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Erosion Control

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Preventing erosion on a slope using plants is an effective and environmentally friendly approach to stabilize soil. Native plants are especially well-suited to the local climate and soil conditions, making them excellent choices for erosion control. Below are some considerations before you start and a list of plants that may be suitable.

Consider the Site Conditions

  • If your eroding slope is too steep, you may want to consider re-grading the area to make a gentler slope or to repair areas that are badly eroded.
  • Try to slow down the stormwater that is causing problems on the slope. This may mean adding rock to slow down and spread-out water before it reaches the slope.
  • Natural jute or coconut coir fabric can be laid on a slope to stop erosion and stabilize soil. Plants can be planted in the fabric, and it will decompose over time. Any lime or fertilization should be done before laying fabric.

Avoid Invasive Plants!

First and foremost, avoid planting invasive species. English Ivy, Asiatic Jasmine, and Vinca are examples of plants that will grow unchecked and invade natural ecosystems. Plants like Pampas Grass are invasive and grow in heavy clumps that exacerbate erosion.

Wildflowers

A meadow of flowers and grasses can provide excellent erosion control once established. Once the soil is stabilized with jute fabric, a wildflower seed mix may be sown. Be sure to choose wildflower seed mixes from reputable sources that are specific to the southeast.

Some seed companies have specific seed mixes for a slope with a combination of grass and wildflower seeds. An example is Ernst Seeds

Terracing

On a steep slope, terraces may make establishment of plants easier and help to slow water down. Terraces prevent erosion by shortening the long slope into a series of shorter, more level steps. These level steps allow heavy rains to soak into the soil rather than run off and cause erosion. The terrace can be complex or simply built with large rocks to create the terraces.

Plants for Erosion Control

The following list of plants are suited to landscapes in coastal North Carolina. It is always important to plant the right plant in the right place. Light, water, soil, and other conditions should be considered when choosing the correct plants.

Grasses and Sedges

Deep rooted grasses and sedges can be ideal for a slope. Once established they should require infrequent or no mowing, which is ideal for a steep slope.

Common Name Scientific Name Height Spread Light Notes
Little Bluestem Schizachyrium scoparium 1-3’ 1-2’ Full Sun Beautiful cultivars available, ‘Heavy Metal’
Muhlygrass Muhlenbergia capillaris 2-3’ 2-3’ Full Sun Drought and salt tolerant, looks great planted in masses
Switchgrass Panicum virgatum 2-5’ 3-4’ Full Sun Drought and salt spray tolerant
Purple Lovegrass Eragrostis spectabilis ~1’ ~1’ Full Sun Does well in sandy soils
Wiregrass Aristida stricta 1-2’ 1-2’ Full Sun/Part Shade Beautiful feathery texture
River Oats Chasmanthium latifolium 2-3’ 1-2’ Part Shade/Dappled Sun Spreads easily on a wet site
Indian Grass Sorghastrum elliottii 4-6’ 1-3’ Full Sun Low maintenance and drought tolerant
Bicknell’s Sedge Carex bicknellii 1’ 3’ Part Shade/Full Sun Bunching habit, somewhat drought tolerant
Cherokee Sedge Carex cherokeensis 10-12” 1.5-2’ Full Sun/Part Shade Occurs in moist habitats, tolerates drier
Pennsylvania Sedge Carex pennsylvanica 6-12” 1” Shade Low ground cover, can take some sun with moist soil
Common Rush Juncus effusus 2-3’ 1-2’ Full Sun/Part Shade Good for moist soils

Many species of Carex sedges are available and can be purchased wholesale as plugs from growers like Hoffman Nursery (hoffmannursery.com/).

Ground Covers

A tough and drought resistant ground cover may be ideal for a hot and sunny slope. Reminder to avoid invasive, vining ground covers like vinca, Asiatic jasmine, and English ivy.

Common Name Scientific Name Height Spread Light Notes
Creeping Juniper Juniperus horizontalis 6”-1.5’ 4-10’ Full Sun Many cultivars available
Sedums Sedum spp. 3’-2’ Varies Full Sun Many cultivars available, good on a rocky slope
Green and Gold Chrysogonum virginianum 1-2” 18” Part Shade/Full Shade Produces small yellow flowers

Shrubs

Woody shrubs have deep branching roots that can help prevent erosion and deter foot traffic in erosion prone areas.

Common Name Scientific Name Height Spread Light Notes
Wax Myrtle Myrica cerifera 10-20’ 8-10’ Full Sun/Part Shade Tolerant of wet sites and salt, wildlife value
Inkberry Holly Ilex glabra ‘Gem Box’ and others 4-6’ 3-4’ Full Sun/Part Shade Good substitute for Boxwoods
American Beautyberry Callicarpa americana 3-6’ 3-6’ Full Sun/Part Shade Beautiful purple berries in fall, great for wildlife
Arrowwood Viburnum Viburnum dentatum ‘Blue Muffin’ 5-10’ 5-10’ Full Sun/Part Shade Tolerates a variety of soils, smaller cultivars available
Buttonbush Cephalanthus occidentalis 5-8’ 3-6’ Full Sun/Part Shade Best used for a slope in a wet site
Silky Dogwood Cornus amomum 6-12’ 6-12’ Full Sun/Part Shade Good for streambanks/moist sites, white flowers
Virginia Sweetspire Itea virginica

3-5’

 

4-6’ Full Sun/Part Shade Suckering roots can help with erosion control
Florida Doghobble Agarista populifolia 8-12’ 6-8’ Part Shade Suckering evergreen, good for moist sites
Smooth Hydrangea Hydrangea arborescens 3-4’ 5-6’ Part Shade Blooms on new growth

Trees

Tree canopies can help to block and slow water on a slope. The tree roots will help to keep soil in place.

Common Name Scientific Name Height Spread Light Notes
Serviceberry Amelanchier arborea 15-20’ 10-15’ Full Sun/Part Shade Small tree with white flowers, ‘Autumn Brilliance’ hybrid cultivar most common
Red Maple Acer rubrum 40-70’ 30-50’ Full Sun/Part Shade Beautiful shade tree, not tolerant of very hot, dry conditions
Long Leaf Pine Pinus palustris 60-120’ 30-40’ Full Sun Best planted in groups, more hurricane resistant than Loblolly Pine
Bald Cypress Taxodium distichum 50-70’ 30-40’ Full Sun Drought tolerant once established
Eastern Redbud Cercis canadensis 20-30’ 20-30’ Part Shade Needs to be an understory tree
Black Willow Salix nigra 70-80’ 30-60’ Full Sun/Part Shade Rapidly colonizes and grows, common on streambanks

Herbaceous Perennials

These flowering perennials would work well on a slope, provide color, and support pollinators. They can be planted by seed, plug, or pot. These species spread prolifically through re-seeding or rhizomes.

Common Name Scientific Name Height Spread Notes
Blue Mistflower Conoclinium coelestinum 2-3’ 3-4’ Full Sun/Part Shade Fall bloom, Attracts pollinators
Lancelead Coreopsis Coreopsis lanceolata 1-3’ 1-2’ Full Sun Attracts pollinators
Swamp Sunflower Helianthus angustifolius 6-7’ 3-4’ Full Sun Attracts pollinators
Spotted Horsemint Monarda punctata 4-5’ 3-4’ Full Sun Attracts pollinators
Mountain Mint Pycnanthemum spp. 3-4’ 3-4’ Full Sun Attracts pollinators