The best plants for erosion control are those ground covers or shrubs that are vigorous, attractive, and have a root system effective at holding back soil on a hill. If you live in deer country they should also be plants that deer tend not to eat. The following list gives you a variety of choices, each of which meets these criteria.
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Creeping junipers are among the ground covers that like a lot of sun. Happily, they stay short (generally no more than 1 foot) and they're cold-hardy (many being suited to zone 3 to 9). Juniperus plants give you landscape color year-round because they're evergreen. There are several different cultivars, including:
- 'Blue Rug' (J. horizontalis Wiltonii): valued for its blue foliage
- J. horizontalis 'Prince of Wales': one of the shorter kinds, being just 6 inches tall
- J. horizontalis 'Lime Glow': for those who prefer yellowish-green foliage
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In contrast with creeping juniper, creeping myrtle (Vinca minor) is one of the ground covers that can take shade. But, like creeping juniper, it's a short (3 to 6 inches) evergreen.
Another of the convenient features of creeping myrtle (zones 4 to 8) is that it's a drought-tolerant ground cover. Steep hillsides can be some of the least accessible areas of a landscape for homeowners, meaning that watering plants in such spots can be problematic. Plants that are naturally drought-tolerant take some of the pressure off you to care for them.
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Don't think that you are limited to ground covers (perennials and short shrubs that grow horizontally) in fighting erosion (although, in some cases, for aesthetic reasons, you may prefer shorter plants). In fact, in severe cases of erosion where you need quick results, shrubs can be the best plants for erosion control: They can strike bigger, tougher roots down into the soil. They can form tenacious root systems that are great at retaining soil.
Forsythia (zones 5 to 8, 4 to 6 feet tall) is one such plant, a shrub that flowers in early spring. The weeping form (Forsythia suspensa) can be a particularly good choice for retaining soil on a slope: Where the drooping branches touch dirt, they will strike down roots, thereby acting as ground covers.
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Like creeping myrtle, Pachysandra terminalis is a short (6 inches), evergreen ground cover for shade. Japanese spurge (zones 4 to 8) is considered a foliage plant. Although it does put out small, white flowers, they add little value. The leaves have a leathery feel and look that lends further interest to your property.Continue to 5 of 11 below.
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Tolerant of sun or partial shade, Ophiopogon planiscapus Nigrescens (6 inches tall) is grown for the black color of its grass-like blades. Even the berries that sometimes succeed its flowers are black. In a sunny spot, grow this zone-6-to-9 oddity as a companion plant for Sedum rupestre Angelina; the gold color of the latter's leaves will create a striking contrast.
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In addition to controlling erosion, Phlox subulata steals the visual show when in bloom with its carpet of brightly-colored flowers. When you see the blossoms on this short (6 inches) creeping plant for zones 3 to 9, you know that spring is underway.Continue to 9 of 11 below.
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Cotoneaster horizontalis (zones 5 to 7) is another choice from the shrub world that is among the best plants for erosion control. You'll like its horizontal plant form if you're looking for a selection that doesn't get too tall (3 feet) but that spreads and puts out big, tough roots that will stabilize the ground on a slope. Like Forsythia suspensa, its branches root where contact is made with the soil. Its fall foliage and red berries are each a pleasant bonus.
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When growing conditions permit, there's nothing like the showier flowering ground covers to blanket a hillside. When in bloom, they make a powerful statement in the landscape. If you have sufficient room, consider growing a mix of them with different blooming periods. This way, you can stagger your display rather than having to endure periods during the spring and summer when your slope is devoid of floral color. Even those that lack root systems vigorous enough to retain soil can serve a purpose: Intersperse them between the better erosion-busters to add greater beauty to the slope.