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Wednesday - February 29, 2012

From: Cary, NC
Region: Southeast
Topic: Erosion Control, Groundcovers, Shade Tolerant, Ferns, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Erosion control for a North Carolina creek side
Answered by: Becky Ruppel


Hello Mr. Smarty Plants! I noticed a question on your website recommending NC native grasses and plants to help prevent erosion on a sloping backyard, including the use of an erosion blanket. The plants you recommended were for a sunny backyard, and our situation is a little different. We have several creeks (more like drains for runoff) that run through our neighborhood, and ones goes through our backyard. With the last few heavy storms that crossed through the Raleigh area, we started experiencing some major erosion along the banks, including under a little bridge that crosses the creek. We are having a retaining wall built under the bridge, but would like to control the rest of the erosion with native plantings if possible. We have lots of oak trees in our yard, and it only has sun for about 1/2-3/4 the day in the winter/spring, and then mostly dappled shade in the summer and fall. What plants would you recommend for these conditions to help slow the erosion? As an example, we have a few yucca plants that are planted on the banks that seem to be doing well. Thank you so much!


There are many native plant options to control erosion along creek sides in North Carolina.  The plants that will work the best will be quick growing, will have good root systems, and will tolerate occasional flooding. The plants should also be shade and wet soil loving.  Though you may want to check how wet your soil stays and adjust which plants you select based on the general wetness of the soil.  Since you mentioned a grass option above here are a couple species that are likely to help control the creek side erosion problem.  The first two are some sedges Carex amphibola (Creek sedge) and Carex crinita (Fringed sedge) Both species grow by creek sides and form good root systemsAnother option is a grass, Calamagrostis canadensis (Bluejoint). This grass should be happy growing with the sedges, and forms clumps and should help keep the soil in place as well.  All three options should grow happily together if mixing them sounds like a satisfying option.   


Another interesting option would be planting some fern species.  They are typically very happy growing in shady wet areas.  A couple of options are Dryopteris ludoviciana (Southern woodfern) and Onoclea sensibilis (Sensitive fern) Both will form good root bases and will be pretty in the spring when Onclea forms fiddle heads. 


If you would like to explore other options, check out the Wildflower Center’s Native Plant Database.  When on the page you can do a combination search, selecting “North Carolina” from the States and Provinces dropdown menu.   Then select “perennial” from the Duration dropdown.  Finally, check the boxes “wet” (or moist if that is more accurate for the soil on the creek side) from the Soil Moisture section and “shade” from the Light Duration section.  Then press the Submit Combination Search button.  This should return several pages of results and you can browse them to see if there are any other plants that you would like to plant on the creek side. 


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