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Tuesday - July 14, 2009

From: Oak Ridge, TN
Region: Southeast
Topic: Erosion Control
Title: Looking for plants for erosion control in Tennessee.
Answered by: Jimmy Mills


We are looking for plants native to east Tenessee that will help control erosion once the kudzu in a ravine has been removed. The site is full sun with dry soil. Moderate to fast growth and resistance to deer would also be helpful, but not essential. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Marti Salk


 Congratulations on getting rid of the Kudzu!

Generally, the best plants for erosion control are grasses. They have fibrous roots that can really grip the soil and keep it from washing away. These are not going to be turf grasses, and some of them grow several feet tall; the taller they are, the longer their roots are, thus the advantage.

There are warm season grasses and cool season grasses.  Warm season grasses germinate in the spring and, since they are heat and drought tolerant, are generally green throughout the spring and summer.  They  begin turning brown in the fall and remain so throughout the winter.  Cool season grasses germinate in the fall and are green and growing throughout the winter and spring, but die back in the heat of summer. 

Here are the names of three cool season grasses you might consider.

Elymus canadensis (Canada wildrye), with more information from Native American Seed

Elymus virginicus (Virginia wildrye), with more information from Native American Seed

Pascopyrum smithii (western wheatgrass) is another cool season native used extensively for erosion control.  

There are numerous warm season grasses for your Tennessee setting:

Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama)

Panicum virgatum (switchgrass)

Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem)

Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass)

To  expand this list, go to the Native Plant Data Base page and scroll down to the Combination Search box. Select Tennessee for the State, "grass/grass-like" for Habit, perennial for Duration,  check sun for Light requirement and dry for Soil moisture. Click on the "Submit combination Search " button, and you will get a list of 20 plants that meet these criteria. Clicking on the name of each plant willtake you to its NPIN page which has information about its growth requirements as well as images.

You can read a paper, "The Use of Native Warm Season Grasses for Critical Area Stabilization" by C. F. Miller and J. A. Dickerson in the Proceedings of the 2nd Eastern Native Grass Symposium, Baltimore, MD Novermber 1999, describing the use of warm season grasses.


Elymus canadensis

Elymus virginicus

Bouteloua curtipendula

Panicum virgatum


Schizachyrium scoparium

Sorghastrum nutans



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