To minimize erosion on a steep slope in my yard, I’d like to plant something other than an evergreen carpet of pachysandra or ivy. Do you have any suggestions?
Susanne Eveni, Cape Girardeau, MO
Judy Glattstein, garden designer and consultant in Frenchtown, New Jersey, replies: For a varied look that changes with the seasons, I recommend planting an assortment of prostrate, spreading shrubs across the slope. A healthy mix can provide drifts of spring color, complete summer coverage, blazing autumn color, and intriguing winter interest, while also minimizing erosion. Self-sufficient, low-maintenance plants are best suited to this type of site so that a certificate from a rock climbing program is not required to maintain it. And many shrubs fit that bill.
Greenstem forsythia (Forsythia viridissima ‘Bronxensis’) offers sunny-yellow flowers in early spring and a dense, twiggy winter appearance. F. ‘Gold Tide’, a more recent introduction, grows only 20 inches tall, yet spreads 4 feet wide. These forsythias are hardy to USDA Hardiness Zone 5.
Forsythias contrast nicely with prostrate junipers. Japanese garden juniper (Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’) has a mound-like form that reaches between 18 and 30 inches high and 7 to 8 feet across, while shore juniper (J. conferta) is known for its feathery appearance. The steely blue needles of blue rug juniper (J. horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’), the blue-green needles of ‘Blue Pacific’ shore juniper (J. c. ‘Blue Pacific’), and the soft-green needles of ‘Emerald Sea’ shore juniper (J. c. ‘Emerald Green’) are all worthwhile options. All these junipers are hardy to Zone 5, while the blue rug juniper is hardy to Zone 3.
Sumacs are popular in England for their intense fall color, but are underused in this country. Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low’) quickly spreads 6 to 8 feet wide while only growing 2 feet tall. And while sumac will accept partial shade, its autumn color will not be as vibrant. This sumac is hardy to Zone 3.
Yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima) is a native, deciduous shrub with a spreading habit that does well in both sun and shade. Its leaves have a purplish hue when new in spring, and turn yellow with bronze and purple overtones before falling in autumn. It only reaches 2 to 3 feet in height while creating a dense carpet of foliage. Yellowroot is hardy to Zone 3.