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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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Saturday - April 28, 2012

From: Landisburg, PA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Meadow Gardens, Drought Tolerant, Erosion Control, Grasses or Grass-like, Wildflowers
Title: Ground cover for a bank in PA
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

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 pool. The soil is fairly rocky and does not seem to retain moisture well. As for the types of plant, grasses, etc..it really does not matter or even if they are all the same. I would just like something that will look better than the weeds and dirt that exist there now. Thank you very much.

ANSWER:

This sounds like a massive project and it will be a fair amount of work to plant an area that size, but there is no reason you shouldn't end up with a planting that is attractive, holds the soil and provides habitat benefits to birds, butterflies and other pollinators. There are a number of herbaceous plants and grasses that are native to your area that will survive and even thrive in your conditions. You can create a list of plants to choose from by visiting our Native Plant Database and performing a Combination Search for Pennsylvania. Select grasses (and then herbs) and sunny, dry conditions.  The list of plants generated will have links to detailed information pages with images for each plant where you can learn more about blooms, wildlife benefits and so on.

Ornamental grasses are a great place to start as they are some of the toughest plants out there.  Their fibrous root systems make them drought tolerant and prevent erosion (a problem for a bare, rocky slope when it does rain).  Some of the 25 plants the database lists that you could try are:

Carex texensis (Texas sedge)

Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass)

Schizachyrium scoparium (Little bluestem)

Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass)

Sporobolus heterolepis (Prairie dropseed)

If you plant these grasses in large groupiongs, or drifts, the wind will blow them in waves and the sun will light them up to creat a great effect beside the water of your pool.  Interspersed with "wildflowers", you will create a meadow garden alive with butterflies and other winged creatures.  Leave the dried plants standing all winter to provide a natural food source for the birds. 

These "wildflowers" from the list of 124 the combination search generates are just a few that could work for you.

Anaphalis margaritacea (Pearly-everlasting)

Asclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed)

Coreopsis lanceolata (Lanceleaf coreopsis)

Echinacea purpurea (Eastern purple coneflower)

Liatris pycnostachya (Prairie blazing star)

Monarda punctata (Spotted beebalm)

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium (Aromatic aster)

 

From the Image Gallery


Texas sedge
Carex texensis

Switchgrass
Panicum virgatum

Little bluestem
Schizachyrium scoparium

Indiangrass
Sorghastrum nutans

Prairie dropseed
Sporobolus heterolepis

Western pearly everlasting
Anaphalis margaritacea

Butterflyweed
Asclepias tuberosa

Lanceleaf coreopsis
Coreopsis lanceolata

Eastern purple coneflower
Echinacea purpurea

Prairie blazing star
Liatris pycnostachya

Spotted beebalm
Monarda punctata

Aromatic aster
Symphyotrichum oblongifolium

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