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Mr. Smarty Plants - Economical, low maintenance plants for erosion control on a bank

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Monday - May 29, 2006

From: Asheville, NC
Region: Southeast
Topic: Erosion Control
Title: Economical, low maintenance plants for erosion control on a bank
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Please advise of all species suitable for preventing bank erosion, specifically those that will cover a southern exposure 400 foot long, 15 foot high bank in western North Carolina that grows rapidly (invasive plants allowable since they can be controlled), require little to no care, and are as inexpensive as possible since my funding is limited.

ANSWER:

You don't say how steep the bank is, if it is in shade or sun, or if the soil is wet or dry. Those are all important considerations for deciding what plants will do well there. However, my first thought for plants for the area are grasses. They are easily maintained, seeds are relatively inexpensive and easy to sow, and the grasses will maintain themselves through reseeding. There are several very attractive grass species native to North Carolina:

Inland Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)
Purple lovegrass (Eragrosis spectabilis)
Gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris)
Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)

Grasses have extensive root systems that will aid in combating erosion. All of the grasses listed above do well in full sun and mesic to dry soils and inland sea oats will also do well in the shade and wetter soils. They are all less than 4 feet high.

Since seeds will be your most economical option for plants on your bank, you might consider adding some wildflower seeds for variety. Again, it will depend on the shade/sun and moisture characteristics of the slope as to which wildflowers to pick. Some suggestions for mesic-dry sunny sites are:

Early coreopsis ( Coreopsis auriculata )
Carolina phlox (Phlox carolina)
Black-eyed Susan ( Rudbeckia hirta)

If your area is shady or wet, you would want to choose other plants. You can find more suggestions on our Regional Fastpacks page where you can download the "Southeast Recommended Native Plant Species List." It lists plants, dividing them by type (Cacti and Succulents, Ferns, Grass-like, Grasses, Shrubs, Trees, Vines, and Herbaceous). It lists their distribution by state and also gives information about growth--size, bloom color and time, sun and moisture requirements. The North Carolina Native Plant Society also has a list of recommended native plants for landscaping. Additionally, they have a list of sources for native plants in North Carolina. You can also find nurseries and seed companies that specialize in native plants in your area in our National Suppliers Directory.

We would strongly discourage you from using any invasive plants. You might be able to control where they move on your slope, but you won't be able to control where seeds might go that become attached to animals or are blown by the wind or are eaten by birds and deposited somewhere distant from your site. I encourage you to read the The Invasive Plant Dilemma on the North Carolina Native Plant Society page.
 

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