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 - May 21, 2012

From: Syracuse, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Wildlife Gardens, Erosion Control, Shrubs
Title: Shrubs and small trees for a slope in NY
Answered by: Anne Bossart


We are looking for a living wall made of shrubs / small trees - no more than 25' for the top of a steep creek bed. We are looking for the best erosion preventing types.


Generally speaking, plants with fibrous root systems or those that spread using stolons , such as Alnus serrulata (Hazel alder) are the best for holding a bank and resisting erosion.

Although you do not indicate anything about your conditions (light exposure and soild moisture) you can search our Native Plant database for likely candidates using the Combination Search function.  If you select: New York, shrubs, both the 6-12 ft and 12-36 ft sizes and then select your specific conditions, the database will generate a list of plants that occur in your area that meet those criteria.  Each plant on the list is linked to a detailed information page with images that will give you the information you need, even though you cannot sort specifically for "erosion preventing shrubs less than 25 ft in height".  For instance, the entry for the alder calls it "A multiple-trunked, suckering shrub, 12-20 ft. tall, with a picturesque habit and shiny gray-brown bark. Summer foliage is dark green and glossy, becoming yellow, tinged with red, in fall."  It is adapted to all light conditions, so as long as your site is moist enough, it would be a good choice.  Look for terms like "suckering, thicket-forming, or colony-forming" in the descriptions.

Some other plants to consider are:

Amorpha fruticosa (Indigo bush)

Calycanthus floridus (Eastern sweetshrub)

Cornus racemosa (Gray dogwood)

Ilex glabra (Inkberry)

Rhus glabra (Smooth sumac)

Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis (Common elderberry)

Viburnum lentago (Nannyberry)

By choosing a variety of native plants of differing sizes and forms you will create not just a living wall, but one that is attractive throughout the seasons and offers wildlife habitat, bringing your property to life with songbirds and butterflies.



From the Image Gallery

Hazel alder
Alnus serrulata

Indigo bush
Amorpha fruticosa

Eastern sweetshrub
Calycanthus floridus

Gray dogwood
Cornus racemosa

Ilex glabra

Smooth sumac
Rhus glabra

Common elderberry
Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis

Viburnum lentago

More Wildlife Gardens Questions

Attracting birds in Greenville, SC
April 15, 2009 - Hi, I live in Northeastern South Carolina near the mountains and I am making a shade garden in my back yard. I also want to attract birds to my yard. There are 100 ft tall and even some 125 ft tal...
view the full question and answer

Passion for passionflower
May 16, 2010 - We have passionflower vine on our trellis. We planted the vines about 3 weeks ago. they grew well and started to flower. Recently a number of the vines began to wither while others are ok. The plants...
view the full question and answer

Wildlife Attracting Plants for a Shady Patio
July 03, 2014 - We have a concrete patio that receives 2-3 hours of sunlight a day, so the only plants we will be able to grow will be in container. We are looking for plants that do well in shade, and containers and...
view the full question and answer

Plants for butterflies and hummingbirds in Louisville, KY
March 31, 2009 - Mr. Smarty Plants, I live in Louisville KY. I have a waterfall and ponds connected by a small stream. I want to plant several plants around my waterfall- approx. 20 sq ft on both sides of waterfall....
view the full question and answer

Hedge shrubs that attract butterflies & birds in Virginia
June 13, 2014 - Hi - I need recommendations for north VA hedge shrubs that attract butterflies and birds. Thanks
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