much for it.

The best plants for preventing erosion are native grasses, with their fibrous roots that grab and hold the soil. Again, the shade of the tree is is not going to permit a number of grasses to flourish. There are some grasses that will tolerate shade, which we consider less than 2 hours of sun a day, but they are not turf grasses, and will not give you a lawn to play on. 

Let's consider a multi-task approach to this situation, beginning with the deepest shade under the tree. Your best bet there is a good quality shredded hardwood mulch that will protect the tree roots, and replace some of the soil lost to erosion. In fact, as the mulch decomposes, it will change the structure of the sandy soil to some extent, and over time should help with the erosion.  The mulch will also permit foot traffic and activity; some playgrounds use mulch in their traffic areas. Ranging out from there into the dappled shade near the edge of the canopy, we can recommend some grasses good in shade and some low ground covers. Again, these will not withstand a lot of foot traffic, but they won't need to be mowed, and perhaps mulch pathways can be laid down between the grasses. 

Shade Tolerant Native Grasses

Andropogon gerardii (big bluestem)

Andropogon virginicus (broomsedge bluestem)

Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama)

Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats)

Panicum virgatum (switchgrass)

Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem)

Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass)

Tripsacum dactyloides (eastern gamagrass)


Phlox divaricata (wild blue phlox)

Phlox pilosa (downy phlox)

Phyla nodiflora (turkey tangle fogfruit)

Dichondra carolinensis (Carolina ponysfoot)

Andropogon gerardii

Andropogon virginicus

Bouteloua curtipendula

Chasmanthium latifolium

Panicum virgatum

Schizachyrium scoparium

Sorghastrum nutans

Tripsacum dactyloides

Phlox divaricata

Phlox pilosa

Phyla nodiflora

Dichondra carolinensis





More Erosion Control Questions

Erosion control for edge of artificial lake in California
August 14, 2013 - How about erosion control at the edge of an artificial lake in Southern California? Juncus and ..?
view the full question and answer

Native plants for erosion control in North Carolina
January 29, 2009 - I have an area on the north side of my house that is a hill with about a 6:1 slope. It also has a set of steps used to get from the front of the yard to the rear yard. It is very shaded. I am havin...
view the full question and answer

Non-native daylilies for steep hill in Manassas VA
April 25, 2013 - Would like to plant steep hill w perennial flowering plants like daylily. The daylily farm said this would work great but not sure if we should lay landscaping fabric and poke through holes to plant ...
view the full question and answer

Plant for Erosion Control on Wooded Slope in MD
May 19, 2015 - We are looking for a plant to help with erosion control on a wooded slope next to our drive. The roots of several of the trees are exposed like a shelf, so I think it's a fairly severe problem. We ar...
view the full question and answer

Plants for a pond edge in IN
June 08, 2012 - Hello, I live in Southern Indiana. I care very much about reinforcing native plants for my region & not planting anything invasive. I had a pond built last year & need some suggestions for native ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center