Host an Event Volunteer Join Tickets

Support the plant database you love!

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?

Share

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

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
1 rating

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

QUESTION:

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?

ANSWER:

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

Kinnikinnick
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Pennsylvania sedge
Carex pensylvanica

Northern bush honeysuckle
Diervilla lonicera

Partridgeberry
Mitchella repens

Gray goldenrod
Solidago nemoralis

More Erosion Control Questions

Evergreen native plants for slope in South Carolina
July 14, 2008 - We would like to plant an evergreen garden in our backyard, which is on a slope. It receives the sun from approx 9-4. We have an above ground pool, and patio area. Would also like a recommendation of ...
view the full question and answer

O.K. to grow grass under a live oak?
November 26, 2014 - Is it a bad idea to plant grass around a mature live oak? We have erosion issues and trying to keep mulch in the beds around the tree groves is a challenge, even with edging. Much of the native dirt...
view the full question and answer

Erosion on sandy bank in Wisconsin
June 24, 2008 - I live in Sand Creek Wisconsin. As the name states SAND. I have a problem with rain eroding the sand hill sides. Looking for some type of plant or plants that will help with the erosion problem.
view the full question and answer

Plants to stem bank erosion in Ponder, Texas
May 07, 2010 - We have a pond with a bridge over the middle in full sun with a steep bank on one side. The bank is difficult to maintain and we need some natural looking low maintenance plants or ground cover to pl...
view the full question and answer

Ground cover for a bank in PA
April 28, 2012 - I live in Landisburg, PA, (zone 6). I need to find some ground cover for a primarily full sun bank that is roughly 10-12' down over the embankment and up to 100' long. This area wraps around our po...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.