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
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

QUESTION:

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?

ANSWER:

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

Will not cutting grass make its roots stronger?
May 27, 2009 - I live on a lake that has a hill. There is some problem with erosion on the hillside. Our association wants us to not cut the grass to stop the erosion. How does not cutting the grass help the roots g...
view the full question and answer

Need native plant to stabilize 45 degree slope in Houston, TX.
June 06, 2012 - Can you recommend a native TX plant to be used to stabilize a 45 degree slope in the Houston area? Durability, maintenance and appearance should be considered. Thank You.
view the full question and answer

Plants for steep embankment on the Missouri River in Nebraska
July 01, 2009 - Hi, My embankment along the Northeast Nebraska shoreline of the Missouri River is eroding the land away. Do you have any suggestions for seed I could throw over the side of the bank that would grow...
view the full question and answer

Native plants to stabilize a steep bank in Pennsylvania
April 23, 2008 - I would like to use native plantings to stabilize a steep bank of a septic leach field in eastern Pennsylvania. My purpose is to control erosion and to eliminate the need for mowing. What would you r...
view the full question and answer

Erosion Control for a NC Clay Slope
June 06, 2013 - Hi, We have a large slope on the road edge of our property that has been gradually eroding with spring rains (NC red clay). We would really like to plant something for erosion control but the bank is...
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