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
6 ratings

Tuesday - July 17, 2012

From: Valley CIty, ND
Region: Midwest
Topic: Erosion Control, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: North Dakota Riverbank Stabilization
Answered by: Larry Larson


Can you suggest plants to prevent and stabilize river bank erosion on Sheyenne River, ND? Must be tolerant to cold, varying level of salts and sulfates and water level (from drought to flooding)


That’s quite a challenge!   Happily the basic approach to stabilize a riverbank works independent of the climate.  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. All we need to do then is to use the North Dakota list of recommended species to choose native plants which will stand up to the North Dakota climate.

For further reading on the subject, this Mr Smarty Plants answer was to a similar question from Wisconsin, and this one from Nebraska.  Another similar question had this well targeted reference:  “As you embark on this project you will find this publication from the USDA National Agroforestry Center, Biotechnical Streambank Protection: The use of plants to stabilize streambanks (Agroforestry Note #23, March 2002) a very valuable resource.”

Looking to recommendations for your specific situation - Grasses that may be useful [from the North Dakota Collection] include:
Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass)
Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge)
Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass)
Carex stipata (Owlfruit sedge)
Do check out the list as there are fourteen grasses in the recommended species, these appeared to be well suited to spreading aggressively by rhizomes and the possibility of occasional flooding.

When looking at Shrubs or small trees I was attracted to those that had indications of Stream Bank Habitat, ones that aggressively sucker, or ones that were explicitly listed as hardy:
Amorpha fruticosa (Indigo bush)
Corylus americana (American hazelnut)
Cornus sericea (Redosier dogwood)
Salix discolor (Pussy willow)
Shepherdia argentea (Silver buffaloberry)
Viburnum lentago (Nannyberry)



From the Image Gallery

Sorghastrum nutans

Panicum virgatum

Awlfruit sedge
Carex stipata

Indigo bush
Amorpha fruticosa

Red osier dogwood
Cornus sericea

Silver buffaloberry
Shepherdia argentea

More Erosion Control Questions

Difficult slope in Tarrytown NY
March 03, 2009 - I hope you can help. Is there a way to plant some native shrubs and plants on a steep slope that is filled in some areas with rock without having to tier the slope? The section is approximately 50' w...
view the full question and answer

Preventing Soil Erosion in Elgin, Texas
June 06, 2011 - I live in Elgin,TX and our property is basically a slope with dense oak and cedar trees on the back of the property. The soil is sandy loam. What type of native plants or grasses can I plant to stop...
view the full question and answer

Establishing wildflowers on a slope in Virginia
August 18, 2012 - From Roanoke Virginia. I have a steep bank rising from one side of my driveway to woods above. Different areas vary from full sun, to half day shade. It is possible to carefully walk/stand on it, we a...
view the full question and answer

Dealing with rain runoff on a slope in Austin
March 24, 2012 - Our lawn is a year old and slopes at about a 45 degree angle with a lot of small holes and tiny gullies from water run-off. I have tried packing them with soil, but it washes away in the rain. Would ...
view the full question and answer

Plants to stabilize a steep bank in South Carolina
January 09, 2010 - I would like to use native plantings to stabilize a steep bank. The bank is on the side of the gravel road I cut back into the woods and around a 36" pipe going under the road to allow the free flow ...
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