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?


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
Not Yet Rated

Monday - March 26, 2012

From: Charlottesville, VA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Rain Gardens, Erosion Control
Title: Riverbank retention in VA
Answered by: Anne Bossart


I need some groundcover/bank retention for a Virginia riverbank in mixed sun and shade. I want to plant something native to VA. the area is out of the water but subject to occasional (4-5 times per year) flooding. Rocky,sandy soil. When it floods it sometimes leaves sand, but more often removes it, which is why I want to plant something to retain the soil and help prevent erosion. Thank you very much.


The best plants to stabilize a bank and prevent erosion are plants like grasses that have fibrous root systems and shrubs and perennials that spread with runners to form thickets.

You can find suitable plants by doing a Combination Search on our Native Plant database.  Select Virginia, the plant habit and your conditions (part shade).  It sounds like the soil is quite dry except when it floods, so select dry conditions.  The list that is generated has links to detailed information pages for each plant.  You can then check which plants are adaptable enough to tolerate the wet conditions of flooding as well.

As your conditions are very much like those in a rain garden, you will find a very informative article the Brooklyn Botanic Garden has published about rain gardens as well as a plant list , helpful. You can cross reference between the lists you generate and those on their list.

Here are a few plants to consider:

Rhus aromatica (Fragrant sumac)

Amorpha fruticosa (Indigo bush)

Grasses with deep fibrous roots:

Andropogon gerardii (Big bluestem)

Andropogon glomeratus (Bushy bluestem)

Bouteloua curtipendula (Sideoats grama)

Schizachyrium scoparium (Little bluestem)

Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass)




From the Image Gallery

Indigo bush
Amorpha fruticosa

Fragrant sumac
Rhus aromatica

Big bluestem
Andropogon gerardii

Bushy bluestem
Andropogon glomeratus

Sideoats grama
Bouteloua curtipendula

Little bluestem
Schizachyrium scoparium

Sorghastrum nutans

More Rain Gardens Questions

Installation of a bioswale in Decatur IL
July 22, 2009 - I want to install a bioswale in a 15' wide, 50' long ditch on a relatively steep hill. The ditch already has rip rap in it. Do I need to remove all the rip rap before starting construction, or can...
view the full question and answer

Plants for a bioswale in TX
February 18, 2011 - Dear Mr.Smarty Plants, What kind of plants are best suited for a bioswale in Edinburg, Texas?
view the full question and answer

Plants for a ditch in PA
June 09, 2012 - I have a property in the suburbs about 20 miles south of Philadelphia, PA. There is a small creek running across the property. The "ditch" holding the creek is about 5 feet across, but the creek i...
view the full question and answer

Groundcover for a wet hillside in the San Juan Islands
July 30, 2014 - I live on Orcas Island in WA state. We have a place on the water and want to plant something that is no taller than 2-3 feet, lower if possible, on a hillside. The hillside gets lots of sun, yet als...
view the full question and answer

Native plants for a bioswale in Indianapolis
March 07, 2009 - Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, Can you please recommend the types of plants I should use in a bioswale or rain garden in Indiana?
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.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center