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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 - January 24, 2013

From: Hobart, IN
Region: Midwest
Topic: Erosion Control, Shade Tolerant
Title: Erosion Control for Shady Ditches
Answered by: Anne Van Nest

QUESTION:

What plants can you recommend for erosion control along shady ditches in Northwest Indiana?

ANSWER:

Selecting plants for your shady ditch isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. There are a lot of considerations when deciding on plants for erosion control issues in ditches (and other steep banks). Prospective plants have a long list of criteria with which to fulfill. Plants to consider should be natives and sustainable, provide erosion control (have fibrous roots to hold the sloped ditch sides in place), be adapted in your Indiana environment (plants native to your region will fare better), have tolerance for extreme wet and dry soil conditions (when the ditch floods in the spring and fall or dries out during summer droughts), be herbaceous, are short enough to mow (if desired) and enjoy growing in the shade.

The first place to go to find a list of potential plants to consider for your shady ditch is our Native Plant Database. Use the Combination Search feature instead of Recommended Species. This will provide a bigger selection with much more choice to narrow down. The volunteers and staff at the Wildflower Center who maintain the database have partners in different regions to help with these recommended species lists based on what is easy to access in local nurseries.

Under Combination Search, select the following categories: Indiana, Habit – Herb (herbaceous blooming plants), Duration – Perennial, Light Requirement – Shade (2 hours or less of sun), and 0-1 ft. under Anticipated Mature Height. You can expand this search to bring in additional plants by including part shade or taller plants if these fit your requirements.

Follow each plant link to our webpage for that plant to learn its growing conditions, bloom time, etc. Pay particular attention to the soil moisture requirements to see if they are similar to your onsite conditions. At the bottom of each plant webpage, under Additional Resources, there is a link to the USDA webpage for that plant. Take a look there for more specific details about suitability before you put them on your final list.

Here are some of the plants that you might consider but do also look at the sedges and grasses suggested in these other erosion control answers. Some plants will work better depending upon the amount of shade and the degree of wet/dry soil conditions you have in your ditch. 

Argentina anserina (silverweed cinquefoil), a low perennial that is used for erosion control because it spreads by runners. It grows in moist shade in riparian or wet meadow situations.

Coptis trifolia (threeleaf goldthread)

Galium triflorum (fragrant bedstraw)

Hydrocotyle umbellata (water pennywort)

Hydrophyllum virginianum (Eastern waterleaf)

Iris brevicaulis (zigzag iris) 

Clintonia borealis (bluebead)

Calla palustris (water arum)

Cornus canadensis (bunchberry)

 

From the Image Gallery


Silverweed cinquefoil
Argentina anserina

Manyflower marsh-pennywort
Hydrocotyle umbellata

Zigzag iris
Iris brevicaulis

Virginia waterleaf
Hydrophyllum virginianum

Fragrant bedstraw
Galium triflorum

Threeleaf goldthread
Coptis trifolia

Water arum
Calla palustris

Bunchberry dogwood
Cornus canadensis

Bluebead
Clintonia borealis

More Shade Tolerant Questions

Grass to grow in the shade of pecan tree
December 10, 2008 - Dear Mr. Smarty Pants, We have an enormous pecan tree in our backyard that had grass underneath the breadth of the branches, but not around the trunk. The grass isn't doing well (though we did fai...
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Ground cover for shady slope in Illinois
May 31, 2010 - Dear Mr. Smarty: I have a shady sloping area that I am trying to cover with low fast growing, perennials that will keep maintenance to the minimum and prevent erosion. Grass would be very difficul...
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Ground cover for shade from Atlanta GA
May 28, 2012 - I am looking for recommendations for a ground cover. I live in the Atlanta, Georgia area and have a large shady slope on which I would like to use low maintenance/water native ground cover. What wou...
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Bibliography

Field Guide to Indiana Wildflowers (2000) Kay Yatskievych

Wildflowers of Indiana Woodlands (1994) Runkel, S.T. & A.F. Bull

Search More Titles in Bibliography