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The 5 Best Plants to Prevent Soil Erosion

Jonathan Mast

As extreme weather events continue to become more commonplace, one side effect that is both worsening and hits closer to home for us all is soil erosion. Erosion is the deterioration of soil in a specific area, usually promoted by extreme weather or other physical disturbances. Soil that is impacted by erosion may have more of a dirt-like texture, in that it appears dry or overextended.

Erosion has the potential to impact locations near water run-off routes or naturally occurring bodies of water. It may threaten even the most controlled ecosystems, like a creek or pond.

One of the most aesthetic ways to counter the damaging effects of erosion is by installing perennial vegetation with deep roots and high nutrient levels to help cement the soil together and create a sustainable support net.

Here are some options that should be readily available across the country:

Photo courtesy of Abhijeet Gaikwad

Vinca Minor (Periwinkle) 

Periwinkle is a ground cover that is extremely common across America. Particularly popular for hills and creeksides, Vinca Minor is coined “periwinkle” for its vibrant blue blooms that adorn the foliage during springtime. It is an attractive alternative to a more shrub-looking ground cover. Suitable for USDA regions 4 to 8, this plant is great for those looking to cover up brown or dried-out areas while also providing an inviting, garden-forward look. Periwinkle usually stays very low to the ground but spreads widely (hence its effectiveness for erosion control). While it is not considered invasive and eventually will have a positive impact on the number of weeds in your space, it can spread fairly rapidly, so be purposeful with your planting!

Photo courtesy of Yoksel Zok

Forsythia Suspensa (Weeping Forsythias)

Weeping Forsythia is characterized by its wide-reaching, almost vine-like branches of lovely green tone, suitable for regions 6 to 8. The plant is larger in profile than other ground covers and grows by rooting wherever its branches make contact with the ground. Also not considered invasive by the USDA, but it does spread easily. Unlike periwinkle, this is better suited for plots that need intensely dense ground cover but are only visible from afar, as they do not have long-lasting blooms, and close up can appear a bit drier. They are, however, fabulous for hills that are struggling with erosion, particularly if there is a wall or man-made boundary, as the branches will cascade over installations like this, granting a verdant look. 

Photo courtesy of Alex Grodkeiwicz

Liriope Spicata (Border Grass) 

The Liriope genus is actually native to Southeast Asia, its various species have become increasingly popular in North America, largely because of its height (usually just over a foot high, with a foot and a healthy spread) and combination of a wilder foliage appearance and bright blooms. Sometimes called “creeping liriope,” this perennial option is suitable for USDA zones 4 through 10 and boasts long flower spikes – a great addition for tired-looking spots in the yard. Notably, they do well in partial shade and can even be planted in more sand-like soil, making them a great choice for those who look at their yard and think “what could even grow here?”

Photo courtesy of Steph Embersky 

Phlox stolonifera (Creeping Phlox) 

Creeping Phlox is one of the most colorful options for erosion-fighting plants and is fabulous for a large garden that is struggling to stick together or perhaps is planted on a slope. Suitable for USDA zone 5 through 9, the plant does require more fertile soil, meaning it’s not going to be a great choice for plots of land that don’t receive regular TLC. While it is a little more limited in its application, it sets itself apart from other vegetation options through its tri-colored blooms and fragrance – uncommon for ground cover plants. Most of the plant will flower, giving a significantly more floral look than periwinkle, which has more spread-out color splashes. Creeping phlox shouldn’t go longer than about two weeks without water, so be sure to water weekly.

Japanese Pachysandra (Japanese Spurge) 

Most people have seen Japanese Spurge before. Extremely common across the U.S., this foliage offers an easily uniform and short ground cover option in a rich green tone, ideal for larger plots of land. It actually belongs to the Boxwood family, and while it can be a lifesaver for erosion (and unsightly dirt), it should be planted with care, particularly in more confined areas that have spaces where its assistance is not desired. Japanese Spurge is intended for planting in zones 4 through 8 and provides a super dense, low-lying cover. It is particularly popular in New England for covering large areas easily, growing in clay-heavy soil, and deterring deer. Although this Spurge may result in some small white blooms, a more floral look should not be the goal for those choosing Japanese Pachysandra. Rather, gardeners should be desiring a much more sprawling, all-green, heavy foliage look. 

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