Grasses for bluff property, between bushes to reduce erosion and form ground cover

(Question)

My home is on the Bluffs, behind my lawn in the back yard is a 12X 50’ area that I would like to have with bushes and grass for ground cover to help reduce erosion. I am thinking of buffalo grass so it can be mowed along with the rest of the lawn and short bushes so the lake view is not obstructed. Please suggest bushes and grass.

 

(Answer)

Thank you for contacting the Toronto Master Gardeners for help with finding suitable plants for your back yard.  I can certainly understand your concern for preventing soil erosion at your location, I will suggest several links to assist with your decision and here is a good start; The following link from the Toronto Region Conservation Authority gives you some basics on how erosion can affect your yard:  https://trca.ca/?s=erosion+management

Erosion Risk Management

I will also suggest some plantings for you but first I would like to issue one note of caution; When researching material for this answer I came across several plant suggestions that were very invasive.  Invasive species are a big problem for they can easily escape a home garden into a natural setting where they run rampant and overwhelm our native species.  It sounds as if your garden located at the bluffs would be a potential jumping off point for such an invasion.  This link underlines the importance of careful planting; “Grow me instead” is a web booklet that suggests alternatives to several invasive species

https://www.ontarioinvasiveplants.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/GMI-Booklet_FINAL-FOR-WEB_May132016.pdf

Here are just a few plants that might work in your location

Groundcovers:  Buffalo grass as you suggest is a very good option, Buchloë dactyloides, is a tough prairie grass that has excellent drought tolerance, ease of maintenance and will be helpful in preventing erosion.  It is not as popular as other lawn grasses primarily because its more grey than green, but overall an excellent choice.   Other soil saving suggestions are crop cover crops such as rye & clover.  Both are virtually maintenance free, can withstand drought, and Clover has the added benefit of providing food for bees.  Please also consider native groundcover species such as:  Wild Strawberry, Fragaria virginiana, Wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens, Running Euonymus, Euonymus ovavatus or Bunchberry, Cornus canadensis – Canada’s national flower!

For low growing shrubs consider a mat forming Juniper such as Blue Rug, Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’ it forms a dense mat, is drought tolerant once established and remains a lovely silver blue year – round.  Also look at a Cotoneaster, such as Cotoneaster dammeri “Coral Beauty”. It forms a low growing cover with attractive herringbone branches and produces small white flowers in the spring and little red berries in the fall.  This shrub will also attract butterflies and birds to your garden.  Please also consider our native: Shrubby Cinqfoil, Potentilla fruticose, it produces masses of yellow flowers through much of the season, it is extremely drought tolerant and has excellent potential for preventing soil erosion.  Another native for your consideration is Flowering Raspberry Rubus odoratus.  It produces short but wide thickets of thornless branches with large magenta flowers in mid-summer, followed by delicious fruit (If you can get to them before the birds do!).  Hardy Summersweet Clethra Alnifolia is a low growing shrub helpful on slopes, and very attractive to many pollinators, but does require more moist conditions than other shrubs I have mentioned here.

One plant I think would be wonderful for your space is Asclepias syriaca, common milkweed.  This plant has a fibrous taproot and horizontal rhizomes, this extensive root system helps prevent soil erosion and helps the plant to withstand drought.  Its beautiful and fragrant blooms are an important food source for many insects but specifically the Monarch butterfly.

I hope I have given you some ideas and inspiration for your garden.  Best of luck!

Here as promised are several links to assist with your planning:

http://www.finegardening.com/article/shrubs-for-slopes

https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/plant-problems/environmental/plants-for-erosion-control.htm