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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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Thursday - September 02, 2010

From: Melrose, MA
Region: Northeast
Topic: Shade Tolerant
Title: Erosion control for steep shady hillside in Massachusetts
Answered by: Leslie Uppinghouse

QUESTION:

What would be a good plant for erosion control on a steep, very shady hillside in Massachusetts?

ANSWER:

Choosing a plant for a steep shady hillside might not be as limiting as you would think. The key to choosing the right plant for those conditions is to find a plant that will spread nicely to cover the area and be self-sufficient in care. Meaning you won’t have to risk life and limb crawling up or down the slope to keep the area looking nice.

To do this you need to pay attention to the conditions of the area. It looks like Melrose Mass has an average rainfall of 48 inches evenly spread out throughout the year. If you check the soil in the next week you will be at your wettest month which is November. If your soil remains moist regardless of a recent rain, consider your soil as moist.

You have noted that it is shady. Knowing how much shade verses sun is key to any plants survival. To know the difference between partial shade and shade you will need to take a day or two to measure the hours of sunlight the area in question receives. Partial shade is 2-6 hours of sun and Shade is 2 or less.

Below are links to plants that will do nicely in partial shade and or shade, as well as recommended for Massachusetts. Follow each link to the page on that plant in our Native Plant Database to learn its expected size, sun needs, propagation, growing conditions and soil types.  

Here is a tip for planting  a steep hillside. Start at the top. Make sure you have everything you need at arms length. This might mean that you have a pile of good dirt handy at the top of the hill, the middle and at the bottom. This way you can move slowly down the hill not disturbing you're newly planted charges. Don’t forget some native pine straw mulch if you are planting plants and not seed. This is a product made of native pine needles. You should be able to find it easily in your area. Mulch the newly planted area to keep your new plants in place while they are establishing. If you are seeding with grass then you will want to use an erosion control blanket to keep that seed in place. You don’t want to have all of your climbing go to waste.

 

Here is an excellent article on Erosion Control from the University of Washington. 

Here are some grasses for Massachusetts.

Spreading perennials for shade in Massachusetts :

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (kinnikinnick)

 

Juniperus horizontalis (creeping juniper)

 

Teucrium canadense (Canada germander)

 

Rosa setigera (climbing rose)

 

Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis (royal fern)

 

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