Erosion And Native Plants – Why Are Native Plants Good For Erosion

Erosion And Native Plants – Why Are Native Plants Good For Erosion

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

For natural beauty and ease of care, you can’t go wrongusing native plants in your landscape. Erosion resistant native plants can alsohelp stabilize hillsides and disturbed sites. There are many native plants goodfor erosion and, once established, they will need little maintenance and aretolerant of the conditions in the site. Building an erosion proof plan startswith a list of some of the best nativeplants for erosion control.

About Erosion and Native Plants

Usingnative plants in the landscape provides a visual “tie-in” to thesurrounding flora. They are more adaptable than imported species and have theability to thrive once they mature without much human intervention. Whether youhave a hillside, slope along a waterway or a previously eroded space, nativeplants can help preserve the soil and maintain the land.

Erosion can occur from wind, gravity, water and even over-use.Utilizing native plants can help anchor soil and reduces run-off. Theseindigenous plant stars are used to the conditions in the region and performtheir duties without excess water use while providing natural habitat andenhancing biodiversity.

Using a mixture of trees, shrubs and ground covers will alsoenhance the appeal of the site. Choose plants that offer a variety ofattributes such as food, seasonal color and various heights. Also, consider amixture of flora that has fibrous or taproots for additional soil retention.

Preventing Native Garden Erosion with Creeping Plants

Groundcovers are perfect native plants for erosion control. Creepingjuniper is about as unfussy as you could wish for and forms a densemat-like, low-growing shrub. If you want seasonal color, select a plant like Kinnikinnick.It turns a glorious burgundy in fall and produces sweet flowers in late spring.Wildstrawberries will feed you and the birds and fill in an erosionprone area quickly and effortlessly.

Some other low growing native plants good for erosion are:

  • Dunegrass
  • Deer fern
  • Redwood sorrel
  • Bunchberry
  • Wild Ginger
  • Yarrow
  • Douglas aster
  • Large leaved lupine
  • Solomon’s seal
  • False lily of the valley

Tall Erosion Resistant Native Plants

Trees and shrubs add impact to the landscape while alsopreserving erosion prone areas. A spring flowering Pacific crabapple or redbarked madrone will complement any garden. These statuesque native plants needlittle care once established. Or perhaps you want to go a little smaller. Try Oregongrape with three seasons of interest or snowberry,which will attract bird life.

Vertical plantings are just as effective. Simply ensure theyhave a little help at the outset establishing. Other trees and shrubs to trymight include:

  • Spirea
  • Mock orange
  • California lilac
  • Elderberry
  • Spicebush
  • Willow
  • Wild rose
  • Laurel sumac
  • Western azalea
  • Mountain ash
  • Pacific rhododendron
  • Red twig dogwood

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Shrubs for Slopes

As much as we’d all like a flat landscape around our home, this isn’t always possible. Nature simply doesn’t work that way. However, it does provide us with the remedy for hilly or uneven terrain with a variety of beautiful shrubs for slopes.

Heavy rain deteriorates sloping soil, often leaving the area barren of plants and grass. While it seems that gardening on a slope is a nightmare and impossible to do, this is not the case.

The key is to know the difference between plants, the type of root system they have, and their growing habits. Many shrubs are perfect for growing in less than ideal areas.

There are challenges, but growing bushes on hilly terrains is trouble-free using the right plants for the job. Vigorous growers with sturdy and robust root systems are ideal choices for challenging slopes, as well as shrubs that are disease and pest resistant.


  • Controlling Erosion with Slope-Friendly Shrubs
    • Why is it Hard to Grow Plants on Slopes?
    • How Can I Stop Erosion on Slopes?
    • What Should I Look for when Choosing Slope-Friendly Shrubs?
    • Are Erosion Control Bushes Hard to Maintain?
    • Golden Bell (Forsythia)
    • Creeping Juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) – Ground Cover Shrubs for Slopes
    • Rockspray Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis)
    • Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) – Sweet Scented Flowering Shrub
    • Lace Shrub (Stephanandra incisa)
    • Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea spectabilis) – Flowering Slope-Friendly Shrub
    • Spirea (Spiraea)
    • Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) – Slope Control Bush with Stunning Fall Color
    • Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)
    • Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica) – Low Growing Shrub with Fragrant Leaves
    • Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles)
    • Japanese Yew (Taxus cuspidata) – Evergreen Shrub for Hilly Yards
    • Snowberry (Symphoricarpos)
    • California Lilac (Ceanothus) – Easy to Grow Flowering Shrub

Prevent Erosion in Your Yard

Is your yard on a slope? Then topsoil erosion is likely a huge problem. Ground deterioration can be caused by rainfall, ice melting, and wind all traveling down the incline in your yard. Signs of erosion include exposed roots, gutted out areas on the lawn, or puddles or swampy sections. Fortunately, there are several methods to prevent this from happening. Make sure to assess the problem carefully before deciding on the solution. Prevention begins with control methods that are determined by the depth and severity of the issue. By using one or several prevention methods, you will keep your yard healthy while offering plants and trees a place to grow and flourish.

Tip: If you live near an eroding stream, don't use fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides within at least 10 feet of the stream. They can be carried downstream and will pollute bodies of water. Also, create a “buffer bed” along the stream using plenty of native species of plants and wildflowers. Do not mow this bed as it will act as a natural buffer against erosion along the stream.

Plant Vegetation

The most common, and possibly the easiest, way to battle an eroding yard is to plant flowers or trees in the area affected. These plants act as a shield, lessening the impact of rainfall, over-watering, ice, and wind that wear away at the soil. Plants and trees also help stabilize the dirt by putting in roots that anchor it and soak up excess water. Wild flowers work well to blanket an area prone to soil erosion, as do herbs or a line of shrubbery. Keep in mind that creeping, crawling cover plants are better than ones that simply grow upwards. Plants are especially beneficial in preventing erosion on slopes or shorelines.

If you choose to plant flowers, trees, or shrubs, choosing species native to your area can be more beneficial. Their root structures are suited to your environment and can stabilize topsoil more securely.


Adding a layer of mulch can be beneficial for both soil and plants when applied. Consider a layer of fertilizer as well, as both will help the ground absorb water—lessening any impact rainfall may have on the area. Mulch and fertilizer contribute to higher PH levels and help the health of the soil overall. Frequent mulching is also a good practice in order replace used mulch that may no longer be as effective controlling erosion as a fresh batch might be. There is no particular product that is best to use so you can choose whichever you feel is good for your plants.


Matting is one product available for preventing eroding dirt that can be applied on residential lawns. Essentially, matting is a thick mat that is laid down on the soil surface. Since it is comprised of wood, straw, or coconut fibers, it is very eco-friendly. Place it in the affected area, to soak up the elements. Plants can still to grow through matting as well and it can be cut into any size to suit your needs. Keep in mind that biodegradable mats need to be replaced periodically.

Tip: If you notice wet spots on your lawn, begin mowing your grass to two and a half to three inches high. Longer grass promotes healthy root growth which can anchor topsoil and absorb more water.

Edging and Terracing

Mud puddles or wet spots visible on your lawn are sure signs of soil erosion runoff. These spots occur often where the ground cannot hold any more water so it’s pushed to the surface where it puddles. Often, planted areas where the soil has been disturbed can cause a water runoff that appears in other areas of the lawn. A simple solution is to build a retaining wall around flower beds and larger plants such as trees. Retaining walls are typically installed a few inches deep into the ground and they act as shields, preventing surface water runoff. Retaining walls will also keep water within the bed, allowing the plants to slowly soak it in.

If slope erosion is occurring, you can bury stones or railroad ties parallel to the slope to help stem the flow of water. Another option is to use what is called "riprap." Riprap are loose stones, usually granite, embedded into the slope to slow and divert the flow of water.

Terracing is a great option to prevent soil erosion on a slope as well. When you terrace a slope, you level off steep sections of the hill to make several flat areas. A terrace allows the water to be absorbed in the flat areas, where plants are usually growing, instead of flowing downwards. Terracing can be beneficial as well as beautiful, especially when planted with suitable shrubs and flowers. While it can be costly and time consuming, this is one of the best methods to fix problems with your soil wearing away.

You may also want to check out our list for sunny slopes.

Your local native plant vendor can recommend even more great native plants to help you with your slope planting project! They will want to know the specifics of your site, such as soil texture, pH, and moisture. If you live in Maryland's mountain counties, your vendor will also need to know your slope's aspect and soil depth.

You can get more information about preventing soil erosion from your local Soil & Water Conservation District.

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