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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Wisconsin Native Fruit Trees
Wisconsin Native Berry Shrubs
Lovely Native Violets
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