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Tuesday - December 20, 2011

From: Paducah, KY
Region: Southeast
Topic: Erosion Control
Title: Need to Stabilize River Bank in Kentucky
Answered by: Marilyn Kircus


My home borders the Ohio River. I have lost a great deal of soil to the river. I am looking for plants with tight root systems that are water tolerant to protect my shoreline. Thanks


You may have to use one or more mechanical methods to stabilize your bank until the plants take over. There is an excellent article, Biotechnical Streambank Protection: the use of plants to stablize streambanks, from the USDA National Agroforestry Center that may be useful to you if you need to do some mechanical work to restore your stream bank. This article also gives you entities to consult for more help.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has a good article on Streamside Management which lists lots of trees you may be able to use. In addition to those trees, I'd definitely add Salix nigra (Black willow).  This tree is one of the fastest growing trees, does an excellent job of retaining banks, is a honey plant, and attracts lots of birds, especially warblers and vireos which feed on bugs that use it.  And it is documented as growing in the counties on either side of you as well as in the Illinois counties across the river from you.

To see if each of the suggested trees will grow in your area, just go to the USDA  Plant Database  and  enter each tree.  I would only use the ones that are known to grow in your county or at least the next county to you.  Check across the river to that county as well. The USDA Plant Database doesn’t have complete records so if it isn’t shown in your county, you may be able to document that it does grow there by looking for it or checking with a local college or herbarium. And remember to look across the river to the Illinois county(s) near you. You can also use the Tree ID guide in the Native Plant Society links below.

I researched shrubs and grasses that should do well in wet conditions in your county.   Grasses that should work for you – they grow in your county or nearby counties – include  Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass) and  Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass). Another grass-like plant that is also good in wet areas is Juncus effusus (Common rush).  A good shrub that should grow quite fast is  Cephalanthus occidentalis (Common buttonbush).  It feeds many species of water birds and the blooms are attractive to many species of butterflies.  It will grow in standing water and can also withstand drought. I’ve even seen it growing in cracks of rocks in intermittent streams. It is very easy to root.  I started around 100 cuttings last summer to donate to rebuild a rookery since herons and egrets will also use it for nesting.

Grasses, trees and shrubs should be your first line of defense. Then you can add wildflowers- both in the shade of the trees and among the grasses. You can add wildflowers to your grasses now or later, depending on your energy and scope of this project. Wildflowers that grow under trees need at least part shade, so I would wait several years to add them. But you will attract more wildlife, if you add more species. And if a disease gets one species, you will have others left.  And as your site develops, birds and mammals will plant other plants for you.

For more help, you may want to check some of the links offered by the Kentucky Native Plant Society.

This could be a very expensive project since you will probably need to protect a depth of 50 or more feet deep along the river.  But if you can identify some trees, shrubs, and grasses already growing on your land or along the roads, or under bridges, or on your friend's properties, you could collect seeds, transplant small plants, or take cuttings. Clumping grasses can be dug up in the spring and divided to make many new plants. Or you could get started and then with a few stock plants, and add more as you acquire them.

And you can also have willows that will grow to five or more feet tall the first year you plant them. Just cut branches of willows, either from the main tree, the trunk or from the roots, and stick them in damp earth. The branches need to be the size of a little finger and about two or three long. The best time to do this is in the spring, just before the leaves come out - watch for bud swelling. But they will root at any time and you don't need to use any rooting hormone as they make their own. I started a couple of hundred willows to rebuild habitat for birds this way.  I grew most of mine in pots until they got roots but we did plant some directly in the soil.  You will need to make sure the soil stays damp until they root, but the river may do this for you. So be sure to check your site and see what is already growing there.

Sources of Native Plants in Kentucky

Dabney Herbs
P.O. Box 22061, Louisville, KY 40252 Tel: 502/893-5198 Fax: 502/893-5198
E-mail: [email protected] Web:
Native Midwest plants and shrubs, heirloom plants and seeds, medicinal plants and seeds. %Native: 50. Cat/M/R/W

Dropseed Native Nursery
Margaret Shea, 1205 S. Buckeye Lane, Goshen, KY 40026 Tel: 502/439-9033
Email: [email protected] Web:
%Native: 100. W/R/M/S/C

Habitats Native Plant Nursery, LLC
Jacob Bartley, P.O. Box 265, Silver Grove, KY 41085 Tel: 859/442-9414
Email: [email protected] Web:
We specialize in local-genetic native plant seeds and select containerized herbaceous perennials and shrubs for wetlands, meadows, prairies, and woodlands. Serving Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and the surrounding region, our services include habitat assessments, design, installation, and management for a variety of habitat restoration projects including constructed wetland treatment systems and native landscapes.
%Native: 100. W/M/S/C

Jane's Native Seeds
311 W. Campbell St., Frankfort, KY 40601 Tel: 502/750-1571
%Native: 50. W/S/C

John P. Rhody Nursery
Kentucky Division of Forestry, P.O. Box 97, Gilbertsville, KY 42044 Tel: 800/866-0803, 270/362-8331 Fax: 270/362-7229
%Native: 100.

M&M Native Grass Seed Co.
Rt. 1 Box 18, Stephensport, KY 40170 Tel: 270/547-6855

Morgan County Nursery
438 Tree Nursery Road, West Liberty, KY 41472 Tel: 606/743-3511 Fax: 606/743-1999
%Native: 100.

Nolin River Nut Tree Nursery
797 Port Wooden Rd., Upton, KY 42784 Tel: 270/369-8551
E-mail: [email protected] Web:
%Native: 90. R/W

Roundstone Native Seed, LLC (This company is an associate of Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and gives a discount to members.)
9764 Raider Hollow Road
Upton, KY 42784
Fax: 270-531-3036

Shooting Star Nursery
160 Soards Rd, Georgetown, KY 40324 Tel: 502/867-7979
E-mail: [email protected] Web:
Nursery-propagated wildflowers, trees, shrubs, vines, wetland plants. Wildflower and prairie grass



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