What to Plant in Gravel

edlincoln(6A)March 18, 2013

I'm planning on planting things on the bare patches of some embankments, for erosion control, decoration and wildlife interest. I noticed the bare patches had soil that was a mixture of sand and fine gravel. What native plants can grow in that soil?

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tree_oracle(z6b MA)

I'm a big fan of creeping junipers for this situation. They love exactly the situation you describe. You may have to water them the first year but after that they will be just fine. Daylilies are as tough as nails and will survive just about anywhere. Why not just broadcast some wildflower mix over the area. You may have to put down a thin layer of soil and some sort of landscape fabric or hay or something similar to keep the seed from washing away. The flowers would reseed the area every year and you get to enjoy a wall of color.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 7:38PM
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- What direction does the embankment face?
- Is it shaded by anything (trees, building, or the land slope) and for how much of the day?
- Is there runoff from a road at the top of the embankment or will it get splashed by salt spry?
- How large an area is it?

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 10:12PM
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The embankment faces Southwest. No runoff, but it gets salt spray a few times a year. I suppose in theory the embankment shades itself in the morning, but generally it gets lots of sun. The embankment is long but not terribly high, and there are just a couple strips and patches of bare sandy gravel.

Trying to stay away from annuals, because I figure the roots of perennials will provide better erosion control in the winter.

This post was edited by edlincoln on Tue, Mar 19, 13 at 14:30

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 11:47AM
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I have a 50 foot wide, west-facing steep slope behind my house (so no salt exposure) that's too steep to mow which is densely planted with daylilies, rugosa rose, Burkwood Viburnum near the bottom, and some type of crawling tall groundcover. It's mulched with hardwood curls from DH's woodshop and has edging to separate it from the grass. I maybe put a couple of hours into maintaining it each year doing a bit of weeding and renewing mulch periodically.

You'll want plants that are xeric (because of the slope, the SW exposure, and the sandy/gravelly soil) as well as salt tolerant. Below I've linked a list from NC State (so you'll need to check hardiness) of plants that tolerate salt. Underlined plants will be fine with the dryness, though any planting will need watering the first year while it gets established and the plants with asterisks are native to the SE coast and may well be native in New England. I'd also plan to mulch the slope with a textured or shreddy bark mulch once you've planted to help hold in what moisture you get, keep weeds down while the planting gets established, and keep moisture levels more even.

Here's another list specifically for the MA coast.

Plants that occur to me include
beach plum (Prunus maritima)
rugosa rose (Rosa rugosa) not native, but established all along the New England coast. Mine has not spread on our mostly wooded farm.
Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica)
Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)
Tree Oracle's suggestion of Juniper is a good one, and you can find them with different heights and foliage color.

Perennials which will be OK with your conditions (some of which are native and some aren't)
native wood aster
dayliles (Hemerocallis)
bearded iris
native yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Russian sage (Perovskia )

You may be able to find other lists similar to the one I listed if you google salt tolerant plants or coastal plants.

I think that you want to have either repetion of plants or plant drifts or clumps of each kind of plant you choose so that it doesn't look to busy.

Here is a link that might be useful: salt tolerant plants

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 3:44PM
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bill_ri_z6b(Zone 6B)

Delosperma is salt and drought tolerant and will thrive in full sun. There are several hardy kinds, with shades of pink, purple, yellow and bicolors. They are evergreen, but the leaves do darken in winter, some kinds to purple. But they plump up and look good early on in spring. Some flower heavily in spring and then less so all season, while others start the show a bit later, but remain more-or-less covered with flowers all season.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 4:05PM
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I thought of a few other native perennials that will be fine in your conditions:
Baptisia australis with its decorative bluish foliage, medium shrub size (though it's a perennial) and gorgeous blue
spring flowers
Baptisia alba (US native, but not to MA)
Coreopsis lanceolata
Coreopsis verticillata

    Bookmark   March 19, 2013 at 4:40PM
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How about Yuccas? Great blooms and will stabilize soil erosion.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2013 at 7:09AM
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tree_oracle(z6b MA)

Love that ice plant, Bill. I've been thinking about planting some for a while. My wife and I spent our honeymoon in southern California when the ice plants were blooming. I think of it every time I see those blooms. I want to surprise her by planting some. What is the cultivar in your picture? That color bloom is the one we saw the most so I think I'll plant that variety.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2013 at 7:38AM
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bill_ri_z6b(Zone 6B)

Tree oracle,
Unfortunately I don't know the type. I bought it locally, and I also have this other one:

The one I posted earlier blooms in spring very heavily (as you saw) and then again throughout the season but not as profusely. The photo here is another type that grows a bit taller, and although it starts blooming a bit later, it is generally covered with flowers throughout the season until really cold weather starts. Sometimes there are a few brave flowers into December. I will try to find out both names for you.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2013 at 11:49AM
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Hi Bill,

you have a nice form of Delosperma if it blooms until December.......nice to see such a long bloomer. I have a species which self seeds in my garden........the plant always dies but seeds regrow and by September it starts blooming.....just in time to set more seed. It's a thick leaf form......I think D. ashtonii.

Here's a few I tested when I lived in Rhode Island:

    Bookmark   March 20, 2013 at 10:41PM
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bill_ri_z6b(Zone 6B)

Tim -
Yes that one I think would bloom year round if we didn't get the freezing weather. When it's warm enough, I have had a few blooms even into December, but of course the real "show" is probably May-October. When you come by you can get some cuttings of both. The catalogs usually say they spread to 18" but mine have passed than long ago so plenty to clip pieces.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2013 at 6:28AM
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starsplitter(4/5 New Eng)

Some good suggestions here. I have a lot of gravel and sandy soil (I've had to augment areas where I want to garden). Here are some things that grow in my very lean soil, if not right next to the roadway (gravel, sand). Any moisture there? Any humus or leaf mold at all?

Virginia creeper (vine or ground cover, but avoid where people actually want to walk as they might trip on vines. Easy to grow in sun, part sun. Birds eat fruits (berries) in autumn. Turns red in Aug-Sept.

Yarrow: both the wild (white) or cultivated varieties.
Rosa virginiana (? name). Mahogany color in fall. Blooms in June (single flush, pink bloom); gorgeous orange hips. Suckers and can be invasive. Want some of mine?

gallica rose for very sandy areas, but not beach sand or pure gravel. Boule de Nantuile (spelling). Blooms in June. Very fragrant. Suckers. Three ft or 28" in height. Trouble free and delightful.

Bracken like ferns
Blue-eyed grass (loves the gravel in my driveway)

There is a (growing in popularity) saltwort that is edible when tender. Look under saltwort (Johnnyseeds) or salicornia. It is said to be akin to "asparagus" and grows in the wild in salt marshes. Sun, part shade. I have never grown it.

Good luck. And I appreciate it when people plant those dry, sandy patches or stabilize homely barren slopes with stabilizing vegetation that adds beauty and perhaps bird and butterfly and bee nurishment.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2013 at 1:51PM
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Thanks for the advice!

I like nhbabs's suggestion of Baptisia australis...I like legumes because they generate their own fertilizer, and purple flowers would be a nice contrast with the existing pink and yellow.

I like the Beach Plum, Bearberry, and Bayberry suggestions...in fact I planted one of each last Fall. The catch with planting in the Fall is you have to wait until Spring to see if they survive...if they did I may plant more.

I'm considering Yarrow, Chokeberry, New Jersey Tea, and Mexican Evening Primrose. I actually purchased some Virginia Creeper seeds but am hesitant to plant something that aggressive that doesn't at least have flowers.

Rugosa Rose, Eastern Red Ceder, grass, bittersweet, honesysuckle, and poison ivy grow in the spots with organic matter now. (Rugosa Rose has managed to grow in a few of the pure gravel spots, but I'm hesitant to plant more because I've been told it is invasive.) My goal is to find something that suckers and has either pretty flowers or attracts birds and can survive in the bare sand and gravel spots where even the weeds won't grow, in the hopes that they will spread, hold down the soil, and maybe result in a few flowers scattered among the weeds. I'm leaving the weeds, on the theory weeds are pretty good at holding down soil...think "Naturalistic Planting" or "Wildflowers".

    Bookmark   March 21, 2013 at 7:04PM
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