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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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Wednesday - June 26, 2013

From: Excelsior, MN
Region: Midwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders, Erosion Control, Shrubs, Vines
Title: Full Sun, Wind-Tolerant Shrubs and Vines for Steep MN Hillside
Answered by: Anne Van Nest

QUESTION:

My neighbor and I share a very steep, large (in total almost 200 ft. wide) west-facing hillside in Excelsior, MN on Lake Minnetonka. We both have a flat grass area at the bottom so the hillside does not directly slope into the lake. We have endless weeds, scrub trees, grape vine and some buckthorn that was left for 20 years before we bought our homes. The city property adjacent to us was just planted with native currants and gooseberry. We're not sure we want that due to the birds and berry mess. As we are on the lake we get sun virtually until sunset and a lot of wind in the winter. We want as little maintenance as possible and don't need a groomed look (the hill cannot possibly be mowed and it will be challenging to trim/prune, etc.). We just want something to hold the hillside that won't populate our upper yards with weeds. Was the city smart to plant currants and gooseberry or are there other options for us?

ANSWER:

The first place to go to find a list of potential plants is our Native Plant Database.  Use the Combination Search feature instead of Recommended Species. This will provide a bigger selection with much more choice to narrow down. The volunteers and staff at the Wildflower Center who maintain the database have partners in different regions to help with these recommended species lists based on what is easy to access in local nurseries.
Under Combination Search, select the following categories: State – Minnesota, Habit – vine, shrub, Duration – perennial, Leaf Retention – deciduous, semi-evergreen and evergreen, Light Requirement – sun, Soil Moisture – dry (because of the slope), Size – 0-6 ft. You can narrow down this search further by indicating blooming time and bloom color too if you like.
These search criteria will give you one vine and several shrubs to consider (eliminating the gooseberries, brambles and blueberries for their fruit). Follow each plant link to our webpage for that plant to learn its growing conditions, bloom time, etc. At the bottom of each plant webpage, under Additional Resources, there is a link to the USDA webpage for that plant. Take a look there for more specific details about suitability before you put them on your final planting list.

Vine:
Parthenocissus vitacea (hiedra creeper)

Shrubs:
Amorpha canescens (leadplant)

Amorpha nana (dwarf false indigo)

Artemisia cana (silver sagebrush)

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (kinnikinnick)

Ceanothus herbaceous (redroot)

Dasiphora fruticosa  (shrubby cinquefoil)

Gaylussacia baccata (black huckleberry)

Juniperus horizontalis (creeping juniper)

Lonicera dioica (limber honeysuckle)

Rosa acicularis (prickly rose)

Rosa blanda (smooth rose)

Rosa carolina (Carolina rose)

Rosa woodsii (wood’s rose)

Symphoricarpos albus (common snowberry)

In closing, gooseberries (including the native Ribes hirtellum – hairy-stem gooseberry) and currants are  alternate hosts for white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola), a serious fungus that attacks eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) and other 5 needle pines. The University of Minnesota has an information sheet on the white pine blister rust that describes the two host life cycle. More information on the disease is available at the Forestpathology.org website.  Seriously look into the Ribes-Pinus disease connection if white pines are growing in your area.

 

From the Image Gallery


Leadplant
Amorpha canescens

Dwarf false indigo
Amorpha nana

Kinnikinnick
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Prairie redroot
Ceanothus herbaceus

Shrubby cinquefoil
Dasiphora fruticosa ssp. floribunda

Black huckleberry
Gaylussacia baccata

Limber honeysuckle
Lonicera dioica

Prickly rose
Rosa acicularis

Smooth rose
Rosa blanda

Carolina rose
Rosa carolina

Woods' rose
Rosa woodsii

Common snowberry
Symphoricarpos albus

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