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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Monday - July 11, 2011

From: Fresno, CA
Region: California
Topic: Erosion Control
Title: Plants for vertical cliff in Pismo, CA
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Need help with erosion control on an 80' steep to vertical, top-soil, south facing cliff, Pismo CA (central coast) area. Terracing not an option. Prefer native, colorful plants that will give the best erosion control and friendly with native wildlife. Also, your suggestions on the best way to actually plant your recommended plants, on this dangerous cliff, and how best to keep the plants growing. Very appreciative of your help.

ANSWER:

This article, Simple erosion control for a hillside or garden slope, from Las Pilitas Nursery in Santa Margarita and Escondido, California pretty well answers all your questions about controlling erosion on a steep slope in coastal California, including how to plant it—rappel down the cliff!  If you aren't into rappeling, you probably need to hire professional landscape architects to help you accomplish this.  You can search in our National Suppliers Directory for landscapers, nurseries and seed companies that specialize in native plants in your area.

I agree with almost everything in the article except the statement about using grasses to control erosion.   It wouldn't be a solution to your problem, but grasses can be effective in helping to control erosion in some situations.   I do, however, agree wholeheartedly that a monoculture is not a good idea.  A combination of plants of different types and sizes will make the area more interesting and help to assure that the project will succeed.

Here are some recommendations for plants for your site:

Artemisia californica (Coastal sagebrush) and here are more photos and information.

Eriogonum fasciculatum (Eastern mojave buckwheat) and here are more photos and information.

Salvia clevelandii (Fragrant sage) and here is more information and information about a particular cultivar, Alpine Cleveland sage.

Arctostaphylos hookeri (Hooker's manzanita) and here is more information.

 Diplacus aurantiacus ssp. aurantiacus (Orange bush monkeyflower)

Armeria maritima (Thrift seapink) and here are more photos and information.

You can see more possibilities by choosing Northern California from the map or pulldown menu on our Recommended Species page.  (Actually, you could probably use either the Northern or Southern California list since Pismo Beach is very near the border on our Recommended Species map.)  When you reach the "California-Northern Recommended" page you can NARROW YOUR SEARCH by making choices in several categories—General Appearance, Lifespan, Light Requirement, Soil Moisture, Bloom Time, Bloom Color and Height.  You can also see more possibilities on the Las Pilitas site above.

 

From the Image Gallery


Coastal sagebrush
Artemisia californica

Eastern mojave buckwheat
Eriogonum fasciculatum var. polifolium

Fragrant sage
Salvia clevelandii

Hooker's manzanita
Arctostaphylos hookeri

Orange bush monkeyflower
Diplacus aurantiacus ssp. aurantiacus

Thrift seapink
Armeria maritima

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