Skip Navigation

Hillside Planting

Question: I am trying to control soil erosion on hillsides without having to resort to constructing steps, or barricades.  The land is an old sand & gravel quarry so the majority of the erosion is sand just sliding down the hillside.

I would like to use native plants, shrubs, etc.  It would be impossible to mix topsoil or other soil with the sand/gravel as this is a fairly large area.

I have thought about possibly berry bushes as they seem to grow in almost anything.  Are there other possibilities? H.F.

Answer: I think you are on the right track with native plants. Two Wisconsin native plant communities, sand dune and sand barren, have similar environmental conditions to your landscape problem. In both communities, plants stabilize the soil with their roots and stems. Over time dead roots, leaves and other things slowly decompose adding organic matter to the sand and rock creating a soil that can sustain a wider variety of plants. I think because your biggest problem is slope, so I’d try dune plants first.

Make a plan concentrating on six to ten species to mix on your hillside. Use a combination of perennial flowers/forbs, native grasses and shrubs. Your biggest challenge will be finding a source of seed and/or plants. For example, beachgrass (Ammophila breviligulata) is the primary initial dune stabilizer but I couldn’t find a Midwestern supplier.

Instead, use Canada wild-rye (Elymus canadensis) as your primary species the first couple of years. It is another pioneer species in dunes, barrens and dry prairies. It establishes quickly, stabilizes the soil, and acts as a nurse plant for other plants. I found several Wisconsin native plant nurseries who sell Canada wild-rye seed.

Native Wisconsin shrubs for dry, sandy hillsides are common juniper (Juniperus communis), creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis), sand cherry (Prunus pumila), dry soil willows (Salix) (i.e. dune willow, prairie willow), Carolina rose (Rosa carolina) and wild rose (Rosa blanda).

There is a fairly wide selection of sand barren plants so pick ones that appeal to you. Perennial flower choices include dry soil species of sandwort, aster, goldenrod, butterflyweed and flowering spurge. Grasses are big bluestem, side oats grama, purple love grass, little bluestem, sand drop-seed. Other dry soil natives are Pennsylvania sedge, meadowsweet, cinquefoils, leadplant, wild indigo.