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Mr. Smarty Plants - Stabilizing a sand bank in VT

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Saturday - August 13, 2011

From: Sandy Hook, CT
Region: Northeast
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Erosion Control, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Stabilizing a sand bank in VT
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

We have a summer cottage in Burlington, Vt. and need to stabilize a mound of sand. The "bank" we are trying to stabilize has partial sun and faces south. It measures approx 4' high and is 30' long. What type of plants/materials (mulch etc.) would you recommend? Ideally we would like nothing over 4' high, and it is OK to plants these items this fall?? Many thanks,

ANSWER:

If you take your cues from Mother Nature you will see many miles of sand dunes along the beaches of the Northeast that are kept in place as a critical part of a dynamic, changing ecosystem with grasses.  Their fibrous root systems are adapted to keeping them in place and extracting the necessary water and nutrients that are present in the sand.

You can create a list of grasses native to Vermont by visiting our Native Plant Database and doing a Combination Search.  Select: Vermont, grasses and sunny conditions.  The list generated has links to detailed information pages with images.  You will find vey few that are as short as you are thinking you would like them to be but again, look at how nature does it.  There is very little that evokes the sense of the beach and summer better that tall grasses moving in the breeze with their flower heads highlighted by the sun.

Planting the plants in the fall is ideal ... the soil is warm and moist enough to promote root growth and the air is not so hot and dry as in high summer. So they will have a chance to get established before winter.  Because I am not certain of your exact conditions I am not sure what to recommend regarding mulch.  If you have a clean, bare sand dune where weeds are not a huge issue, I would say there is no need to mulch.  If it is really just a mound of sandy soil that is full of "weeds", pull them out, plant the grasses and mulch with a nice dark shredded bark mulch (nothing evokes the sense of a strip mall quite like orange mulch!).

Here are some grasses that would not only do the job for you but would be quite attractive when planted in drifts:

Ammophila breviligulata (American beach grass) (this plant can be very aggressive)

Calamagrostis canadensis (Bluejoint)

Hierochloe odorata (Sweetgrass)

Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass)

Schizachyrium scoparium (Little bluestem)

Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass)

 

From the Image Gallery


American beach grass
Ammophila breviligulata

Bluejoint
Calamagrostis canadensis

Sweetgrass
Hierochloe odorata

Switchgrass
Panicum virgatum

Little bluestem
Schizachyrium scoparium

Indiangrass
Sorghastrum nutans

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