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Saturday - November 28, 2015

From: Lake Peekskill, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Erosion Control, Grasses or Grass-like, Herbs/Forbs, Shrubs, Wildflowers
Title: Erosion Control Shrubs and Groundcovers for Steep NY Wooded Slope
Answered by: Anne Van Nest


I need to cover a couple of very steep slopes in upstate New York that are partially wooded and near a brook. The slopes are about 130 feet back from the brook. Someone estimated that there is a couple feet of compost on the slopes. If you walk on the slopes, you sink into the soft dirt. The slopes are in partial shade and cover an area of about 54 feet by 100 feet. Currently some pachysandra and vinca are growing on one of the slopes. I want to plant the slopes with native New York and non-invasive groundcover/plants. I am worried about erosion and so am hoping there is a relatively fast-growing, non-invasive groundcover that I can plant, along with a variety of perennials, wild shrubs, grasses, ferns or herbs that are appropriate for woodlands/river areas. In the meanwhile I have started to plant a grass called Eco-grass (several fescues) that was suggested to me. The grass can grow roots to 14 inches long according to the website. The grass came up quickly in shady areas and in the sun. Would this be sufficient cover for a steep slope? I am guessing that with all the soft compost on the slopes, a fine grass might not provide sufficient erosion control.


The decomposing leaf litter on your wooded slope will provide a nice rich soil to re-establish native groundcover plants that will be able to help stop erosion. Your search for a fast growing, non-invasive native groundcover will be quite a challenge. Most of the fast-growing groundcovers are non-natives and quite invasive (such as vinca, euonymus and the Japanese pachysandra). Virginia creeper and native grape vines are fast growing vines that will stabilize your slope but they will quickly form a dense cover that will shade out any desirable native plants that you want to encourage on your slope. Mayapple and the native pachysandra could become a good groundcover for woodland areas but you will need patience to get them established. Emily DeBolt has a good article online about native groundcovers for the Northeast that will give you some good insight.

To find a list of possible native shrubs, perennials, grasses, ferns, and herbaceous plants that will be appropriate for your site, visit the Native Plant Database on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website. Select New York, perennial habit, shade and moist soil moisture. Then search individually in turn for shrubs, grasses, herbs, ferns. If you would like to limit the heights of your groundcovers, you can also select the size characteristics.

Some groundcovers to consider:

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Kinnikinnick)

Red bearberry is a trailing, evergreen shrub with paddle-shaped leaves on flexible branches. The thick, leathery leaves, rolled under at the edges, are yellow-green in spring, dark-green in summer, and reddish-purple in the fall. Nodding clusters of small, bell-shaped, pink or white flowers occur on bright-red stems. Flowers in racemes on short branches. Bright-red berries succeed the flowers and persist into winter. This ground-trailing shrub has the papery, reddish, exfoliating bark typical of woody plants in northern climates. It is a hardy shrub for landscaping rocky or sandy sites

In Greek arctos is bear and staphyle grape, whereas in Latin uva is a bunch of grapes and ursus is bear. The berries are indeed eaten by bears, as the name redundantly indicates. Kinnikinnick, an Algonquin word for many tobacco substitutes, is most frequently applied to this species, which also had many medicinal uses, including the alleged control of several sexually transmitted diseases. An astringent tea can be made by steeping the dried leaves in boiling water (sometimes used as a laxative). Bearberry is long lived, but grows very slowly. It has no serious disease or insect problems. 

Athyrium filix-femina (common lady fern)

Highly variable in appearance over its range, Subarctic lady fern is typically a large, clustered fern, 2-3 ft. tall. Its light-green color and twice-pinnate fronds with finely toothed leaflets create the illusion of a dainty fern, despite its large size. Stems are greenish-yellow to red.

Clematis virginiana (Devil's darning needles)

A 12-15 ft., fine-textured vine, climbing by twisting leaf stalks. Profuse, axillary clusters of small, white flowers are followed by plume-like, feathery achenes. Trifoliate leaves are bright-green. A climbing vine with white flowers in many clusters arising from the leaf axils.

A beautiful and common Clematis, it trails over fences and other shrubs along moist roadsides and riverbanks. The female flowers, with their feathery tails or plumes, give a hoary appearance and are especially showy in late summer. Lacking tendrils, the vine supports itself by means of twisted stems, or petioles, that wrap around other plants.

Carex plantaginea (plantainleaf sedge)

A 1-2 ft. sedge; the plant strongly tinged with red-purple at the base and on the sheaths. The evergreen leaves are broad, up to an inch across, and have puckered ribs.

Aralia nudicaulis (wild sarsaparilla)

A single leaf stalk grows 18-24, dividing into three parts each with five oval leaflets. A separate stalk, shorter than the leaf stalk, bears ball-shaped clusters of tiny, greenish-white flowers followed in fall by dark purple berries. The leafless flower stem, topped with clusters of greenish-white flowers, is beneath a large, umbrella-like leaf. Often grows in colonies from extensive rootstock.


From the Image Gallery

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Creeping snowberry
Gaultheria hispidula

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus

Common lady fern
Athyrium filix-femina

Northern maidenhair fern
Adiantum pedatum

Devil's darning needles
Clematis virginiana

Plantainleaf sedge
Carex plantaginea

Podophyllum peltatum

Wild sarsaparilla
Aralia nudicaulis

Dwarf red blackberry
Rubus pubescens

New jersey tea
Ceanothus americanus

Trailing arbutus
Epigaea repens

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