One doesn’t normally think of plants as tools, but when it comes to erosion control, ground cover plants are about the best tool imaginable. Ground cover plants provide an inexpensive and easily maintained solution to erosion problems on slopes, along roadways, and on construction sites - any place where disturbed or exposed soil is present.
Choosing erosion control plants is an art in itself. The best groundcover for erosion control on one site may be utterly unsuitable on the next, depending on a number of factors.
Let’s take a look at some of the most important things to consider when selecting the best plants for erosion control in various situations:
Top Plant Choices for Temporary Erosion Protection in Georgia
If you are dealing with a situation like having to maintain a soil stockpile at a construction site that you’ll be re-spreading when the project is done, groundcover is invaluable. You may only need to hold the soil in place for a few weeks, or it may be months depending on the duration of construction. Either way, the ground cover will help prevent a messy situation and reduce the need to bring in costly topsoil.
One of your primary concerns in selecting plants for temporary erosion control will be time of year. You want plants that establish quickly in the appropriate season.
In Georgia, we highly recommend annual ryegrass during the cooler months. It is one of most cost effective, hardy, and quick to germinate plants for temporary erosion control.
During the warm months, brown-top millet is an excellent choice. It is quick to germinate, aggressive, and holds well throughout the spring, summer and early fall. However, it will die out with frost. This can actually be an advantage if you plan to pull from this stockpile and spread in late fall or winter.
Both of these grasses are annuals, so they won’t come back up once they die back. However, both do bear seed which will sprout in the spring. If you don’t want them coming up as weeds in your landscape beds later, you will want to mow them before they go to seed. They are not likely to pose much of a problem in turf.
Best Erosion Control Plants for Slopes in the Southeast U.S.
Let’s move on to plant selection for permanent erosion control. On sunny sloped areas like roadsides and river banks where function is more important than aesthetics, it’s hard to beat common Bermuda grass here in Georgia. Bermuda grass germinates and covers very quickly, minimizing soil loss. It does require full sun, and it prefers mildly alkaline soil. Lime is usually necessary, but don’t lime your soil without testing it first.
Bermuda grass germinates and establishes well in warm weather. In the cool season, from mid September through April, we recommend using unhulled Bermuda in combination with annual ryegrass or fescue. The rye or fescue will sprout in the cooler weather and provide protection through the winter until it gets warm enough in spring for the Bermuda grass to germinate and become established.
Another grassy plant that works very well in the Southeast and is one of the very best erosion control plants for slopes is weeping lovegrass. It can be somewhat aesthetically pleasing but is also useful where looks are not important. Weeping lovegrass is tough, wiry and needs no mowing, so it is perfect for steep slopes where maintenance is a problem.
On aggressive slopes we recommend using an erosion fabric along with any of these grasses, especially on sandy soils.
Best Erosion Control Ground Cover For Sunny Sites In Georgia
Juniper was widely used as a ground cover in the 70’s and 80s. Back then it was considered one of the preferred plants for erosion control on slopes in sunny locations. It is also drought tolerant. However, we don’t recommend it because it declines and looks terrible after about a decade.
Creeping phlox is a nice evergreen flowering plant that also likes sandy well drained soils but is more attractive than Juniper in our opinion.
Carolina jessamine and Asiatic jasmine are also excellent ground cover plants for sunny areas. Both are attractive flowering vines that can be grown as a sprawling ground cover or vertically on a trellis or arbor. Both plants are excellent choices in locations where aesthetics are important. Carolina jessamine is native to the Southeast so is a good choice for applications where environmental awareness is a top concern.
Another option is to plant one of the ornamental grasses like sweet grass (Muhlenbergia filipes) or switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). Both of these are great native perennial grasses that are also beautiful additions to the winter and fall landscape.
Best Plants For Erosion Control In Shady Areas
It’s rare to have a large scale shaded site that needs erosion control. Usually shade comes from trees, which protect the soil from rain and wind and hold it in place with their roots. However we do occasionally find shaded to partially shaded slopes where grass won’t grow and/or erosion is present around tree roots. Here in the Southeast we can recommend a few virtually bullet proof plants for these conditions.
Asiatic Jasmine and Carolina jessamine both can tolerate partial shade. One of the best plants for erosion control in shady areas is creeping lily turf, Liriope spicata. This is a grasslike flowering plant which spreads very quickly and does great in shade. It prefers a slightly loamy soil.
Mondo grass is similar to liriope but had a finer leaf blade and lower height. It is a very aggressive spreading plant that looks like grass and forms clumps that can be walked over or even mowed once per year. It is a phenomenal groundcover for erosion prevention.
For any of the above groundcovers, we recommend planting 2 ½ “ pots, or even better a plug, 9” to 12” apart on center. We’ve planted bare root plants as close as 6“ on center. Smaller plants set more closely together cover more quickly than larger plants farther apart. It leaves fewer gaps left open for erosion to occur.
One last ground cover suggestion for shady areas where aesthetics are important is to plant ferns. Autumn fern is a great one that covers well and can tolerate some sun as well.
Whether your site is sunny or shady, we recommend applying a pre-emergent herbicide at the time of planting for all vegetative ground covers so they can get started without weed competition. (Of course, you do not want to use a pre-emergent on areas you plan to seed.)
How to Determine The Perfect Erosion Control Groundcover For Your Needs
So there you have it: our top picks for the best erosion control plants in Georgia and the Southeast. But keep in mind that every site is unique. We can make general recommendations, but without evaluating your specific needs it’s impossible to say what the best selection would be for you.
Could you benefit from an expert assessment of the best erosion control options for your property? Don’t hesitate to contact us, or call us at 478-750-7733 (Macon branch) or 478-272-3878 (East Dublin location). One of our erosion control landscape experts will be happy to help you out.