Plants used to stablize hillside garden

How To Stabilize Soils With Native Plants

Sloping hillsides, damaged soil, bare spots, heavy shade or wet, boggy soils — soil stabilizing plants can help!

The best strategy for stabilizing soils with plants is to establish vegetation at multiple levels — plant trees, shrubs, and groundcovers.

Multi-level canopy will do the best job of intercepting and slowing precipitation before it hits the ground, thus reducing surface erosion. Multiple vegetation types also provide both deep and spreading roots that stabilize the entire soil profile.

  The Threats

Urban building, natural forces and heavy traffic can wreak havoc on the landscape, causing erosion and loss of topsoil. Reducing soil erosion is important to preserve nutrient-rich soils and natural or unnatural configuration of the topography. Using plants for erosion control is an excellent biological method to safeguard the landscape and the shape of the land. There are many types of erosion control plants, but preventing erosion with native plants complements and accents the natural landscape

Read more: Native Plant Root Systems
Read more: The Wood Wide Web

The table below features plants that stabilize soils by their ability to serve as ground cover which is especially useful for slopes or damaged soils or their ability to work in wet, boggy soils.

  Why Use Wisconsin Native Plants

Native plants need less specialized care and maintenance. Reducing soil erosion conditions that promote soil erosion are rain, wind, physical disturbance and overuse. Overworked soils have few large plant species to help hold soil in place and have diminished nutrient resources.

That perennially wet area or dusty, lifeless soil is prone leaching away, leaving exposed areas that become rife with weeds and unwanted species. Preventing erosion with native plants is a common ecological practice in land management. It is a relatively easy way to conserve top soils and prevent open areas from wearing away.

Plants That Stabilize Soils

Common Name Scientific Name Flower Color Benefit Light Tolerates Wet Ground Cover
Arrowwood Viburnum Viburnum dentatum White Bee and Butterfly Pollinators Light is full sun or partial sun
Big Leaf Aster Eurybia macrophylla White Bee and Butterfly Pollinators Light is partial shade
Canada Anemone Anemone canadensis White Bee, bird and butterfly pollinators Light is full sun or partial sun
Canada Violet Viola canadensis Orange, White Bee, bird and butterfly pollinators Light is shade
Moss Phlox Phlox sublata Pink Butterfly pollinators Light is full sun or partial sun
Fragrant Sumac Rhus aromatica Yellow Bee, bird and butterfly pollinators Light is full sun or partial sun
Golden Ragwort Eurybia macrophylla  Yellow Bee pollinators Light is full sun or partial sun
Green-Headed Coneflower Rudbeckia laciniata Yellow Bee, bird and butterfly pollinators Light is full sun or partial sun
Mistflower Eupatorium coelestinum Blue, Violet Bee and Butterfly Pollinators Light is full sun or partial sun
Northern Sea Oats Chasmanthium latifolium Green Bee and Butterfly Pollinators Light is full sun or partial sun
Ostrich Fern Matteuccia struthiopteris  Yellow No bird or insect pollinators Light is partial sun or shade
Pennsylvania Sedge Carex pennsylvanica Green Bee and Butterfly Pollinators Light is partial sun or shade
Running Foamflower Tiarella cordifolia Pink, White Bee pollinators Light is partial sun or shade
Sweet Pepperbush Clethra alnifolia White Bee and Butterfly Pollinators Light is full sun or partial sun
Withered Viburnum Viburnum cassinoides White Bird and butterfly pollinators Light is full sun or partial sun
Yellowroot Xanthorhiza simplicissima White Bee and Butterfly Pollinators Light is partial shade

  Getting Plants Established

Matting for use in stabilizing soils.

Matting for stabilizing soils

If your yard has suffered from erosion for some time, you need to put in some work to make it plant-friendly again.

Your topsoil has most likely leached out. The first thing you need to do is amend the soil during a dry period. Work in compost, leaf litter, and peat moss to help build up the soil again.

Next, apply a thick layer of heavy mulch such as woodchips. The disadvantage is that a heavy rain may wash the woodchips away before the plants get established.

As an alternative, you might want to consider an erosion control blanket. You can get natural straw ones at your favorite big box store. The disadvantage is the netting takes a long time to biodegrade. You can also use burlap.

With either method, you can make cuts and plant your transplants. Firm the soil around the roots and water well to help them get established.

  Stabilizing Slopes

Garden Terracing.

Garden Terracing

  Plant Grass And Shrubs. Grass and shrubs are very effective at stopping soil erosion. This is primarily because plant roots tend to hold soil together, making it harder to erode. The leaves of the plants also help to reduce the velocity of raindrops falling on the ground, making it harder for them to dislodge the soil and erode it.

  Erosion Control Blankets. There are many varieties of fiber, biodegradable, and compost blankets/mats on the market today, and they have all been designed with one aim; to minimize the effects of water erosion on slopes and embankments. Rolled mats are usually made from mulch that is held together by a fiber mesh. They degrade slowly, allowing vegetation that may have been grown in the area to grow and take over the job of protecting the soil from erosion when the mats have finally degraded completely. Compost erosion control blankets act similarly to mulch products but provide organic nutrients that promote vegetation growth

  Build Terraces. If you are planning on trying to control the erosion on very steep slopes or embankments, sometimes planting vegetation may just not cut it as the slope may be too steep to support anything other than the hardiest grass due to the rapid rate of erosion. If this is the case, you should consider building terraces to help slow down erosion as the vegetation takes hold. Terraces can be made out of anything, from wood to concrete blocks to bio-mechanical solutions.

  Dealing With Wet, Boggy Areas

Erosion control blanket.

Erosion control blanket.

If you have a large, wet area, start with trees such as Wisconsin native hardwoods (e.g., Oak, Maple). For smaller gardens, plant breeders have developed upright, narrow versions. Big trees need the company of smaller trees or large shrubs, and my ideal garden would include serviceberries, which form multi-stemmed thickets of variable size and understated beauty, with white blossoms and fiery autumn color.

Once you have created these bones with trees and shrubs, you can fill in the gaps with perennials and ground covers. Perennials that like swampy conditions tend not to be demure; they are tall, lanky and often showy in flower.

Wetlands lend themselves to primal-looking plants; after all, this is the terrain where we traded in our flippers for claws. If you are looking to cover large areas, you could plant ostrich fern.

Further Information:

 Wisconsin Native Fruit Trees
 Wisconsin Native Berry Shrubs
 Lovely Native Violets
 Use Eggshells For Your Plants
 How to Use Banana Peels in Your Garden

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