The Q&A Archives: Steep hill needs ground cover

Question: I live in Iowa (zones 4B and 5A). I have a steep embankment that is mostly shaded and I need to put some sort of ground cover on it, for both erosion control and decoration.

I really need something that is fairly quick growing and will fill in a large area. The length is about 50 foot long and probably 20 foot high. Any suggestions?

I tried hostas and they look nice but are taking way too long to fill in. I would have to plant thousands of them to get the job done.

Thanks for your help.


Answer: I think hostas are fantastic plants, but they really are too slow to use as groundcover. Other plants you might consider include Creeping Charlie or Creeping Jenny. It blooms with violet flowers and hugs the ground. Some people think it makes a great mat to walk on. It is highly invasive however, so keep that in mind. Snow-on-the-Mountain (Aegopodium podagraria 'Variegatum') should do the trick, but be SURE it is what you want because once it gets started, it is very, very difficult to get rid of. Canada violet, Virginia Waterleaf, and Virginia creeper grow well and spread to cover the ground in dry shade and clay soil. Spotted Dead Nettle (Lamium maculatum) is noted for its foliage and flowers. The leaves are either a medium green with silver markings, silver-white with green margins, or chartreuse. The flowers are white or pink and appear in early summer. This groundcover can become aggressive once established. Periwinkle or Vinca minor is an excellent groundcover for partial to full shade. The species and most varieties possess glossy dark green leaves. A few varieties have green and white variegated foliage. White or lilac-blue flowers appear in spring and continue intermittently throughout the summer. Plant height is approximately 6 inches.

If you choose any of these plants, try to purchase by the flat, which is usually less expensive. Then cut the flat into 24-36 squares, making sure that each square has both roots and green leafy tops. Plant in alternating rows (checkerboard fashion), about 6" apart for quick fill in, 12" apart for fill in in about 2 years, or 18" apart for fill in in about 3 years.

Best wishes with your landscape.

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