Native Plants for Steep Slopes and Erosion Control

By gripping the soil with their more extensive roots, certain native plants can do a better job at erosion control than turf grass, especially in shade areas where grass grows poorly. And no mowing is required!

An excellent list of native plants for this purpose can be found on the website of the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District (NVSWCD). Some additional suggestions not listed there can be found below.

Other solutions such as speed bumps and check dams may be needed as well, depending on the volume and speed of the water flow. Information about those can be found by clicking here.

Need some help?

You could of course hire a native plant landscaping company or one of the many companies with experience in stormwater management. But if you want to work on erosion and stormwater problems yourself, you can consult your local Soil and Water Conservation District. They are there to help landowners with precisely these problems. They may even be able to advise you by email if you send them some photos.

(Independent cities not covered by a Soil and Water Conservation District: Alexandria, Arlington County, Fairfax City, Falls Church, Manassas, Manassas Park)

How to plant on steep slopes:

  1. Remove unwanted plants but only in the area that you are ready to plant.

  2. Choose drought-tolerant native plants with extensive root systems. See below for some suggestions.

  3. If sowing seeds – an inexpensive way to cover a lot of ground – protect them with straw or biodegradable erosion control blanket.

  4. For fastest results, choose plants that spread quickly, either by underground suckering, by stolons, or by self-seeding (such as Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland Sea Oats) or Packera aurea (Golden Ragwort)).

  5. Apply mulch after planting

A quick way to
terrace a hill

(Biologs are a pre-made 
alternative you can buy)

Additional plant suggestions:


Shrubs may give a more formal look and have the advantage that each plant covers a lot of ground.

Ceanothus americanus (New Jersey Tea). Sun/Part Shade.

Comptonia peregrina (Sweet fern). Sun/Part Shade.

Hydrangea arborescens (Wild Hydrangea). Part Shade/Shade (pictured on the side of a cliff))

Hypericum prolificum (Shrubby St. John’s Wort) Part Shade/Shade.

Rhus aromatica (Fragrant Sumac). Sun/Part Shade. Use ‘Grow-Lo’ if a short variety is desired.

Perennials (herbaceous forbs)

These are examples of plants that quickly spread sideways and grip the soil tightly. They may spread more than you really like, so be careful!

Chrysogonum virginianum (Green-and-Gold). Sun/Part Shade/Shade.

Iris cristata (Dwarf Crested Iris). Part Shade/Shade.

Monarda fistulosa (Wild Bergamot). Sun/Part Shade. For something a little taller.

Phlox subulata (Moss Phlox). Sun. (pictured)

Pycnanthemum tenuifolium (Narrow-leaved Mountain Mint). Sun/Part Shade.

Grasses or grass-like plants

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