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
9 ratings

Monday - September 20, 2010

From: Wahpeton, IA
Region: Midwest
Topic: Erosion Control
Title: Plants for Erosion Control on Lake Bank in Wahpetan,IA
Answered by: Marilyn Kircus


We have a steep 15 to 20 foot high bank on the glacial formed lake, West Okoboji. We are experiencing erosion and would like a solution to prevent further erosion. We have wild roses, sumac, wild quinine, lead plant, and unfortunately, an abundance of crown vetch which I've read is not an erosion preventative. I have successfully been planting prairie sage, mountain mint, Joe Pye weed, wild bergamot, and columbine at the top of the bank but have failed to grow along the bank. What can we plant to preserve our bank?


I understand your soils are loam over a substrate of gravely sand and are easily erodible. You will probably want some plants that form mats of roots and go down deeply. I’m  selecting some plants that will grow in very wet to pretty dry conditions as higher levels of your bank will be drier.

Here are some of the plants that would work well for you.

Starting at water’s edge, I would plant water sedge, Carex aquatilis. This plant will grow in wet soil or standing water so can be planted just above the normal water level. It will be able to live in the water during floods.  It is used in wetland restoration and is important to wildlife. There are some other sedges that like wet soils that would also work here.

There are several grasses that will work on the slope.  One that is recommended for your location is Common Reed, Phragmites australis.  You can find more information on it in the Ornamental Grasses for Iowa. This plant is often used for erosion control and is a beautiful plant. But it may become so dense that you will not be able to access the bank. And it may overgrow everything else and become a monoculture.

Another grass that I love is Indian Grass, Sorghastrum nutans. It has bright green blades and then makes a bronze seed head during the summer. It is a clumping grass but will not grow nearly as densely as common reed.  But the roots of grasses grow very long, sometimes forming up to one and a half times the mass of the plant and will help to hold the soil and subsoil on your bank. This grass responds well to both flooding and burning so will grow on most parts of your slope.

Prairie dropseed, Sporobolus heterolepis is another possibility for the highest part of your slope.  It prefers dry sandy soil, but if your loam drains enough, it may also grow there.  Among its best features are its relatively small size, beautiful airy seed heads, fall golden brown color and the ability to stand up in snow and still be a landscape feature in the winter.

Canada wild rye, Elymus canadensis might also be a good choice.  You might want to plant it first as it establishes easily but is short-lived and you may have to re-seed. 

A shrub that is often used to prevent erosion is Red Osier Dogwood, Cornus sericea. This spreading shrub will grow in areas that flood, as well as in dryer areas so you can plant it at all levels on your bank.  The red twigs will give winter interest and the plant is important to many kinds of wildlife.

Trying a mix of several or all of these plants might be the best bet for success. And you will be making a more complete habitat for your local wildlife.

Sorghastrum nutans

Sporobolus heterolepis


Elymus canadensis

Cornus sericea ssp. sericea



More Erosion Control Questions

Need plants for steep slope in Knoxville, TN.
January 10, 2013 - I have several steep banks that have to be weed-eated each year every week. Do you know if there are any kinds of ground cover that would take over the weeds on these steep dangerous banks. I live in ...
view the full question and answer

Stabilizing a steep slope in KY
March 31, 2011 - We are building a new home and have a very steep hill behind the home. Our highlift operator just cleared it off - I would say about 15 to 20 feet in height and at least 150 feet in length. What wou...
view the full question and answer

Can Carolina wild petunia be planted over septic tank in Nokomis FL
July 10, 2011 - Could you tell me the root depth of the Ruellia caroliniensis/ Carolina wild petunia? Trying to determine if I can plant it over septic tank.
view the full question and answer

Severely cutback sloping soil in Dripping Springs TX
May 09, 2010 - We have 5.5 acres off Henly Loop just north of Hwy 290 about 10 miles west of Dripping Springs, TX. The former property owners carved out soil from a sloping area to get soil for the driveway. Doing ...
view the full question and answer

California native plants for a steep slope
May 29, 2010 - We are looking for California native plants for a steep south facing slope that do not attract bees. Can you please provide a list?
view the full question and answer

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