This time of year we are looking for any hint of spring. Often we can find tips of green from bulbs or swelling buds of the silver maple. On other trees, such as birch, hazelhut, alder and later willows, you can see catkins dangling from their branches. One of the first harbingers of spring here at the Arboretum is the Ozark witchhazel.
Ozark witchhazel, with the scientific name Hamamelis vernalis and pronounced ham-ah-MAY-lis ver-NAH-lis, is a native shrub found in Missouri and Arkansas spreading down through Oklahoma and Texas. In January to early March, depending on the winter, tiny yellow to reddish-purple flowers pop open along the stems. The flower petals resemble twisted ribbons. These muted yellow flowers add winter interest to the garden since they open before the leaves emerge. Our shrubs are just now starting to open.
Leaves & Habit
The wavy, oblong leaves expand in the spring to make a nice screen or hedge. Each leaf is a medium green with a whitish waxy coating. These leaves turn a nice yellow in the fall.
These shrubs can get large (up to 10’-12’ tall) over time especially in consistently moist soils. Our specimens are planted in clay, but there is good drainage away from the crowns. For the most part, they are drought tolerant, but appreciate a little extra water during drier periods. Leaf scorch occurs in hot, dry summers without adequate moisture.
For best flowering, plant these shrubs in full sun but they do tolerate some afternoon shade. There are no serious pests at this time.
Typically, it is a multi-stemmed shrub with straight upright habit. As the plant matures, the branches will arch and become broader. If it is really happy, it will develop root suckers. In our experience, these suckers have never been problematic or aggressive. Pruning will restrain colonization and spread. The best time to prune this shrub is in spring after it finishes blooming because next year’s blooms are set on this year’s new growth.
If you have the space, this large shrub can be a nice addition to your garden. The delicate flowers when nothing else is blooming is reason enough to try this plant. The vase-shaped habit with along the attractive oval-shaped leaves that turn a golden yellow in the fall are added bonuses. Why not give one or two a try? I am always amazed each time it blooms.
This winter has been one of the harshest Kansas has had in quite some time. Plants and animals have been tested with extreme cold, frozen soils and snow. It’s incredible to imagine that anything can endure these conditions. Over the past few weeks, I have watched the birds find food where they can. They are relentless in their pursuit of seeds and berries. After all, their lives depend on them.
Selecting plants that attract wildlife – including birds – to your garden is an important horticulture trend. The key to increasing wildlife diversity in your landscape is having as many different habitats and food sources as possible. Fruiting trees and shrubs provide food and shelter during these cold periods for wildlife. Leaving these sheltering spots, birds can find seeds from wildflowers and grasses during the day.
Here are several trees, shrubs and perennials that I have observed birds scavenging for food on over the past few weeks. They provide great winter food for birds.
This large shrub or small tree (20 feet high by 20 feet wide) can be found in eastern Kansas. It has creamy-white flowers in April and May followed by blue-black fruit in September. These fruits persist on the tree into winter, but are devoured quickly with the first snowfall. Buds are a rusty color that open to glossy green leaves and turn a beautiful reddish-purple in the fall. It is a very under used plant that provides excellent winter food for birds.
Blackhaw viburnum is the other native viburnum to Kansas that has abundant small prune-like fruit in the fall. With a mature height of 12 to 15 feet and a spread of 8 to 12 feet it is slightly smaller than Rusty Blackhaw Viburnum. In spring, it is covered with cymes that are 2 to 4 inches in diameter. The dark green leaves provide consistent fall color of red, yellow and orange.
Possumhaw is the only holly native to the Great Plains. It can grow to be 15 feet tall and wide. Branching is often dense and after leaf drop the round red fruit are revealed. The shrub is a heavy producer of fruits that are persistent into the winter months. When snow and sleet cover their regular food, birds flock to possumhaw and clean the branches in a short time. Deciduous holly are dioecious, meaning that there are both male and female plants and both are needed in close proximity to each other in order to have fruit set.
Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana)
Eastern red cedar is the only conifer native to Kansas. This is my top recommendation to homeowners looking for an evergreen tree, since there are so many diseases affecting pine trees these days. There are still some nice pines available, but they are not native. This juniper has dark green foliage and can reach over 20 feet tall with a dense conical habit. The dense branches provide excellent cover for birds during the winter. The female trees are often loaded with frosty 1/8 to 1/4 inch diameter cones that provide excellent bird food in the winter.
Eastern red cedar does have one drawback. Bagworms can decimate a tree. Bagworms have been very problematic over the last several years here at the Arboretum, but regular spraying with Bt (a biological insecticide) has been effective for us, especially when the larvae are smaller than ¼ inch. Begin checking for bagworms about the first week of June.
‘Canaertii’ is a female variety with dark green foliage that sets copious blue-green cones and matures to 20-30 feet. This tree has attractive branching architecture. A formal cultivar of Eastern red cedar is ‘Taylor’ which grows to 20 feet tall but only gets three to four foot wide. It too produces cones that birds enjoy.
Bad Bird Feeders – Ornamental Pear Trees
You can’t fault the birds for finding the fruit of pear trees and eating them. The problem is that a tree that was suppose to be sterile now produces so much fruit that it is on the verge of becoming a noxious plant. Do not plant another ornamental pear tree. They are becoming so prolific that they are pushing out desirable native plants.
Perennials as bird feeders
Coneflowers: These cones feed a host of birds including blue jays, cardinals, and goldfinches.
Sunflowers: Our native sunflowers are great sources of food for birds during the winter. Keep in mind that most native sunflowers can be very aggressive in the landscape. I have seen many different kinds of birds this winter working seedheads of Maximillian sunflowers outside my office window.
Rudbeckia: Even though the seeds are smaller than that of other perennials, blackeyed susans attract many different types of birds, including American goldfinch, black-capped chickadee, Northern cardinal, and white-breasted nuthatch.
Native grasses: Big bluestem, Little bluestem, switchgrass, and indiangrass are great food sources for juncos, finches, and many of our native sparrows.
With every new year comes a renewed sense of optimism about a whole host of things like fitness and health, relationships with loved ones and friends, your occupation, and maybe your garden. In the book The Earth is Enough by Harry Middleton, there is a paragraph that resonated with me, as a horticulturist and a lover of plants, about the struggles of gardening, but also the hope we have in plants. Here it is:
Emerson (one of the old men) believed in plants, though he never completely trusted them. After all, nothing could turn on a man with such cold, merciless indifference as a plant. A curious blight, a virulent plague, a sudden storm, an unyielding march of insects could sour a man’s agricultural fortunes with woeful abruptness, lance his emotions, eviscerate his always desperate accounts.
Gardeners need to be eternal optimists. We garden hoping to get something from our efforts, be it a vegetable to eat, beauty to enjoy or shade to rest in. Sometimes that happens but sometimes we fail. As we approach spring (yes, it is coming) and we start thinking about our own native plant gardens, I know that there will be holes to fill in our landscapes because of struggling or underperforming plants. We try to make perfect plant choices for our landscapes, but we are not always successful. Plants have so much to offer to us and the environment around us. Just because there are a few plants that succumb to our harsh climate or pests doesn’t mean we stop planting and believing in plants.
In particular, I believe in plants that are native to Kansas, because they:
beautify the landscape – with careful design, your garden can have flowers year round
nurture pollinators and other wildlife
provide food and shelter for birds, hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators
thrive in our local climate if properly matched to a site
are adapted to our natural cycles, responding to cool, wet winters with lush growth and slowing down during the hot, dry summers
prefer our soils or can grow in just about any soil type
do well in our native soils and do not require soil amendments or fertilizers
reduce pesticide use
typically have fewer pest problems than non-natives because they have co-evolved with native insects (unless there is a new introduced predator or pest)
minimize your carbon footprint
reduce maintenance over time in a well-designed garden
can easily be started with smaller sized plants, saving on installation costs
cool the environment
play an active role in the water cycle, adding cooling moisture to the atmosphere
harmonize with diverse garden styles
create a sense of place within our prairie state
Just Keep Planting
Some plants are going to let us down. Or maybe we let them down by trying them in an ill-suited location in the first place. Whatever the case may be, keep believing in plants. They are good for you and the environment. Try to find joy in the beauty around you even though it is not always perfect or ideal.
Each and every year, we struggle with plants here at the Arboretum just like you do. But we are rewarded by our imperfect efforts time and time again. The journey of tending a garden is not an easy, straight line. It is a winding road of highs and lows. Keep believing in plants anyway.
The start of the new year is a great time to make changes in your life and dedicate yourself to the things you value most. In 2024, I have a few simple resolutions that involve health, travel, and nature. Some of these adjustments in my life will improve my overall health and enjoyment of the world around me. Here are a few thoughts I have as we start a new year.
Over Christmas break, I read the book The Earth Is Enough: Growing Up in a World of Flyfishing, Trout & Old Men by Harry Middleton. I chose this book because it was about fly fishing, a hobby I have taken up in the past few years. However, this book didn’t dwell on fly fishing, but more on the experiences of being outside in the environment. The reader was able to connect with the sights, sounds, and feelings of being outdoors.
Too often lately, I have hurried through my times in nature and the beauty around me has been missed or taken for granted. The outdoors is a complex, diverse and beautiful place with many lessons to teach us. As you walk, be intentional about connecting with your surroundings. I am convinced I/you will be healthier and happier by just pausing for a few moments in our busy lives to look around. Being outdoors can be very healing.
Take a respite from our materialistic culture
This book made me think about the culture in which we live. We are driven to always want more stuff, which always leaves us hollow and wanting more. In The Earth is Enough, I appreciate the observations the characters made of their natural surroundings as they pondered all that truly matters in life. The eye of the trout looking at you as you release it back in the dark pool. Waiting on the return of the migrating geese marking the passage of time. These are simple but important interactions that help refocus our thoughts. These connections with nature, as well as the relationships we have with loved ones, can bring us joy and happiness.
Find your Why
Without a compelling reason or motivation to make the changes we want, resolutions fail. Why do I need to lose a few pounds? Why do I need to stop and smell the roses, so to speak? What do I need to focus on at work to be more productive? Sure, it isn’t easy to stay focused, but when I keep going back to my why, I find my motivation again. Each of our whys will be different, but what they have in common is that they help us continue moving forward with purpose.
These are just a few thoughts I have had over the past few weeks. I know these resolutions are nothing earth shattering, but they are important to me right now. A little more time outdoors away from television or my phone is not a bad thing. Self-care has never been more important.
Take care of yourself, of others and the natural world around us. Here is to a happier and healthier 2024.
Plant tags can be confusing. They give general information about the plant, but I often wonder, is this realistic for our area? Will this plant really grow to four feet tall? Or will it be beat down by our Kansas heat and wind? Can it withstand our temperature extremes? One critically important piece of information on the plant tag is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Plant Hardiness Zone Map (PHZM).
Purpose and Use
The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map was developed to show the average low winter temperature. Plants are rated according to the USDA hardiness zones, which is the minimum winter temperature they can survive. On the map, there are 13 zones with a 10-degree F difference between the zones. Each zone is further delineated with 5-degree F differences dividing the zone further into a and b (6a and 6b for example). Hesston is in zone 6b (-5 to 0 degrees F).
Kansas hardiness zones range from 5b (-15 to -10 degrees F) in the extreme northwest corner to 7a (0 – 5 degrees F) in the south and southeast. The USDA PHZM has been recently updated to show gardeners what plants are most likely to survive in their area. Type in your zip code to find your zone and use it as you choose plants for your landscape. CLICK HERE FOR THE 2023 USDA PHZM
This hardiness zone map highlights another important factor to consider regarding native plants – provenance. Plant provenance refers to the source of the plant material that was collected for propagation. The reason this matters is that some species have very broad natural ranges that cover several very different ecoregions, hardiness zones. The populations of such species have developed adaptations to their environment at a genetic level even though they are outwardly identical. Seed collected from a northern provenance is adapted to a shorter growing season, colder winter temperatures and often cooler nighttime temperatures compared to a southern provenance seed. All this to say, try to purchase native seed from sources closest to your ecoregion as possible.
Plant lovers tend to push the boundaries when it comes to hardiness. I have been told and shown plants growing in Kansas that are supposed to be hardy to zone 8. It’s possible, but they are the exception, not the rule. Often they are growing in a microclimate, which is a localized area that differs from the average climate with different growing conditions. This could be on the side of a building, red brick wall, a fence or an evergreen tree blocking the sun or wind. This could also be in a valley or on top of a hill.
The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is a valuable tool that helps gardeners and growers choose hardy plants that are most likely to thrive at a location.
Here are a few other helpful pointers from the USDA:
If your hardiness zone has changed in this edition of the USDA PHZM, it does not mean you should start removing plants from your garden or change what you are growing. What has thrived in your yard will most likely continue to thrive.
Remember this is the average coldest night—not the lowest it could go. Gardeners should keep that in mind when selecting plants, especially if they choose to “push” their hardiness zone by growing plants not rated for their zone.
Microclimates, which are fine-scale climate variations, can be small heat islands—such as those caused by blacktop and concrete—or cool spots (frost pockets) caused by small hills and valleys. No hardiness zone map can take the place of the detailed knowledge that gardeners learn about their own gardens through hands-on experience.
Many species of perennial plants gradually acquire cold hardiness in the fall when they experience shorter days and cooler temperatures. This hardiness is normally lost gradually in late winter as temperatures warm and days become longer. A bout of extremely cold weather early in the fall might injure plants even though the temperatures may not reach the average lowest temperature for your zone. Similarly, exceptionally warm weather in midwinter followed by a sharp change to seasonably cold weather may cause injury to plants as well. Such factors could not be taken into account in the USDA PHZM.
All PHZMs should serve as general guides. They are based on the average lowest temperatures, not the lowest ever. Growing plants at the extreme range of the coldest zone where they are adapted means that they could experience a year with a rare, extreme cold snap. Even if it lasts just a day or two, plants that have thrived happily for several years could be lost. Gardeners need to keep that in mind and understand that past weather records cannot provide a guaranteed forecast for future variation in weather.
Other Factors Affecting Plant Survival
Many other environmental factors, in addition to hardiness zones, contribute to the success or failure of plants. Wind, soil type, soil moisture, humidity, pollution, snow, and winter sunshine can greatly affect the survival of plants. The way plants are placed in the landscape, how they are planted, and their size and health might also influence their survival.
Light: To thrive, plants need to be planted where they will receive the proper amount of light. For example, plants that require partial shade that are at the limits of hardiness in your area might be injured by too much sun during the winter because it might cause rapid changes in the plant’s internal temperature.
Soil moisture: Plants have different requirements for soil moisture, and this might vary seasonally. Plants that might otherwise be hardy in your zone might be injured if soil moisture is too dry in late autumn and they enter dormancy while suffering moisture stress.
Temperature: Plants grow best within a range of optimal temperatures, both cold and hot. That range may be wide for some varieties and species but narrow for others.
Duration of exposure to cold: Many plants that can survive a short period of exposure to cold may not tolerate longer periods of cold weather.
Humidity: High relative humidity limits cold damage by reducing moisture loss from leaves, branches, and buds. Cold injury can be more severe if the humidity is low, especially for evergreens.
When you look at a virgin prairie (one that has never been tilled), you quickly discover a tremendous diversity of plants. Each square foot has many different species vying for sunlight, moisture, and space. Species change throughout the prairie as well from high to low, wet to dry, sun to shade, and vary even with soils. This diversity contributes significantly to the overall health and sustainability of the prairie landscape.
One of the keys to successfully creating a prairie garden is including a diversity of plants suited to your site. Time of bloom and aesthetics are often considered first, but including variety is an essential element in the process too. It’s also important to think about diversifying trees and shrubs. Let’s look at some reasons why diversifying our home landscapes to include more species is so relevant.
A Diverse Landscape is a Resilient Landscape
While each landscape is different, they all face an array of environmental pressures, such as drought, floods, pests, and diseases. A diverse landscape is more adaptable and resilient, able to endure these environmental hazards. We have all seen shelter belts and monocultures decimated by drought, pests or disease-leaving large holes in the landscape. If you think about it, single species or similar species landscapes are vulnerable to eradication in ways that diverse landscapes are not.
A Diverse Landscape Attracts Diverse Wildlife
Building season long blooms benefits wildlife. Plants coming into bloom and going out of bloom mimics the prairie ecosystem. If you watch any prairie throughout the year, there are always a new set of plants blooming every few weeks throughout the growing season. Beyond building resilience, a diversity of plants attracts a diversity of pollinators and wildlife allowing them to complete their lifecycles. This is so crucial for their survival. Patchwork prairies can serve as harbors, offering food and shelter to a broad range of wildlife.
A Diverse Landscape is Visually Interesting
As I said earlier, often our first consideration when choosing plants is aesthetics or ornamental characteristics. I don’t want to downplay this step in the process, but I do want to encourage you to try many different types of plant species. By varying plant species, you provide visual interest, which adds character to your landscape. Some of the most inviting spaces have diverse colors, shapes, blooms, textures, layers, and heights of plants.
A Diverse Landscape is a Dynamic Plant Community
A diverse plant palette suited for your site can look formal, but it generally requires more effort on our part to keep it looking kempt. However, an informal planting can be just as attractive. It depends on your maintenance style and preference. No matter how you want your landscape to look over time, we must prioritize the careful selection and planting of diverse prairie species.
It can’t be overstated – diversifying landscapes in the urban setting is so important. Diversity in the plants you include in your landscape attracts diversity to your landscape. This thoughtful approach to design not only enhances the beauty of our gardens but also strengthens their resilience in the face of environmental challenges. It also promotes sustainability, conservation of natural resources, and enriches our experiences with nature.
Fall is the best time of year to admire the beautiful regalia of native grasses. During the spring and summer, these grasses blend into their surroundings. As autumn deepens, the wonderful fall color and attractive seed heads of these grasses are on full display.
One of the most talked about grasses this fall has to be pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris). A few years ago on the sidewalk in the northwest corner of the Arboretum, we established a couple groupings of these plants. This year, these swaths are topped with vibrant pink blooms.
Pink muhly grass is not only a beautiful ornamental grass, but it is also low-maintenance. We have not done much to keep these grasses going this growing season. It gives you the best of both worlds, a showy plant that doesn’t require much time and attention.
These plants establish relatively quickly, either planted in the spring or in the fall. If you are planting in the fall, plan ahead by getting them in the ground at least a month before the expected initial frost. They are a warm season grass that needs soil at least 60 degrees to continue rooting.
In the spring and summer, the rounded, slender, long shoots of grass are dark green in color. As fall approaches, the plant produces soft, fuzzy flowers in pink or pinkish-red hues, with an appearance resembling cotton candy. As winter grows near, the flowers lose their color, but the dried plumes are still attractive.
Muhlenbergia capillaris grows well in sandy or rocky woods and clearings with good drainage. It is native to Kansas and states south and east. We grow the straight species, but the cultivar ‘Regal Mist’ is another popular variety. Other beautiful cultivars include ‘Pink Flamingo’ and ‘White Cloud’. Planting in large drifts is breathtaking.
While not as well-known as some of the other native grasses, it should be used more in landscapes because of its tolerance to poor soil and dry conditions. It needs good drainage especially during the winter, but is quite adaptable once fully established. As the clumps develop excessive thatch after three or four years, division may be helpful. Perfect for slopes; great in a container; beautiful when tucked into cut-flower arrangements.
For next spring, put this grass on your bucket list. You will not be disappointed. The soft watercolor effect will stop you in your tracks.
This time of year a person interested in plants can get very tired and rundown. I certainly have been dragging. The relentless heat and drought has many plants stressed and prematurely going dormant. We have been watering as we can but we can’t water everything. As we wait for rain and hope that our little plants can hang on, there is still beauty happening all around us.
I was reminded of this last week as we hosted several groups of fifth graders. We stopped at some fall blooming asters including purple New England asters that were teaming with hundreds of different pollinators. Monarchs were passing through too and they added to the excitement at what they were experiencing from this landscape. These pollinators were eager to find nectar in this created habitat. It reminded me anew why landscaping with native plants is so important. These children were amazed at what they saw. Their awe and wonder at the diversity of pollinators really impacted me. Sometimes we need to see things from the eyes of children.
We like the aesthetics these landscapes provide for our homes, and businesses, but these patchwork habitats are needed and sought out by many different pollinators. Here are some eye candy for you to enjoy.
Our landscapes can be frustrating and troublesome at times. These landscape can also be therapeutic and healing. Maybe you need to step back like I did this past week and take in the simple beauty all around us. Even though you may be suffering from landscape maintenance fatigue, you are doing something vitally important both for you and the wildlife that is attracted to you prairie garden. Don’t lose heart.
During the doldrums of late summer, light blue flower spikes thrusting skyward along Kansas roadsides and prairies provide welcome contrast to the yellows of the state’s many sunflowers. Pitcher sage, also known as blue sage or pitcher plant, is a delicate looking prairie native with ironclad constitution.
Pitcher sage is a somewhat common plant in the rocky areas of the tall and mixed grass prairies. This plant is an erect, hairy perennial ranging in height from one and a half to four feet with short, thick rhizomes (horizontal underground stems). Very adaptable to garden situations, it prefers drier soil in full sun. In sandy sites it has been known to self-seed, but this is seldom a problem in clay loams. The crowns can slowly broaden from rhizomes as the plant matures.
Pitcher sage blooms from late July to early October, although peak bloom is early September in most years. It is blooming right now in our Prairie Window Project in the south part of the Arboretum. The light blue flower color is common in prairies around south central Kansas. There is a cultivated variety, Salvia azurea “Grandiflora,” that displays an intense deep blue flower. Once established, it requires water only during extended dry periods.
Besides the unique light blue coloration, the flowers possess an unusual mechanism to ensure cross-pollination. The corolla is lobed with a narrow concave lip covering the style (female) and the anthers (male) which mature at different times in the same flower. The lower lip is broad and protruding, providing a landing pad for visiting honey bees, bumble bees and other pollinators. The bee grasps the platform, thrusts its head down into the throat of the flower and pushes its sucking mouth parts into the nectar glands. By this action, the bee is simultaneously pushing down on the structure at the base of the stamens. This causes them to descend from the upper lip spreading pollen on the bee’s back. As the bee visits other flowers, it spreads pollen to receptive styles.
The Arboretum grows pitcher sage for its late summer color and the bee activity it provides. The plant is a bee magnet in full bloom. It is always entertaining to watch lumbering, black and yellow bumble bees wrestle their way into the flowers in search of nectar while unwittingly carrying the promise of another seed crop on their striped backs.
One of the more common landscaping conundrums is deciding what to plant on steep slopes or hillsides. These areas require plants that can establish quickly, have fibrous root systems, that hold soil to control erosion, are tolerant of fluctuating soil moisture and potentially poor nutrient availability, and require little care once established.
Slopes and hillsides are already challenging because of sun exposure, and the degree of the slope only exacerbates the problem. Establishing plants from seed is the most economical choice, but is also the most subject to erosion for the first 3 to 5 years until plants get established. Often, turf grass such as fescue, buffalograss, or bermuda grass is the first groundcover choice for keeping soil in place, but mowing these sloped areas can be a challenge, maybe even dangerous. Turf does not create much habitat for wildlife and pollinators either.
There are many plants that will establish cover more quickly than seed. These native plants offer a lower maintenance alternative to a mowed lawn. The following list is just a start. Remember to plant more densely (1-2 feet apart) so the area gets completely covered with plants quickly.
The following grasses, with their extensive fibrous root systems are ideal plants to stabilize a steep area and prevent soil erosion.
Andropogon geradii (Big Bluestem)
Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama)
Chasmanthium latifolium (River oats)-Can grow in sun or shade but is aggressive. It will spread by seed and rhizomes to crowd out most other plants.
Elymus canadensis (Canada wildrye)
Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass)
Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem)
Sporobolus heterolepis (prairie dropseed)
Achillea millifolium Yarrow
Allium cernuum Nodding onion
Amsonia sp. Blue star
Aquilegia canadensis Columbine
Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly weed
Baptisia australis False blue indigo
Dalea purpurea Purple Prairie Clover
Echinacea purpurea Purple coneflower
Eutrochium (Eupatorium) maculatus Joe-pye weed
Filipendula rubra Queen-of-the-prairie
Liatris pycnostachya Prairie blazing star
Liatris spicata Dense blazing star
Rudbeckia sp. Black-eyed Susan
Penstemon digitalis Penstemon
Symphyotrichum oblongifolium Aromatic aster
Solidago sp. goldenrod
Tradescantia ohiensis Spiderwort
Veronicastrum virginicum Culver’s root
Trees and Shrubs
Amelanchier canadensis Serviceberry
Cercis canadensis Redbud
Coruns sp. Dogwood
Crataegus viridis Hawthorn
Heptacodium miconioides Seven Son Flower
Ilex verticillata Winterberry holly
Lonicera reticulata Grape honeysuckle
Prunus Americana Wild Plum
Prunus sp. Sand cherry
Prunus virginiana Chokecherry
Rhus aromatica Fragrant sumac
Sambucus canadensis Elderberry
Viburnum prunifolium Blackhaw Viburnum
If the erosion is already very serious, you might want to consider using erosion-control blankets to stabilize the erosion area until the plants can take over the job. The erosion-control fabric works by slowing the runoff water and allowing sediments to fall out rather than be washed away. Choose a mat that will decompose over time, e.g. straw or jute, rather than something made of plastic. Start by slicing a small opening in the mat so plants can be put into the soil beneath. I recommend hand watering during establishment as much as possible since sprinkler irrigation can increase soil erosion.
For more gentle slopes, heavy mulch or pea gravel can be used to control erosion during establishment. Each slope situation is unique, but if you can, the best strategy for stabilizing a slope with plants is to establish vegetation at multiple levels—plant trees, shrubs, grasses and wildflowers. A multi-level canopy will do the best job of intercepting and slowing precipitation before it hits the ground, reducing surface erosion. Different vegetation types also provide both deep and spreading roots that stabilize the entire soil profile. Generally, it takes 2-4 years to get these plants fully established and roots anchored into the slope.