Plants for a sandy ditch

jcsgreenthumb(6b)April 1, 2007

Hi All,

We have recently moved to NC from IL so I am just getting up to speed on the local natives and growing conditions.

My current dilemma... what to plant in our ditch. Right now it is just whatever has happened to take root. A lot of grasses and other weeds.

The ditch will get a lot of water flow at times as we get about 80" of rain a year here, and is almost pure sand but is only a few feet deep. It is in full sun. They do salt here in the winter but we are out in the sticks, so it won't be often or heavy and will likely be washed away from all the precipitation. Our soil is also acid, with rhodies, blueberries and holly growing wild.

Would love to hear any suggestions... I've been trying to do some research, but mostly what I am finding are woodland plants native to our area.

My ultimate goal is not to have to use our weedwacker to clean the area up and to provide something for our abundant wildlife.



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janet_e(6B PA)

There's lots of interesting native plants that thrive in moist, acid sand. Do you want shrubs? Perennials? A combination?

    Bookmark   April 2, 2007 at 9:59PM
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They will have to be low growing, maybe to 3' unless they can take occasional shearing. I don't care if they are shrubs or perennials. The county comes through at least once a year and shears everything off near the ditches. They already did it this spring, so not much was up when they came through, but I don't know if they do it in the fall as well.

Thanks for any suggestions you have!


    Bookmark   April 2, 2007 at 10:12PM
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janet_e(6B PA)

Here's some suggestions. Most of them are inspired by what grows in wet areas of New Jersey's pine barrens -- another habitat of acid sand.

Perennials, etc:
cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon)
meadow beauty (Rhexia virginica or mariana)
tussock sedge (Carex stricta)
palm sedge (Carex muskingumensis)
bushy bluestem grass (Andropogon glomeratus)
swamp candles (Lysimachia terrestris)
pink coreopsis (Coreopsis rosea)
slender blue iris (Iris prismatica)
blue flag (Iris versicolor)

shrubs (these all grow fairly low and will survive being cut back to 3'):
shrubby St. John's wort (Hypericum densiflorum)
leadbush (Amorpha fruticosa)
Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica)
sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia)
staggerbush (Lyonia mariana)
maleberry (Lyonia ligustrina)
zenobia (Zenobia pulverulenta)
inkberry holly (Ilex glabra)
leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata)
bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica)

If you haven't already done so, let me urge you to try to identify the plants growing in the ditch right now. Wet places with acid, sandy soil often have great native plants growing in them (damp roadside ditches are a good place to hunt for native orchids, for example). Also, the acid, sandy habitat is a very specialized one, so relatively few non-native plants tend to grow there.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2007 at 10:59PM
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Hi Janet,

Thanks so much for the list. It gives me a great starting point. Some of these will likely work near our streams as well, as one is in full sun in an easement, which also occasionally gets cut.

I will look carefully before I kill anything, but so far it seems to be mainly grasses or sedges, which of course, could be native, but we have a lot of fields in our area, so my guess is most will be weeds.

Are there any good websites or books for identifying grasses and sedges? I have many on our property away from the ditch.


    Bookmark   April 3, 2007 at 6:29PM
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janet_e(6B PA)

Grasses and sedges aren't easy. Do you have a native plant society or botanical society in your area? If you do, you could try taking samples to a gathering -- botanical groups usually have someone who enjoys the challenge of identifying grasses and sedges. I know of one web site (linked below), which I haven't tried using myself so I don't know how helpful it is.

Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: interactive plant identification keys

    Bookmark   April 6, 2007 at 8:47PM
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dragonfly_dance(z7 SENJ)

Remember this poem:

Sedges have edges
Rushes are round
Grasses have nodes that go up or down.

If that doesnt help try you county extension office. They should be able to tell you.


    Bookmark   May 17, 2007 at 11:40AM
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