Best Shade Plants For Erosion Control On Slopes

Juniper plants on a hillside
(Image credit: beekeepx)

It can be hard enough finding suitable shade plants, and choosing the best plants for shady slopes is even harder. The plants need to be be sturdy enough to cling to a slope and also tolerate low light. They are out there, though, if you know where to look. Erosion control shade plants may be bushes, grasses or low groundcovers, and should be adaptable to the site conditions.

Exposed areas of soil on slopes are prey to the effects of wind, water, and gravity. It’s important to protect such areas with plant material that will hold soil in place. Native plants for erosion control in shade have the advantage of already being adapted to the region. This makes them easy to grow and requiring minimal care. Decorating a hillside with plants will have the additional benefit of making the space more attractive.

Determining the Best Plants for Shady Hillside Sites


The first consideration is lighting. Does the area get any sunlight? Few plants do well in total shade, but if morning or afternoon sun arrives, the range of plant choices goes up.


The next consideration is soil type. Sandy, clay, and loam soils all have an impact on plant growth. Some plants thrive in sand, while others will fail. Drainage is important, since some plants like moist soil while others require a drier condition.


The growing zone will greatly affect the types of plants you choose. Native plants will thrive in their growing zone, while imported selections need to be hardy to that temperature range.


Size should be part of the decision making process. Large plants that do not have deep, broad root zones should not be planted on slopes. Plants with excessive spreading habits that could become a nuisance are also not ideal options. If the area has trees choose plants that don’t require a lot of digging that could disrupt the roots and further destabilize the soil.

Erosion Control Shade Plants

Native Shade Loving Erosion Control Plants

Native plants are a winning solution to most garden sites. Many of these will provide color in the form of flowers, stems, or leaves. Red twig dogwood can beautify a slope in fall through winter with its brightly colored stems. Goldenrod will attract bees and brighten the slope with vibrant yellow blooms. Christmas fern remains green year round and is at home in a treed location.

Some more native plant considerations are:

  • Western Yew
  • Black Haw
  • Indian Plum
  • Red Elderberry
  • Wild Ginger
  • Wild Hydrangea
  • Redwood Sorrel
  • Lady Fern
  • Bunchberry
  • Woodland Sunflower
  • Piggyback Plant
  • White Wood Aster
  • Oregon Grape
  • Solomon’s Seal
  • Eastern Columbine

Grasses for Shady Slopes

Many grasses are perfect for erosion control in shade. Among these are the sedges. Many of these are native and will clump appealingly along the hillside. White tinted and bristle-leaved sedges will thrive in a full shade location. For areas with a bit of sun daily, fox, tussock, palm and gray sedges are suitable. Eastern bottlebrush grass is tolerant of dry or wet locations. Fountain grass and switchgrass provide dimension and clouds of pastel flowers. Northern sea oats has an interesting inflorescence, and the golden blooms of Virginia wild rye adorn the hillside for months. Common bulrush and prairie chord grass are also excellent low light grasses.

Groundcovers for Shady Slopes

Shade loving erosion control plants in the form of ground covers offer excellent coverage. Plants like wild ginger, with its broad, heart shaped leaves, will quickly colonize a slope. Similarly, bugleweed will spread and produce violet spiked flowers and ornamental foliage. Snow on the Mountain offers both creamy flowers and white and soft green variegated foliage. Lily of the Valley can be aggressive but it has glossy, green leaves and small appealing flowers. Other ground cover options include:

  • Spotted Nettle
  • Lungwort
  • Confederate Jasmine
  • Cotoneaster
  • Yellow Archangel
  • Juniper
  • Plumbago
  • Creeping Phlox
  • Barrenwort
  • Mondo Grass
  • Sweet Box
  • St. John’s Wort
Bonnie L. Grant

Bonnie Grant is a professional landscaper with a Certification in Urban Gardening. She has been gardening and writing for 15 years. A former professional chef, she has a passion for edible landscaping.