When it comes to controlling soil erosion, adding plants to the landscape is a natural and beautiful way to protect soil while adding dimension and blooms of color. Many plant varieties work well in hardy areas, are resistant to drought, or require very little maintenance. Choose from ground covers, shrubs, or trees to get the best results. Locate plants and trees where they will best offset soil erosion from both wind and water.
Natives are the best erosion control plants because they are primed to the area where they grow. Grasses are also useful, although you must take land topography into consideration in regard to maintenance. Take the time to think about what purpose the plant will serve, its type of root system, and its rate of growth. If planting ground cover or trees on a hill, know the grade of the slope. Choose low-maintenance, deep-rooting trees and shrubs that dig in and take hold on sloped land.
Effects of Soil Erosion
Soil’s delicate balance of microbes, pH, and moisture all contribute to its health and vitality. Healthy soil is productive, fertile, and able to recycle and regenerate. As land is stripped of vegetation for farming or harvesting practices, the uppermost layer, referred to as topsoil, is subject to degradation. It can get washed away during sheet erosion or carried into the air during saltation.
As wind or water wear away at exposed topsoil, its ability to provide nutrients to seeds and saplings degrades. Soil’s structure begins to weaken, and pests can take over, leading to chemical use to restore balance.
Soil usually does an adequate job of keeping its balance of microbes, pH, moisture, and nutrients when left undisturbed for periods of time. Tilling soil or planting a new crop before the soil has had a chance to rebound from the last planting season degrades that soil and robs its nutrients. As exposed, bare land leaves soil vulnerable, wind and water events have no forces to stop their destructive flow and contribute to pollutants in the air and surrounding soils.
When considering how to prevent erosion, replacing vegetation is a relatively simple way to aid nature in her cycles of regeneration and renewal. Soil can bounce back and recover faster when vegetation is added back into the equation.
Best Plants for Erosion Control
Choosing the right plants to offset erosion and help soils recover depends on where they will grow. Temperate climates might welcome varieties that like moisture while drier climates might require hardy ground cover that mitigates wind erosion. Some regions might benefit from taller vegetation, such as shrubs or trees, to create windbreaks and deep roots that hold soil in place. Slopes might fare well with plants that grow weblike roots to reinforce the grade and give soil holding power.
Ground cover serves to create a low-lying layer of vegetation to hold soil in place. Ground cover helps soil retain moisture and provides protection against both wind and water erosion. Most varieties do well in full sun and don’t require much water.
Creeping varieties might spread fast to cover an area without blocking the view of the overall land. Ground cover discourages foot traffic and is visually appealing. As ground cover dies off and recycles, it provides nutrients and microbial activity to decompose matter and return it to the soil.
Commonly used erosion control ground cover plants include:
- Creeping phlox
- Autumn sage
- Common yarrow
- Rye and clover
- Creeping juniper
- Creeping myrtle
Shrubs grow taller than ground cover and might be used in windbreaks or to create visual dimension. Evergreen shrub varieties such as juniper are cold-hardy and offer soil protection year-round. Other varieties, such as buckwheat, prefer drier climates and only grow to about 18 inches tall.
Commonly used shrubs include:
- Japanese spurge
- Spotted nettle
- Apache plume
Native grasses work best for their resilience and adaptation to climate. Grasses aren’t recommended for erosion control on steep slopes because of the maintenance and possible dangers of mowing on a hill. Most grasses have moderate to fast growth and usually do well in both sun and shade.
Commonly used grasses include:
- Black mondo grass
- Blue fescue
- Yellow foxtail
Trees boast deep or extensive root systems. Their height creates a windbreak to offset erosion while their roots hold soil in place during both water and wind events. Trees provide shade — an added measure in soil moisture loss prevention and retention.
Ideal tree varieties for wind and water erosion control include:
What to Plant on a Hillside to Control Erosion
Growing on a hillside or slope can pose challenges. The grade of the slope must be considered when deciding how to stop erosion on a hill. Choose deep-rooting plants that stabilize soil or fibrous root systems to create a web and reinforce slopes.
If a slope has a 10% or greater grade, consider terracing to aid plants in erosion control. Avoid planting grasses or high-maintenance plants on grades of 20% or more.
Depending on slope conditions, consider planting trees such as cotoneaster, whose thick roots hold soil in place. Willows thrive in full sun, grow best in moist soil, and do well in regions with harsh winters. Firs and pines like sunlight but do well in dry soil and are hardy enough to withstand subzero temperatures.
Ground covers such as the evergreen creeping juniper and flowering bougainvillea are low-maintenance plants with fibrous root systems. For color on a hillside, try violets or honeysuckle.
Planting vegetation that enriches and nurtures soil to combat erosion is one way to save nature with nature. Other all-natural methods might include coir products made from coconut coir fibers. Trees, shrubs, and ground cover offer protections from erosion while supplying the soil with essential nutrients, regulating its pH, and providing a home to beneficial and crucial soil bacteria. These plants also give the landscape visual appeal and dimension and serve as a reminder of their importance in maintaining soil health and vitality.