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Thursday - September 27, 2012

From: Clinton, IA
Region: Midwest
Topic: Erosion Control, Groundcovers, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Grasses for Erosion control in Iowa
Answered by: Brigid & Larry Larson


We have a sloping yard in the midwest that gets 2-4 hours of sun during the warm weather. When we have large rainfalls, the water just pours down the slope causing a lot of erosion to the surrounding area. We are looking for a ground cover (perhaps a grass) that only grows to 3-5 inches tall that would not be damaged if mowed a few times a year on a high setting. The plants would need to grow deep roots to help slow down our erosion problem. Thank you for any help you can provide.


Mr Smarty Plants agrees with your request for plants that form deep roots to address an erosion problem.  Our standard advice is that the best plants to stabilize a slope and prevent erosion are plants like grasses that have fibrous root systems and shrubs and perennials that spread with runners to form thickets.  Here is advice towards a similar issue in a very wet situation with erosion in Illinois.

Our general approach to find and recommend plants for your individual situation is to start with the list of recommended species for Iowa.  Then you can narrow this list of plants for specific characteristics that you desire.  For instance, when I  searched for grasses that tolerate shade or partial shade, there were ten species that fit these characteristics.  Four of these were relatively short and I expect either turf forming grasses or bunch grasses can achieve reasonable erosion control.  Consider these recommendations:

Deschampsia cespitosa (Tufted hairgrass)
Bouteloua curtipendula (Sideoats grama)
Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge)
Pascopyrum smithii (Western wheatgrass)

Thinking you may like a little color – Mr Smarty plants also searched for groundcover herbs that are both short and tolerate shady conditions.  If this is of interest, check it out yourself, or consider these:

Callirhoe involucrata (Winecup)
Viola sororia (Missouri violet)


From the Image Gallery

Tufted hairgrass
Deschampsia cespitosa

Pennsylvania sedge
Carex pensylvanica

Sideoats grama
Bouteloua curtipendula

Callirhoe involucrata

Western wheatgrass
Pascopyrum smithii

Missouri violet
Viola sororia

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