Question

What environmentally friendly ground cover can I use on a slope for a year or two while waiting for permanent landscaping?

Asked by John Duke
Richmond, VA

I live in Richmond, Virginia. The sloped hill behind our cabin (about 8,000 square feet) was cleared to install a geothermal loop. Eventually, we want to landscape the space as a sustainable site using largely native plantings. In the meantime, we want to prevent erosion and keep the dust down. We don't live on the property yet, so we also don't want something that requires a lot of mowing or care, nor do we want to apply a lot of chemicals. Eventually, most of the area will probably be tilled over. What are our best choices for an environmentally sensitive ground cover that does not break the bank?

Answer

Polly Osborne, FAIA, LEED AP

Answered by Polly Osborne, FAIA, LEED AP

Los Angeles, CA

Polly Osborne Architects

March 23, 2011

There are some variables unknown in this question that you will need to define:

  • Is the slope sunny or shady?
  • What's its exposure?
  • How deeply is the soil uncompacted?
  • What is the slope steepness?
  • What kind of soil is it?
  • Are you considering terracing the hill?
  • How much water would be coming down the slope?

Plant from seed

At 8,000 square feet, you would probably want something you can plant by seed.

Drew Harrigan, of Four Winds Design in Richmond, Va., a firm specializing in site-specific, ecologically inspired landscaping, says the right plant for you isn't possible to determine until you have the above questions answered, but he has had good luck with native Carex grasses (several varieties) and lance leaf coreopsis (full sun).

He recommends the Ernst Conservation Seeds Catalog as a good place to start defining what you need. They list varieties of native seed and their coverage.

Use non-natives?

Lauryn at Stockner's Nursery (in Rockville, Va.) suggests you could use non-native plants that are not too invasive. She says clumping varieties of Liriope might be a possibility in sun or shade.

Kenny at Advanced Landscape Solutions (in Richmond, Va.) says if the uncompacted soil is too deep for grasses and the slope gets full sun, you could consider some of the juniper varieties.

These solutions are non-native, though, so you'd be taking them out when you plant your native garden.

You could also get in touch with the Virginia Native Plant Society to talk with members and see what has worked for them. You can get a list of references from their guides and publications page.

Tagged In: native plants

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