Stabilizing Slopes

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Henderson County is blessed with great topography. We have mountains and hills which provide views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. However, once a person obtains their dream mountain home, they often discover that they have erosion problems.

slope

So what hold all of the mountainsides together here in Western North Carolina? A mix of trees, shrubs and a matrix of accumulated leaves and sticks that covers the forest floor. It is that simple. We should try emulate nature when landscaping.

Getting Started

Before we talk about what to do, let’s mention what not to do. Please, avoid invasive plants such as English ivy, vinca, Asiatic jasmine, etc.!!! Most people who plant invasive plants live to regret the choice as the plants take over their property.

ivy kills trees

If your eroding slopes are too steep you will have to hire someone to grade the slope so that it is not so steep. If you are lucky and your banks are not too steep, then you have several good options for stabilizing the slope.

Stabilizing the soil as quickly as possible is critical. First, try to slow down stormwater runoff. The faster water moves, the more power it has to erode by moving soil. Create barriers across slopes using sticks, tree trunks, rocks, etc. to slow down water.

You should cover the slope with natural jute ground fabric. Cover the soil as soon as possible to stop current erosion. This natural fabric will cover the ground and stabilize soil. Use metal staples or wooden stakes to hold the fabric.

grassy swale

You have several options for plants. One is covering the slope with grasses such as Kentucky 31 fescue or creeping red fescue. Or you can use native grasses in mass plantings. These grasses do not requiring mowing. This is a great option for steep slopes. Prepare the soil (till, add lime, fertilize) and plant the seed BEFORE you put the jute cloth ground cover.

List of Native Grasses

Andropogon gerardii Big bluestem

Andropogon glomeratus Bushy Bluestem

Andropogon ternarius Splitbeard bluestem

Andropogon virginicus Broomsedge

Aristida stricta  Wiregrass

Arundinaria gigantea River cane/switch cane

Carex pensylvanica Pennsylvania sedge

Carex plantaginea Plantain-leaved sedge

Chasmanthium latifolium River Oats

Danthonia spicata Poverty Oatgrass

Danthonia compressa Oat grass

Deschampsia flexuosa Crinkled Hairgrass

Elymus hystrix Bottle brush

Eragrostis spectabilis Purple Love Grass

Muhlenbergia capillaris Pink Muhly Grass

Panicum virgatum Switch-grass

Schizachyrium scoparium Little bluestem

Sorghastrum nutans Indian grass

Tripsacum dactyloides Eastern gammagrass

Wildflowers

An open sunny meadow can control soil erosion better than a lawn in some cases. Wildflower mixes are readily available in large quantities from Eden Brothers seed company.I recommend their southern wildflower mix.

Wildflower seed should be scattered over the area according to labeled instructions. The soil should be stabilized on the slope until the wildflowers are established. Spread a light layer of fresh hay or straw onto the slope to prevent erosion. Open jute netting may also be used across the slope to prevent erosion. Because the jute fabric is organic, it will decompose over time. Once established, the sunny flowering perennials will secure the slope.

poll garden aug 2021

Trees, Shrubs

Other drought and sun tolerant plants that can secure steeply sloping areas include many shrub, vine and perennial species. Prostrate junipers, ivies, rugosa rose, and sedums can twildflowersolerate full sun conditions and a lack of watering and care. The use of an erosion fabric (use biodegradable fabrics such as jute) coupled with the use of mulches that bind (shredded hardwood mulch) will prevent weeds from occurring on the newly planted slopes. Wildflower meadows are a great way to cover larger areas of ground. Eden Brothers Seeds on Hwy 191 just north of Mills River sells seeds at a great price. I recommend their southern wildflower mix.

If grassy lawns or wildflower meadows is not your thing, perhaps you could do a mixed planting of woody plants. The other plant option is a mix of native trees, shrubs, grasses, ground covers, and perennial flowers. Cover the fabric with 3 inches of shredded mulch. Free wood chips are good too.

natural landscape

mountain garden

If your planting area will be in shade once the trees leaf out (if you see moss this indicates shade). Use a mix of shade-loving native trees, shrubs, and groundcover plants.

Suggested native plants for slopes :

  • Native trees –  dogwood, service berry, redbud
  • Native shrubs  –  rhododendron, mountain laurel luecothoe, itea, fothergilla, winterberry, etc.
  • Native grasses  – bluestem, pink muhly, lovegrass, etc.
  • Native groundcover – creeping phlox, partridge berry, native pachysandra