Ground cover for erosion control in shady ravine

(Question)

Hi there,
My yard backs onto a ravine in Cliffcrest just near the Scarborough Bluffs (but not on the Bluff). I’m looking for a recommendation for a low maintenance, shade tolerant ground cover that could help control erosion on an east facing but fully shaded steep slope.

(Answer)

Ravine properties sometimes do present challenges with soil erosion on slopes. Selecting plant material that will provide an effective groundcover in shade and prevent the soil from eroding, yet support the biodiversity of the area is important. The benefits are many. Fortunately, there are several native plants that would be suitable for the area you describe. Not only would they benefit the ravine ecosystem, they are wonderful plants–some flowering before trees leaf out in the spring; others have beautiful foliage throughout the growing season. All are low-maintenance once they become established.

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia or vitacea) is a rapid growing vine that can be used to control erosion on slopes. However, it will grow up any tree and most shrubs and will prevent the host from receiving an adequate amount of sunlight, therefore eventually killing it. It can also crowd out or choke other plants. So one must be somewhat cautious about using it. It produces berries that provide food for animals, but are poisonous to humans. This plant may be worth considering.

Other plants that will gradually form a groundcover are: Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum, May-apple (Podophyllum peltatum), American Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), False Solomon’s Seal (Smilacina racemosa), Woodland Strawberry (Fragaria vesca), Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense), and Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). 

These are just a few suggestions; using a combination of several of these would be recommended. The City of Toronto has a lot of excellent information about native plants:

https://www1.toronto.ca/city_of_toronto/parks_forestry__recreation/urban_forestry/files/pdf/Guide_To_Native_Plant_Lists_Intro.pdf

Thank you for your interest in protecting the slope on your ravine property. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with the Toronto Master Gardeners if you have any further questions. Good luck.