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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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Saturday - April 07, 2012

From: Summerfield, OH
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Erosion Control, Grasses or Grass-like, Shrubs, Wildflowers
Title: Plants for steep clay bank in Summerfield OH
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Hello, We have a steep 15-20 foot high bank behind our house here in southern Ohio. Probably 50 ft.long. What could we plant for beauty and erosion control. It is nasty clay soil with lots of shale and even has a spring in a section of it. We need help!

ANSWER:

Clay soil is difficult but not nasty. It has lot of nutrients in it, but when it gets wet the tiny particles it is made up of swell up and cut off oxygen to plant roots. This often results in either the water sliding off and down a bank and creating erosion, or drowning roots unable to get oxygen and access those nutrients. It seems unlikely you are going to be able to plow it up and integrate some compost into it, although that would certainly help.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is dedicated to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which those plants grow naturally. The reason for that is that plants native to an area will have acccustomed themselves to the soils, climate and rainfall over centuries of growing there.

So, look around you-what grows naturally in your area? We know there are probably invasive non-natives in your neighborhood; that's not what you want. You probably will see grasses, whose long fibrous roots are great for arresting erosion, perhaps some low shrubs with suckering habits, etc. These are not lawn grasses, but native prairie grasses.

Yours is not a unique problem, please read this previous Mr. Smarty Plants question for some general help. That answer is from North Carolina, but not only will many of the grasses listed be native also to Ohio but the advice about the erosion blanket and the fact that it also concerns clay soil should be useful.

We would like for you to read these How-To Articles from our website to give you some things to consider:

From our How-To Articles

Using Native Plants

Meadow Gardening

Recreating a prairie

Now, go to our Native Plant Database and, using the Combination Search, select on Ohio. Under Habit you can select on "herbs" (herbaceous blooming flowers), grasses or shrubs. In the same search you can indicate soil moisture, preferred height, and so forth. Follow each plant link on the results you get to check whether that plant suits your purposes. You can make several searches, involving habits and sizes. They will all be native to Ohio. Using our National Suppliers Directory you can find native plant nurseries, seed suppliers and consultants in your general area. All have contact information so you can ask questions before you shop.

 

 

 

 

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