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?

Share

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
2 ratings

Wednesday - July 07, 2010

From: Jacksonville, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Rain Gardens, Erosion Control, Groundcovers
Title: Plants for difficult site in Jacksonville, TX
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

East Texas (Cherokee County) red clay hillside, hard-packed, difficult to get to, 40' of it slopes 4' down in about 6'! Another 30' of it is flat. Between the hillside and the flat clay area is a 30' long by 8' wide sandy loam band, 6" to 8" deep, that stays wet for several days after a rain but NOT continuously. All of the property is in full sun all year. There is no foot or vehicular traffic. (1) For the clay hillside and "flat spot," I'm looking for a ground cover, preferably a shrub like creeping juniper, but I'd like native or well-adapted plants and I'm not sure juniper fits that category (does it?). I'd like to mix in some decorative clumps of, say, liriope or Monkey Grass but am unsure whether the hardpan would be conducive. (2) For the "rain garden" I want to create in the sandy loam mid-section, I'm looking for good transpirators, preferably bulbous without deep roots - but I repeat this area as well can get dry. All should be low maintenance due to difficulty accessing the area, and additional watering would be difficult as well although I have diverted the surrounding run-off areas into the "rain garden". Trees or anything with deep root systems are out of the question due to underground piping running close below the upper elevation of the hillside. Stabilization of the clay hillside is of lesser importance, but I'd like to keep the weeds and sedge at bay. Of course, they volunteer to grow there but do so in widely separated clumps that give the whole area a "mangy" look. Am I on a fool's quest here, or could you give me some leads on native plant selections for both of these areas?

ANSWER:

You have given Mr. Smarty Plants a difficult challenge and it is going to be a challenge for you, too, to get the plants established here without some application of water initially.  First of all, even though you think the grasses and sedges look a little mangy on your slope, don't get rid of them.  They are what's keeping it from washing away.  Let's first address the clay hillside and "flat spot".  You are well out of the native range for Juniperus horizontalis (creeping juniper).  The only juniper that is native to Cherokee County or adjacent counties is Juniperus virginiana (eastern redcedar) and it certainly wouldn't be considered a groundcover.  It can grow to a maximum height of 90 feet.  Also, we wouldn't recommend liriope (from East Asia) or monkey grass (native to Japan) since neither are native to North America and we, here at the Wildflower Center, are dedicated to  promoting the conservation and use of native North American plants.  We do, however, have some native plants to use as groundcovers that we will recommend:

Artemisia ludoviciana (white sagebrush) is evergreen (or, maybe better described as 'ever-gray').  It grows from 1 to 3 feet high in clay and full sun and can be mowed. 

Oenothera speciosa (pinkladies) is almost evergreen and grows from 1 to 2 feet high in clay and full sun.

Salvia lyrata (lyreleaf sage) is evergreen if it gets water in the summer.  It grows 4 inches to 2 feet in clay and full fun.

Callicarpa americana (American beautyberry) is a shrub that isn't evergreen but does have bright purple berries for interest in the fall and winter.

Grasses are excellent for controlling erosion because of their extensive fibrous root system.  Here are some attractive native ones to add to the mix:

Muhlenbergia capillaris (hairawn muhly) grows 1 to 3 feet in clay and full sun with a pinkish-purple hazy bloom in October.  It will be dormant in winter.  This grass can stand seasonal poor drainage so it would also be suitable for the 'rain garden' area.

Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem) grows 1 to 3 or 4 feet in full sun in well-drained soil of almost any type and is bluish-green in the summer and turns reddish-brown in the fall and winter.

Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass) grows 3 to 8 feet in clay and full sun.  It has golden blooms in October.  It also should work in the 'rain garden'.

Here are some other plants for the 'rain garden' that are able to grow in very wet areas, but will also do well when the water goes away:

Andropogon glomeratus (bushy bluestem)

Lobelia cardinalis (cardinalflower)

Physostegia intermedia (slender false dragonhead)

Sabal minor (dwarf palmetto)

You can find more suggestions in a previous question we answered about plants for a rain garden in East Texas.

You can also check out our Piney Woods list for more possibilities for plants for your area. 

Here are photos from our Image Gallery:


Artemisia ludoviciana

Oenothera speciosa

Salvia lyrata

Callicarpa americana

Muhlenbergia capillaris

Schizachyrium scoparium

Sorghastrum nutans

Andropogon glomeratus

Lobelia cardinalis

Physostegia intermedia

Sabal minor

 

 

 

More Erosion Control Questions

Groundcover plants for slope to prevent erosion
June 05, 2008 - Hi, I have just made a 3/4 acre pond and the south facing slope is too steep to mow.Can you suggest any ground cover plants I could use to look nice and prevent erosion.
view the full question and answer

Plants for curb appeal from Birmingham AL
June 16, 2011 - My front yard is on a down hill slope. Can you recommend some plants that would be good for creating curb appeal that will be planted up against the house? We need some that are short around 2 feet ...
view the full question and answer

Plants for a steep slope in New York
June 27, 2010 - We just installed a swimming pool in our back yard, which is at the top of a south facing slope. After the pool was installed the slope is now 3 ft higher and very steep (unmowable). I'd guess steepe...
view the full question and answer

Native Plants for a Steep Slope in TN
July 15, 2014 - Hello, I live in Knoxville, TN and have a very steep slope in our backyard. There is a lot of water erosion causing our grass to be covered with red dirt. I would love to try to plant something on thi...
view the full question and answer

Low maintenance, native plants for sloping drive near Philadelphia
October 20, 2004 - My cabin is located in the northwest suburbs of Philadelphia. I am looking for low maintenance plants that would look good on the sides of a driveway that slopes upward. This is a potential project fo...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center