Soil stabilization on steep slope with large, mature trees

Asked April 26, 2017, 10:15 AM EDT

I have a very steep backyard that has dozens of large, mature trees (tulip poplars and maples are two species). There is little to no top soil or ground cover at all, the soil is eroding rapidly and beginning to uncover the roots of these large trees. I'm looking for ground covers (low spreading types or more bush-like) that can help to stabilize the soil and slow this erosion. It must be very low maintenance, shade tolerant, and deep rooted. Also, I live right above the Potomac so try to maintain an organic garden/yard. And deer are absolutely a problem. Thank you. Kelly Parsons

Montgomery County Maryland

1 Response

Hi Kelly,
Here are several plant choices we recommend for your site:

  • Carex pensylvanica (sedge)
  • Ferns (Christmas ferns are native and evergreen)
  • Tiarella cordifolia (foam flower)
  • Heuchera villosa (allum root)
  • Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' (Japanese forest grass)
  • Euphorbia amygdaloides (wood spurge)
Also, take a look at our groundcovers page ( and our groundcovers list ( The Maryland Department of Agriculture has a good publication on controlling soil erosion, and they include several plant choices:

Another great resource is the Native Plant Center, which allows you to conduct a search for plants based on your site conditions. You can see photos of the recommended plants.

You'll want to plant in pockets of the slope where you have the best soil, then mulch around the new plants. Be sure to water regularly during the first growing season, to help the plants get well established.