10 ​​Best Plants to Control Erosion in Your Yard

a chunk of grass and soil that has eroded

Is your yard losing buckets of soil after every rainstorm? Exposed soil, particularly soil on a slope, is vulnerable to erosion caused by wind, rain, ice, and gravity. The good news is that you can stabilize and protect your soil with these 10 best plants to control erosion in your yard. 

Our list focuses on low-growing ground covers that anchor the soil with their roots and cover the soil with their dense, matted foliage. Ground covers grow well in the masses, and a thick carpet of protective foliage is just what your exposed soil needs. 

Not only does erosion lower your yard’s curb appeal, but it’s harmful to the environment, too. Restore your landscape’s stability, eco-friendliness, and beauty with the following 10 erosion control plants.

1. Big blue lilyturf (Liriope muscari)

Secure your soil with a mass of big blue lilyturf. Not only does this broadleaf, clump-forming evergreen help control erosion problems, but its late summer blooms are a sight to behold. The spikes of purple flowers resemble a field of swaying lavender, later followed by dark, inedible berries. 

Keep the soil moist during the first year of growth. Once the ground cover is established, the plant requires little supplemental irrigation. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-10
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Bloom time: Late summer
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun to partial shade
  • Soil preferences: Clay, loam, sand, acidic to neutral, well-drained
  • Water needs: Medium; prefers moist soils
  • Mature height: 1-2 feet
  • Potential hazards: May cause an upset stomach when consumed in large quantities

2. Creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis)

If the area suffering from erosion has rocky or sandy soils, creeping juniper will make an excellent protective ground cover. The low-growing shrub creates a dense mat of evergreen needles by growing up to 1.5 feet tall and spreading 10 feet wide. 

The shrub’s needles are a refreshing blueish-green with a purplish-tint come wintertime. Female creeping junipers produce blueish-purple, fleshy berries that are the conifer’s “cones.” 

Once established, creeping juniper is drought tolerant and very low maintenance. 

  • Plant type: Low-growing shrub
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9
  • Foliage: Needled evergreen
  • Bloom time: Non-flowering
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun
  • Soil preferences: Rocky, sandy, well-drained soils 
  • Water needs: Low to medium; prefers dry to medium moisture
  • Mature height: Up to 1.5 feet
  • Potential hazards: N/A

3. Creeping phlox (Phlox subulata)

Turn your yard into a flowering paradise with creeping phlox. This low-growing ground cover looks like cloudy cushions draping the landscape with a flush of pink, lavender, violet, and red flowers. The star-shaped flowers grow like snug sardines, creating the appearance of colorful moss in the landscape. 

Creeping phlox prefers dry soils and full sun, making it an excellent choice for your sunny rock garden. It spreads quickly and tolerates soils with low fertility. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9
  • Foliage: Evergreen to semi-evergreen
  • Bloom time: Mid to late spring
  • Sunlight needs: Prefers full sun but tolerates dappled shade
  • Soil preferences: Well-drained, slightly alkaline, sandy, rocky, humus-rich soils
  • Water needs: Low; prefers dry soils
  • Mature height: 3-6 inches
  • Potential hazards: N/A

4. Japanese spurge (Pachysandra terminalis)

Japanese spurge is a shrubby ground cover in the boxwood family. It blooms tiny white flowers in the spring, but its foliage is the main attraction. The plant creates a dense, carpeted mat of dark green evergreen leaves that protects against soil erosion. 

The leafy ground cover spreads via rhizomes to form large, dense colonies, so you’ll need to plant young Japanese spurge at least 6 to 12 inches apart to avoid overcrowding. Keep in mind that Japanese spurge is a slow grower that takes about three years to establish as a ground cover. 

  • Plant type: Shrubby, evergreen ground cover
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-9
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Bloom time: Spring
  • Sunlight needs: Part shade to full shade
  • Soil preferences: Slightly acidic, high organic matter, well-drained, clay, loam, chalk, and sand
  • Water needs: Medium; prefers moist soils
  • Mature height: 8-12 inches
  • Potential hazards: N/A

5. Mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus)

Mondo grass is a highly salt-tolerant plant perfect for homeowners living along the coast. The mound-forming ground cover features arching, grass-like leaves that make an excellent turfgrass alternative for shady areas. It blooms petite, bell-shaped, white to lilac-tinted flowers in summer and grows cobalt blue berries in fall. 

  • Plant type: Grass-like ground cover
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 7-10
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Bloom time: Summer
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil preferences: Clay, loam, silt, well-drained
  • Water needs: Medium; prefers moist soils
  • Mature height: 6-12 inches
  • Potential hazards: N/A

6. Ostrich fern (Onoclea struthiopteris)

Growing ostrich ferns is an easy way to control erosion in your secluded shade garden or wet bog garden. The shade-loving ostrich fern thrives in consistently moist soils, so you’ll never want the soil to get dry. 

The bright green fronds resemble elegant ostrich feathers and range between upright and arching. They lose their leaflets in fall, right before their winter dormancy. 

  • Plant type: Fern
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-7
  • Foliage: Deciduous
  • Bloom time: Non-flowering
  • Sunlight needs: Part to full shade
  • Soil preferences: Clay, loam, sand, well-drained
  • Water needs: Medium to high; prefers consistently moist soil, tolerates wet soils
  • Mature height: 3-6 feet
  • Potential hazards: N/A

7. Periwinkle (Vinca minor)

Commonly known as creeping myrtle, Vinca minor is a vigorous trailing evergreen. The delicate blue-lavender, slightly tubular flowers pop against the dark, smooth foliage. The plant’s trailing stems create a dense mat that protects the soil from wind, heavy rain, and weed growth. 

Vinca minor grows well in full sun to part shade, but keep in mind that the green leaves may yellow when growing in full sun. 

  • Plant type: Flowering ground cover
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-9
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Bloom time: Mid-spring to early summer
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil preferences: Clay, loam, sand, well-drained
  • Water needs: Low to medium; prefers dry to medium moisture 
  • Mature height: 3-6 inches
  • Potential hazards: Vinca minor is a mildly toxic plant

8. Riverbank lupine (Lupinus rivularis)

Riverbank lupine is a stunning attraction in the landscape. Its fragrant, flowering clusters sit atop unbranched stems well above the bright green foliage. Each flower has a dreamy, colorful blend of purples, blues, pinks, and whites. 

Riverbank lupine has a secret weapon when it comes to erosion control –– its taproot. Its 5-foot-long taproot travels deep into the ground and stabilizes the surrounding soil. The plant also has nitrogen-fixing roots that add nitrogen to the soil. 

  • Plant type: Flower
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 7-9
  • Foliage: Evergreen
  • Bloom time: Early spring to midsummer
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun
  • Soil preferences: Sand, loam, well-drained
  • Water needs: Medium; prefers moist soil
  • Mature height: 1-5 feet
  • Potential hazards: Lupines are in the legume family. Do not consume if you are allergic to peanuts, peas, or other legumes. 

9. Rockspray cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis)

The name gives away the plant’s growing pattern: The rockspray cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis) has a horizontal spreading habit, making it a suitable ground cover to protect exposed soil. 

The woody ground cover has tiny pink flowers in late spring, later followed by bright red berries. Popping against the dark green foliage, you might say the scarlet fruits outshine the spring blooms. Once autumn arrives, the foliage turns a vibrant orange-red that’s sure to brighten the landscape. 

  • Plant type: Shrub
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-7
  • Foliage: Deciduous but semi-evergreen in its southern zones
  • Bloom time: Late spring
  • Sunlight needs: Full sun to part shade
  • Soil preferences: Clay, loam, sand, well-drained
  • Water needs: Low to medium; prefers dry to medium moisture
  • Mature height: 2-3 feet
  • Potential hazards: Foliage and fruits are not edible. May cause an upset stomach when ingested. 

10. Spotted dead nettle (Lamium maculatum)

Don’t worry –– spotted dead nettle won’t hurt you like stinging nettle will (that’s why it’s called dead nettle). The leaves are hairy, toothed, and heart-shaped and appear to be decorated by an artist’s paintbrush with a silver blot down the middle. 

Its white, pink, and purplish flowers bloom late spring to early summer. The flowers are petite and frilly and have a hooded petal that looks like a small umbrella.

Spotted dead nettle spreads quickly, making it an easy ground cover to establish. It loves the shade and will grow as an evergreen in mild winter climates. 

  • Plant type: Flowering ground cover
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-8
  • Foliage: Semi-evergreen
  • Bloom time: Late spring to early summer
  • Sunlight needs: Part shade to full shade 
  • Soil preferences: Humus-rich, clay, sand, loam, well-drained
  • Water needs: Medium; prefers moist soils
  • Mature height: 3-8 inches
  • Potential hazards: N/A

FAQ about controlling erosion

1. Is growing plants the only way I can control erosion?

Ground covers are excellent at controlling erosion. They stabilize the soil with their root systems and shelter the ground with their mass of dense foliage. But growing plants isn’t the only way you can control erosion. Here are some other methods you can try: 

Switch from a garden hose or sprinkler to a drip irrigation system
Install a terrace garden or retaining wall
Add downspout extensions to your gutter system to redirect water flow
Build a dry creek bed, rain garden, swale, or french drain to control runoff
Install riprap, sandbags, or silt fencing around the exposed soil
Cover the exposed soil with mulch
Avoid tilling the soil as much as possible
Aerate your lawn so that water is absorbed into the ground

2. Why is erosion control important?

Controlling erosion in your lawn isn’t just a curb appeal issue but an environmental issue as well. Here are three reasons why controlling erosion is important: 

Topsoil, the most fertile layer of soil, is the most vulnerable to erosion. When farmers and gardeners lose topsoil to erosion, they lose essential soil for their crops. 
Erosion contributes to toxic runoff. Soil often contains the chemical residue of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. When rainwater runoff dislodges the soil and carries it away, the water becomes polluted with chemicals. The water then drains into a local waterway and pollutes the aquatic ecosystem. 
Not only does runoff pollute water with chemicals, but it also pollutes the water with sediment. The sediment smothers eggs, clogs fish gills, and fogs the water. 

3. Can I control erosion with turfgrass?

Yes, turfgrass can control erosion, especially in a sunny area. If the eroded area is in the shade, you might have better results with a shade-loving ground cover. 

Here are three common ways you can establish grass for erosion control: 

Sod provides an instant patch of grass. Simply roll out the sod like a carpet, and the sod will hold the soil in place. You’ll need to wait two weeks for the roots to establish. 
Hydroseed is a mixture of mulch, fertilizer, seeds, water, binding agents, soil amendments, and green dye that’s sprayed onto the ground. The mulch and binding agents help secure the grass seed to the soil so that the seeds don’t wash away from wind and rain. The erosion control will be in full swing once the seeds germinate and develop roots. 
Grass seed will eventually grow into a blanket of turf that helps control erosion. But before the seeds germinate, they’re susceptible to erosion themselves, especially on a steep slope. To protect the seeds (and soil) on the hill, cover them with mesh burlap or cheesecloth. 

Spruce up your yard with expert care

A muddy, eroding slope is an eyesore for the yard, but you know what else is unsightly? An unkempt, yellowing lawn. Boost your landscape’s curb appeal by hiring a local lawn care professional to mow, fertilize, and edge your lawn. Let a landscaping pro manage the soil erosion while a lawn care pro greens up the turfgrass. 

Main Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Jane Purnell

Jane Purnell is a freelance writer and actor in New York City. She earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia and enjoys a warm cup of French press coffee.