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Question and Answer ArticlePlanting On a Steep Slope

By Cherie Parker
Published: June 1, 2006
webriverbank
Photo by Cabin Life, Cabin Living

Q: We have a riverside home on the Ohio River. There’s no beach but a great view. And there’s always something to see cruising up or down the river year round.
  
What can we plant as ground cover to hold a steep bank in place? This is a second home and there is never enough time to do all the yard work and still be able to relax.
– Erin Palazzolo, via e-mail

A: There is no absolute solution for keeping a riverbank from eroding, but there are choices that can
make a big difference.
   
First and foremost, establish a buffer zone of native vegetation along the sloping river bank and the 50-100 feet behind it, if possible. Even a 10- to 20-foot buffer is helpful. This buffer helps control runoff and protects your property from floods and erosion.
   
Many experts consider vegetation superior to any type of rock or cement structure as the roots help keep the soil in place. Turf grass doesn’t grow well in wet areas and its root system is too shallow to help with erosion.
   
Your suggestion of ground cover – the low-growing, spreading type plants such as juniper, periwinkle or lamium – will provide some measure of erosion control. But a mix of small trees, shrubs and deep-rooted plants native to the area would provide much more protection.
   
Willows might be one ideal choice as they grow quickly, have extensive root systems that anchor the riverbank soil together and are quite lovely.
   
To determine what trees and shrubs are native to your area, find information and local nurseries at www.plantnative.org or contact your local extension office.
    
Some other things to watch for to control erosion:
•  Make sure your rain gutters are diverted away from the bank.
•  Don’t build pools or outbuildings near the edge of the riverbank.
•  Minimize paved areas on your property; they increase water runoff.
•  Avoid activities near the riverbank that can compact the soil (driving vehicles or running games such as soccer and football).  

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