Contact Us Host an Event Volunteer Join

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?


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
Not Yet Rated

Tuesday - September 14, 2010

From: Texarkana, AR
Region: Southeast
Topic: Planting, Erosion Control, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Need Native Plants for Ditch Stabilization in Texarkana, Arkansas
Answered by: Marilyn Kircus


I live in Texarkana, Arkansas. I have a ditch near the street in my front yard that is approximately 90-100 ft. long. It gets full sun. There is a lot of clay and rocks in the ditch. I need to find something (I'm guessing wildflowers) to plant in the ditch to prevent erosion. We get quite a bit of rain in the fall and winter but have very dry summers.


This could be a really fun place to plant. You can change the view into a riot of color and motion and have birds and butterflies adding to the color and movement.  If you own both sides of  the ditch, you might want to think about using shrubs and/or taller grasses on the far  side and  wildflowers and short grasses on the near side. Grasses, in particular, put out really long roots and are great for soil stabilization.  And they provide wonderful movement and most are hosts for some of the butterflies. Or you could repeat larger plants along the ditch and then fill in between with shorter plants. 

I’ll divide my answer up into the habits of plants.   I selected plants that will grow in clays and full sun.   Click on the name of each plant to get more information about it.  I’ll just tell you what I think is most exciting about each plant.

Large Shrubs:

Button Bush. (Cephalanthus occidentalisThe first time I saw this plant, I screeched my car to a halt because it was covered in several species of butterflies.  It grows in standing water to quite dry soils.   One lady told me she had grown it in her garden with no watering through a drought in San Marcus, Texas.  It is very easy to propagate from seeds or cuttings and has lovely little white and yellow balls of flowers. It looks great pruned into a small tree.  

Dwarf Palmetto  (Sabal minor)  Another one of my favorites.  It does grow slowly but looks magnificent when planted with dainty yellow flowers, such as smooth beggertick, or with cardinal flowers.  It could go on the back bank and the flowers could be planted down in the ditch where their roots will be closer to the water table.

Wax Myrtle  (Morella cerifera ) I saw a wonderful specimen of this plant while paddling in East Texas last weekend. This plant will grow in both fairly wet conditions along stream sides and fairly dry conditions. It needs constant moisture until established but then is both flood and drought tolerant. And it brings in lots of birds and butterflies and is host to some butterflies. If you have even a few of these plants, you should get myrtle warblers in your yard in winter.  And you can grow the regular plant as a shrub or trim it up into a beautiful small tree.  And there is a dwarf variety that only grows about three feet high.  And mixing it with Dwarf Palmetto  makes for a fantastic texture contrast.

Possumhaw  (Ilex decidua)  This is a wonderful tree for winter color.  It is the Ilex that drops its leaves and appears totally red from a distance when it is covered with berries. The birds don’t eat the berries until late in the winter or early spring, so you get a lot of beauty from it.


Eastern Woodland Sedge  (Carex blanda) This looks like grass and is evergreen.  Would look good by inself and even better mixed in with flowers.

White-topped sedge  (Rhynchospora colorata)  This is an absolutely beautiful plant that looks like a wildflower when in bloom.  It will look good as clumps growing in front of Dwarf Palmetto,  or a restful color when planted with any of the wildflowers, especially the shorter ones or as a short base to clumps of the taller ones. There are other sedges that would also work.  Just look them up in the database.

Bushy Bluestem  (Andropogon glomeratus) A very decorative grass with big, bushy seed heads.

Eastern Gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides) This plant is supposed to like part shade but seems to be growing just fine in my daughter’s yard in the Hill Country west of Austin. I planted it where the sloping front yard drains under the driveway.  I love it for its bright green color and for the three or four little kernels of corn it makes.  It is one of the parents of corn.  

Red Fescue (Festuca rubra) I am not personally familiar with this plant but it came up in the database when I asked for grasses that would grow in Texas in the sun and wet soils. It likes clays.

Perennial Flowers

Spring Obedient Plant
 (Phystostegia intermedia) This plant sometimes gets invasive if you treat it too nice. But a group of them make a wonderful show. Grow low in the ditch. 

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) A truly gorgeous flower.  Would look good growing in clumps in various places.  In full sun, will need the maximum amount of water, so plant it deep in the ditch.

Big Red Sage
(Salvia penstemonoides) Another one of my favorites because it attracts hummingbirds.  It is endemic to the Texas Hill Country but will grow in clay soil. I saw it used to great effect as a hedge.

Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima)  This is one of the plants monarchs depend on for nectar on their  migration to Mexico.  So you would be providing an important food if you included some of these.  I would plant these on the highest part of the bank as they need less water than some of the other species.

Swamp Milkweed
  (Asclepias incarnata)This is a very showy plant that will feed monarch caterpillars in the spring. Plant it down low in the ditch where it can be as wet as possible.

Annual Flowers

Smooth Beggertick (Bidens laevis)  A beautiful yellow-blooming plant that reseeds easily. It will bloom from summer until frost and attracts butterflies.

You can use Ladybird Johnson Wildlife Center's database to find even more plants. Go to the web page and click on Explore Plants.  Then click on the Native Plant Database. In the database, scroll down to the Combination Search.  Pick both Texas and Arkansas in different searches and then check out the different habits of plants for the sun and wet soils.   You will have to read each description of the plants the query gave you to see if they will grow in your soil type. Also check to see if they can go dry part of the year.

To find these plants, check out the sources listed on the web page.  You don’t seem to have many nurseries that have registered with the Wildflower Center.  But many of these plants are carried in local nurseries.  You may have to order seed, check out your neighborhood, and ask the owners of plants you want for cuttings or seeds, (gardeners love to give away their plants), order on-line from sources listed in the supplier section and see if the Four Corners Chapter in Texarkana has an annual plant sale.



Cephalanthus occidentalis

Sabal minor

Ilex decidua

Carex blanda

Rhynchospora colorata

Andropogon glomeratus

Tripsacum dactyloides

Physostegia intermedia

Lobelia cardinalis

Salvia penstemonoides

Solidago altissima

Asclepias incarnata

Bidens laevis





More Herbs/Forbs Questions

What are the Native Dianthus?
October 03, 2015 - What species of Dianthus is native to North America?
view the full question and answer

Plant identification from Prairie Village KS
August 25, 2012 - My friend has identified this plant as a Horseweed. It is 3 1/2 to 4 feet tall. Has a thick, fuzzy single stem. Linear leaves, about 3/4 inch across and 3 or 4 inches long with one or two notches on e...
view the full question and answer

Perennials for flower bed in Humble TX
July 28, 2010 - I have a 10 foot by 10 foot flower bed that needs to be replanted and I am located in Houston, TX so what would be some good perennials to plant that are good to grow in this heat? I have been told L...
view the full question and answer

Non-toxic plants for dog yard from Freeport PA
June 24, 2012 - I'm looking for wildlife-friendly native plants that aren't toxic to dogs. I have a place for some small shrubs and/or flowers. And a climbing vine that I could train on a trellis would work espec...
view the full question and answer

Destruction of Straggler Daisy in Austin
December 18, 2011 - I hate Straggler Daisy. Not to be offensive, but it appears from other posts on this site that you, Mr. Smarty Plants, and many others would like to treat it as a protected species. It is taking over ...
view the full question and answer

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