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Thursday - August 14, 2014

From: South Haven, MI
Region: Midwest
Topic: Erosion Control
Title: Plants to grow in sandy shade with steep slope
Answered by: Nan Hampton


I'm a very experienced gardener but I'm completely stumped on this one. We live among the dunes in SW Michigan. Our yard mostly consists of Ammophila breviligulata and Asclepias syriaca bisected by boardwalks. We have had to stabilize the sunny dune facing the lake with more Ammophila breviligulata and it's been very successful. We’ve added a small “traditional” lawn and some perennial gardens so it’s a really nice combination. For the other gardens and lawn we have amended the sand with soil, added drip irrigation, incorporated xeriscaping, and terraced where possible to grow local native plants and this has worked well also. However; there is a back dune area that is slowly changing over to forest - but the dune is steep and exposed to winds so there has been no accumulation of leaves for start a forest floor environment. There is still some minor sand erosion occuring when we have strong rains from the south - which we want to prevent. There are maple and oak trees, black raspberry, (and an occasional attempt by unidentified weeds) growing here. None of the other methods we used in other areas will work in this location. What would you suggest we plant? It’s 100% sand, almost 100% shade after the trees develop in the spring and about a 60% grade. Or maybe I’m crazy to think something could grow here?


You certainlly have a triple whammy there—shade, sand and steep slope.  Generally, we recommend grasses to help stop erosion because their extensive fibrous roots help hold the soil in place; however, there are very few grasses that do well in the shade or in sand.  The plants I am recommending below I found by selecting Michigan Recommended from the Special Collections page.  I used the NARROW YOUR SEARCH option and chose "Shade" under LIGHT REQUIREMENT and "0 – 1" and "1 – 3" under HEIGHT (IN FEET).  All the choices below occur in Van Buren and Allegan Counties. 

Anemone canadensis (Canadian anemone) needs moisture, but grows well in sand and shade.

Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern red columbine) grows in the shade in sandy well-drained soil.

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Kinnikinnick) loves sand and will grow in sun, part shade and shade.

Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge) grows in sun, part shade and shade and spreads by rhizomes.

Diervilla lonicera (Northern bush honeysuckle) is a small mound-shaped shrub that likes sandy sites and grows in part shade and shade.

Mitchella repens (Partridgeberry) is a good groundcover for sandy slopes.

Solidago nemoralis (Gray goldenrod) grows in sun, part shade and shade and in a variety of soils including sandy ones.

You can find more choices by doing the search above yourself.  On the species page check GROWING CONDITIONS to find soil type.  You can also determine if the plant occurs in your county by scrolling down the species page to ADDITIONAL RESOURCES and clicking on the USDA Plants link.  On the USDA page click on Michigan on the map and you will see the Michigan counties where the plant has been reported.

You may want to consider erosion-control blankets to stabilize the steep slope so that seeds have a better chance to germinate and become established. The erosion-control fabric works by slowing the runoff water and allowing sediment to fall out rather than be washed away. Seeds are sown under the erosion-control material and grow up through the matting when they germinate. Underneath the matting the roots of the plants growing through the erosion-control material anchor the soil to stop the erosion. If you use erosion-control blankets made of biodegradable material, they will eventually disappear leaving the plants to control the problem. Seeds can be sown under an erosion control blanket or grass plugs and other plants can be planted by cutting holes through the blanket.  This material is available at most nurseries.  In the linked article above from the University of Washington there are descriptions of other erosion control materials that can be used.  Your slope might also benefit from some of the other methods discussed there.


From the Image Gallery

Canadian anemone
Anemone canadensis

Eastern red columbine
Aquilegia canadensis

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Pennsylvania sedge
Carex pensylvanica

Northern bush honeysuckle
Diervilla lonicera

Mitchella repens

Gray goldenrod
Solidago nemoralis

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