Plants are nature's way of stabilizing soil. Good plants for erosion control share several characteristics. Because erosion-prone terrain is often harsh, plants must be tolerant of extremes such as flooding and drought. They must be perennials with aboveground parts such as twigs or dried stalks that persist year round to catch and hold eroding soil. Finally they must not be invasive. Native plants make excellent choices because they are well adapted to local conditions.
Grasses rank at the top for erosion control because they have spreading mat-like roots that hold soil very well. Alien grasses are also among the worst invasive plants, so choose carefully and favor native species. Many native grasses are attractive and can be easily maintained by occasional mowing.
Purple threeawn (Aristida purpurea) This drought-tolerant Western native is an excellent choice for protecting slopes because of its dense root system. The seed heads are a soft red purple in spring, fading to brown in summer without irrigation.
Sheep's fescue (Festuca ovina) This clumping cool season grass makes a fast, dense cover with interesting texture. Some cultivars make compact clumps, and others are a light shade of blue.
Low spreading leafy plants protect soil from torrential rains, and their roots hold soil in place. They can also be a source of color and texture in the landscape.
California fuschia (Zauschneria californica) This low-growing plant produces plentiful red-orange flowers in summer and attracts hummingbirds. It thrives on little water and protects sandy or clay soils from erosion.
Pineleaf penstemon (Penstemon pinifolius) This mat-forming, evergreen perennial tolerates drought and holds soil with its dense roots. Flowers are bright red or yellow and appear for a long period throughout summer.
Desert zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora) This plant has deep taproots and forms dense mats, keeping soil in place. It's a long-lived perennial with abundant papery, golden-yellow flowers.
Giant Four O'clock (Mirabilis multiflora) This gem of a native plant develops into a mound of blue-green foliage and fragrant magenta flowers. It holds soil with large tuberous roots and tolerates a wide range of conditions.
Shrubs protect soil from wind, sun and downpours. Woody shrubs shelter other plants and create interest in the landscape.
Gooseberries and Currants (Ribes species) These medium-sized shrubs native to much of the Western United States hold soil with their extensive root systems. They are vase shaped and bear edible berries in late summer and fall.
Three-leaf sumac (Rhus tilobata) This compact shrub bears edible berries, and the dark green summer foliage turns yellow, orange and red in fall.
Apache plume (Fallugia paradoxa) This versatile. fast growing native anchors soil with its extensive root system and does well in a wide range of climates. The plant is covered with feathery pink flowers in late summer.