Preventing erosion while converting a slope.

docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)April 5, 2005

I have a quite steep slope with very little top soil and lots of sand. It currently consists of Queen Anne's Lace and Horse Tail and some thistle. The previous owner planted a few clumps of Iris, daylilies, and some low growing evergreens, but not nearly enough to cover the slope. So it became over grown with weeds. I'd like to start over, but how do I go about killing what's there and starting new things without the whole slope eroding away. It is steep enough that I think wood chips or mulch would be washed away by rains. I'm not fussy about what grows there. I was thinking deciduous shrubs like Vibernum, Serviceberry, Elderberry, etc. For ground cover beneath the shrubs I was hoping to use Virginia Creeper. The space is triangular with the top of the hill 40 ft wide and the bottom about 10ft wide ( due to the property line). The slope is about 35 ft long at a 45-50 degree angle. Higher up the hill (on the other side of the property line) there is a mess of tangled trees and weeds from a poorly cared for rental property. The slope faces almost directly east. What I'd like to try is a lasagna bed idea for the whole thing. But I don't have a truck to transport the quantities of leaves and manure, etc. that I'd need. I could certainly hire a truck or have what I need delivered. But would layers of newspaper plus manure and leaves be enough to keep Queen Anne's Lace buried? I also don't know if the layers would stay in place. I wonder if a top layer of burlap would hold it there yet allow , for example, the Virginia Creeper to spread and take root. Please share your wisdom. Any suggestions would be helpful. TIA.


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joepyeweed(5b IL)

if the slope is farily steep most mulches wont stay in place. i would reccomend that you prep and seed the slope as you normally would using a good native grass mixture. immediately after seeding, cover the seeded slope with an erosion control fabric - its a weaved natural product that is stapled/tacked into the ground and acts as mulch and will hold the soil and seed in place until the plants start growing. eventually the blanket decomposes, but by then the grasses should be established enough to hold the soil on their own. typically i would use a north american green fabric- their website should direct you to a distributor in your area - and they should work with you to instruct you on proper installation.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2005 at 8:47PM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

Thank-you, Joepyeweed. That is an excellent suggestion.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2005 at 9:18PM
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jillmcm(z6 PA)

Martha - we're going to try planting a recently denuded slope with shrubs and small trees this spring - just found a great place to get lots of native seedlings CHEAP (hooray!) What I'm going to try is buying large concrete forms (those round cardboard tubes), cutting them in half and then cutting them in 8-12" high sections. I'll half bury the sections and then I will plant my little shrublets behind them and hope that they hold the soil long enough for the roots to get established and then eventually decay. Not sure what to do about the areas in between, though.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2005 at 10:00PM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

the problems with shrubs and trees on a slope is that they can over shade the ground underneath them, making it harder for soil holding plants with fibrous roots like grasses to grow. in addition, trees can get blown over by wind storms and then upset the whole slope with a big hole.

generally, i try to avoid placing trees on slopes. but some trees are okay for structure and light shade. no maples, their canopy is too dense and they self seed too much. if you really want a tree on a slope stick to open canopy smaller trees like a serviceberry, a redbud tree or a chinese elm - something like that.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2005 at 10:09PM
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jillmcm(z6 PA)

Joepyeweed, almost everything we're planting is low and suckering - no real "trees," mostly bushes and shrubs. Lots of gray dogwood on the lowest, steepest part (there's already some trumpet creeper there), with Rhus glabra, V. trilobum, chokecherry, aronia, etc. up on the flat part above the hill. I think the majority of these have spreading root systems as well.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2005 at 7:44AM
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I like both about a planting with the plants suggested by jillmcm and then a seeding like joepyeweed suggested. Though getting the mat down around the plants will be more difficult.


    Bookmark   April 9, 2005 at 6:01PM
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Fledgeling_(4b SD)

try suckering shrubs, expecialy ones that sucker with a vengance. i cant ebleive im gonna say it again but i hear that the USDA promotes the native Robinia hispida 'arnot' for erosion control and all i can say is that it does its job a little too well. Also i recomend USDA selections of Sandbar willow for this purpose, considering how sandy your soil is. both provide gret wildlife cover

    Bookmark   April 10, 2005 at 8:54PM
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sandman_max(GA 7)

My landscaper suggested Eastern Red Cedar and Forsythia for my bank. When she was doing the plan, I told her I wanted very low maintenance. But now, after reading this and joepyeweed's comments, I'm wondering if that's such a good idea. I like the idea that trees and shrubs keep weeds and stuff from growing because I have NO interest in mowing the thing, but I'm also trying to prevent it from washing away. The other goal was to block out the neighbor somewhat. The area is absolute total full sun from dawn to dusk and the only water it's going to get is from Mother Nature. What do y'all think?

    Bookmark   April 18, 2005 at 10:03AM
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geoforce(z7a SE PA)

I have a steep slope along the east side of my drive. tapers from nothing to about 20 foot high and about 150 foot long. Although I would never have it in my garden, I planted the whole thing with roadside daylily(hemerocalis fulva "Europa")a violently suckering, seed sterile plant with nice blooms in season, good looking foliage, few if any insect pests, and darn near zero maintainance. It's lasted 33 years with only about 1 day of pulling raspberry and bittersweet seedlings every other year. Drive on top, mowed grass at the slope bottom, it just stays there.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2005 at 4:40PM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

suckering roots dont always prevent erosion. a deep fibrous root is better than a suckering root. some suckering roots can be fiberous though.

in the past crown vetch and black locust were often recommended for erosion control...(and actually sometimes still are ...) they were fast growing, fast spreading and fast suckering plants. however time and experience has shown that those plants can actually aggravate erosion and make it worse over just investigate thoroughly the roots of what you are planting and have a goal of a fibrous mat of subsurface root material.

we will vary our slope mix recommendations considerably depending upon its function, its sun condition, its soils etc etc. so no one choice is going to be appropriate for all situations.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2005 at 9:53PM
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Sandman, I think joepyeweed's idea is not to mow. Joepyeweed please correct me if I have assumed wrong.

Geoforce, not a bad idea. Hemerocallis fulva are readily available in great quantities.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2005 at 6:24AM
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jillmcm(z6 PA)

Yeah, but hemerocallis are not native and they're invasive in many areas. There's gotta be a native that's as tough out there!

    Bookmark   April 19, 2005 at 7:32AM
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sandman_max(GA 7)

Sigh.... yes, not mowing was my idea, too, but somehow I don't think I can fill in the entire area with Eastern Red Cedar and Forsythia. Besides, the property line is pretty well at the top of the hill, which means planting trees on the bank and y'all have convinced me not to do that. I really don't want to put anything out there that even remotely looks like a weed or anything that's not being maintained or my neighbor will mow it down. (Not that I mind, because him mowing it has meant zero-maintenance for several years now, but I don't want to depend on his niceness forever and I told him this was year for landscaping.)

    Bookmark   April 19, 2005 at 5:25PM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

no i wouldnt mow it. i would plant a mix of native grasses and wildflowers. Generally its reccommend to use three or four species of grasses and about 10 to 12 species of wildflowers. they dont need mowing but can be weedwacked or burnt down once a year.

we also use a mix of clovers and fescues on certain slopes as well...we reccommend that only be mowed, weedwacked or burnt once a year.

the longer the height of the grasses the better the root system will be. this picture is stolen from metaxa another garden webber, but it represents the root system of fescue when left to grow to various heights.

its apparent from the photo that the taller grasses have thicker deeper roots and to me its intuitive that if water is running down the slope the taller grasses with bigger roots will hold soil in place better than the shorter grass with little roots...

    Bookmark   April 20, 2005 at 7:59PM
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chuckr30(z5, GR-MI)

If I had the money I would convert the slope to a tiered garden bed system. Maybe put a flowing waterfall down the slope in stepped increments with a pool at each step.

Or use vertical logs and make it a nautical theme. You said it was mostly sand already.

A person around here has their whole front yard as a beach theme. It is all sand with bunches of vertical logs tied together like a pier, beach grass, and other sand-loving/beach plants. It is a neat change in a sea of standard grass lawns.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2005 at 11:23AM
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