Shade Tolerant Ground Cover to Stop Stormwater Erosion

bettywiener(6)September 8, 2013

Hi, I bought a new home 9 months ago in an area called the Northwest Woods. There are strict clearing restrictions here and I have innumerable mature trees with extensive leaf systems shading most of the property. As a result, there is very little ground cover on most of the property. Just dirt.The home is basically in the center of a bowl and when it rains, the side yard erodes and washes to the rear of the property creating a sandy/muddy mess.

I need shade tolerant ground cover and fast! The thing is I know absolutely nothing about landscaping/gardening and can't afford a professional. I need some advice on what native grasses/ground cover to buy, where to buy it, when and how to plant it. Am I buying seed or plants? Will it look crazy if I just throw down seed? Really, any advice is appreciated.

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lisanti07028(z6NJ)

Where are you, other than zone 6? A state would be ok, and an idea of the general climate - dry all year, wet in the fall, whatever.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2013 at 10:00AM
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TheBlackTulip

Well, since you are in zone 6 and in the native forum, I would recommend, as native ground covers, Virginia Waterleaf, and Wild Ginger. Virginia Waterleaf has beautiful flowers and attracks predatory insects that will attack your non-native pests.Wild Ginger has a low, brown flower, that smells of carrion, which, attracts predatory beetles.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2013 at 10:53AM
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bettywiener(6)

I am in East Hampton, NY

    Bookmark   September 8, 2013 at 12:02PM
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esh_ga

There are a lot of good Carex species available now. I like Carex pensylvanica.

Here is a link that might be useful: Oak sedge

    Bookmark   September 8, 2013 at 1:40PM
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greenthumbzdude

are you raking the leaves? if so....stop doing that...thats part of your problem....if you keep the leaves where they fall then you will not have that much erosion.

For groundcover I would go with hay scented fern.....spreads fast and forms a thick patch

    Bookmark   September 8, 2013 at 5:59PM
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bettywiener(6)

That's so funny about the leaves...when we bought the house the previous owner hadn't raked for years according to the neighbors and we spent $1000 to have someone rake. There were literally 18" of leaves on the property...

    Bookmark   September 8, 2013 at 6:38PM
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bettywiener(6)

Am I buying seed or actual grass/ferns? Sorry, way out of my element.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2013 at 6:45PM
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esh_ga

For carex you might be able to find seed. For the ferns you'd have to buy plants.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2013 at 8:11PM
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agardenstateof_mind

You have an opportunity for a beautiful woodland garden, but you may have some work to do, whether you opt for a woodland garden or just something to stop the erosion.

Out there, I imagine your soil is very sandy, so it is not going to hold moisture well and may be rather poor in nutrients. You have a good Cooperative Extension Service run by Cornell University. Check with your county office of the CES as to what type of soil you have (if you don't know), and for a pH test to determine acidity. If you're willing to pay the fee, a comprehensive soil test to determine fertility is a good idea. It runs $20 here in NJ; our pH tests are free and done while you wait.

Are you near enough that there is any salt spray? Are there deer in the area? You'll need to take these factors into consideration.

There are probably many native plants well suited to your site; the Cornell Master Gardeners at the CES can probably make some recommendations and most likely give you some publications.

To help control erosion, it is the root system rather than what you see above ground that is going to do the job - seek plants with a fibrous root system to hold the soil.

If it isn't too late in the season for them, "plugs" would be more economical than those in typical nursery pots. These are rooted plants in containers smaller than you usually see in garden centers, however they usually become established more quickly.

For inspiration, check your local library for books on shade gardens, woodland gardens, native or natural gardens. Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware specializes in researching woodland and meadow plants native to the region. A trip there is most inspiring ... a virtual visit via their website is probably more doable for you; I think they have a photo gallery there somewhere. Or, better yet, do a search for "Mt Cuba Center" + Images.

I've not given you any specific plants because there are so many variables and so very many options. To name a few perennials: wild ginger, fernleaf bleeding heart, Solomon's seal, lungwort, ferns, trillium, tiarella, dogtooth violet, Dutchman's breeches, rue anemone. Some small, understory trees and shrubs for layering: dogwood, redbud, serviceberry, witch hazel, spicebush, calycanthus, clethra, oakleaf hydrangea, fothergilla, itea, ninebark. And there are more.

Just stay away from invasives. I don't know what you have for NY, but in NJ we have an Invasive Species Strike Team. LInk to their site is below; there's a "Do Not Plant" list in the lower left corner of the home page, and I imagine a list for NY would be very similar, if not identical.

Good luck, enjoy the journey, and please post back as the project progresses.

Here is a link that might be useful: NJ Invasive Species Strike Team

    Bookmark   September 8, 2013 at 8:28PM
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agardenstateof_mind

You have an opportunity for a beautiful woodland garden, but you may have some work to do, whether you opt for a woodland garden or just something to stop the erosion.

Out there, I imagine your soil is very sandy, so it is not going to hold moisture well and may be rather poor in nutrients. You have a good Cooperative Extension Service run by Cornell University. Check with your county office of the CES as to what type of soil you have (if you don't know), and for a pH test to determine acidity. If you're willing to pay the fee, a comprehensive soil test to determine fertility is a good idea. It runs $20 here in NJ; our pH tests are free and done while you wait.

Are you near enough that there is any salt spray? Are there deer in the area? You'll need to take these factors into consideration.

There are probably many native plants well suited to your site; the Cornell Master Gardeners at the CES can probably make some recommendations and most likely give you some publications.

To help control erosion, it is the root system rather than what you see above ground that is going to do the job - seek plants with a fibrous root system to hold the soil.

If it isn't too late in the season for them, "plugs" would be more economical than those in typical nursery pots. These are rooted plants in containers smaller than you usually see in garden centers, however they usually become established more quickly.

For inspiration, check your local library for books on shade gardens, woodland gardens, native or natural gardens. Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware specializes in researching woodland and meadow plants native to the region. A trip there is most inspiring ... a virtual visit via their website is probably more doable for you; I think they have a photo gallery there somewhere. Or, better yet, do a search for "Mt Cuba Center" + Images.

I've not given you any specific plants because there are so many variables and so very many options. To name a few perennials: wild ginger, fernleaf bleeding heart, Solomon's seal, lungwort, ferns, trillium, tiarella, dogtooth violet, Dutchman's breeches, rue anemone. Some small, understory trees and shrubs for layering: dogwood, redbud, serviceberry, witch hazel, spicebush, calycanthus, clethra, oakleaf hydrangea, fothergilla, itea, ninebark. And there are more.

Just stay away from invasives. I don't know what you have for NY, but in NJ we have an Invasive Species Strike Team. LInk to their site is below; there's a "Do Not Plant" list in the lower left corner of the home page, and I imagine a list for NY would be very similar, if not identical.

Good luck, enjoy the journey, and please post back as the project progresses.

Here is a link that might be useful: NJ Invasive Species Strike Team

    Bookmark   September 8, 2013 at 8:31PM
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edlincoln(6A)

Most of the plants I know that are good for erosion control or sandy/muddy messes like sun.

Little Bluestem, Northern Sea Oats, and Pennsylvania Sedge all have some shade tolerance and are great for erosion. I know you can buy seeds for the first two, and plants for the second two. Fall is a great time to plant.

As far as shade tolerant plants under trees, I tend to like Lily of the Valley (There is a native variety Convallaria majuscula and an invasive European version) and ferns. You would plant plants, not seeds.

It's considered a weed and isn't particularly good for erosion control, but Jewel Weed is one of the few plants other then ferns that thrives in areas that are both swampy and shaded.
(You would harvest seeds from a nearby swamp)

Blueberry and cranberry tolerate some shade. (Not really ground covers, exactly.) (You would plant plants, although you could buy bulk cranberries at the grocery store and plant the pits after you eat them. I wouldn't suggest this for blueberries).

Funny you commented on the leaves. My parents had a summer place with pine needles on the ground. One year the guy we hired to watch the property in the winter raked, and we had lots of erosion. Lots of traditional landscaping conventions only make sense for a small, suburban, non-wooded lot in a fairly wet temperate zone, and are nonsensical (environmentally destructive and expensive) if applied to forests or desserts.

See if there is a county soil conservation office for your county. They may offer free advice and cheap plants.

What is your soil like? Sandy, swampy, clay?

    Bookmark   September 9, 2013 at 12:18AM
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jcalhoun(8b Mobile County AL)

Native ferns, partridge berry, and some native wildflowers are shade tolerant.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2013 at 6:10AM
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kelp

Besides the fern and wild ginger, you could also try Running Serviceberry (Amelanchier stoloniferous), Running Strawberrybush (Euonymus obovatus), or Canada Anemone (Anemone canadensis). All can take shade, and spread pretty quickly, provided you add compost -- or other organic soil amendment -- and water the first year. Groundcover blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium) can also take quite a bit of shade, and spread as well, but a little slower than the others.

    Bookmark   September 20, 2013 at 8:51PM
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Carrie B

Some good suggestions here. I especially like Tiarella for its ability to spread well in shade, Asarum Canadense is a good one, too.

And for heaven's sake - no more raking leaves!

    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 7:17PM
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princessgrace79(8 PNW)

Snowberry bushes (Symphoricarpos albus)were planted on our slope to prevent erosion many years ago and they spread fast with runners and have cute white fall berries.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2013 at 1:33AM
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IanW Zone 5 Ont. Can.

I would suggest that you look into Fragrant sumac (Native)
Very adaptable, showy and perfect for your situation

Here is a link that might be useful: Fragrant Sumac

    Bookmark   October 11, 2013 at 12:03AM
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dr.liz(7 NJ)

It is something of a weed, and self sows like crazy,but Eupatorium rugosum Is a very shade tolerant native plant. It will grow and bloom even under Norway Maple. It has large showy clusters of white flowers and would be an ideal plant except for its tendency to pop up everywhere. However, in this case, that is what you want. It is very attractive to butterflies, and it is blooming right now, at a time of year when a few other nectar plants are available for our pollinators. I live in Monmouth County New Jersey, which has sandy loam soil and is probably not too different from where you live. There is a variety sold called "Chocolate" which has darker leaves, while the native variety is light green. You can almost certainly find seed on your native plants a little later in the season, and I can't imagine you would need to do more than scatter it around.

I also love ferns and would recommend our native lady fern for your situation. It spreads quite readily by runners, and it is a very beautiful species. Around here you can find glades of it under the canopy of trees. If you look around you can probably find rhizomes for sale inexpensively in large quantity, say 100 at a time.

Both plants are completely deer resistant, in my experience.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2013 at 11:12AM
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remocat1111

Well, since you are in zone 6 and in the native forum, I would recommend, as native ground covers, Virginia Waterleaf, and Wild Ginger. Virginia Waterleaf has beautiful flowers and attracks predatory insects that will attack your non-native pests.Wild Ginger has a low, brown flower, that smells of carrion, which, attracts predatory beetles.

Here is a link that might be useful: شرÙØ© تخزÙ٠اثاث باÙرÙاض

    Bookmark   November 14, 2013 at 6:13PM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

I love Virginia Creeper as a native, shade tolerant ground cover. It has beautiful autumn color and can climb/decorate the tree trunks without compromising the health of the trees. It also hosts some wonderful moths and produces berries that are enjoyed by many woodland critters and birds. Easy to start from seed.

Martha

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 10:16AM
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