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Reduce slope erosion with plants

Our house sits on a hill and the backyard is sloped. Fortunately, we have an established lawn that keeps soil erosion under control.

Grass isn’t the only option. There are many types of ground covers. Some flower, others don't. Some die back in the fall, but many stay green year-round.

Mike Maddox is an extension horticulture agent at the University of Wisconsin and says there’s one very important characteristic you must have with plants intended for erosion control.

"You want something that’s gonna have lots of roots to it. A good fibrous root system is what’s gonna secure your soil base.  It’s gonna keep those soil particles together, keep them from being washed away and lost in a storm event," says Maddox. "Those roots are going to be the matting that holds it all together." 

As those roots break down and you get other organic matter from dying leaves and such, they will produce some “goos and gums” from the breakdown process that will help improve your soil structure. Years ago a ground cover called “crown vetch” was a popular way to stop the dirt descent, but it’s not recommended anymore.

"It was probably a good thing to do but now we’re finding it actually can come over and get into some native areas, into our grasslands and woodlots and stuff and you know we’ve already got enough invasive species out there that are disrupting our ecosystem," he says. "Let’s… not… add… this one."

The kind of plants you use to control erosion will vary region-by-region. Instead of accidentally introducing something invasive, go native. Your local nursery or extension service can help you with that.

Erosion control isn’t going to happen overnight, so hold the soil in place by securely pinning burlap to the ground while the cover is getting established.

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