Wild Ones   Wild Ones Archive 2002, Jul 16:  
  Ques#10: Steep Ditches  

Wild Ones 2002 Archive

    QUESTION #10: Plants for steep ditches

    As a senior citizen, I am finding it difficult to mow 250 feet of two VERY
    steep ditches paralleling my road. They are so steep, the lawnmower sometimes
    cannot be pushed and falls over. I have recently allowed the area to go to
    weed and neighbors are complaining...(note: there are no young people in my
    area willing to work for pay).

    I thought of terracing the area, but I haven't checked with the county...which
    I think has jurisdiction over that. I would like to plant something that would
    be able to take conditions...salts from the road graders, dry summer environment.
    Is there a grass that only grows 6-8 inches or so, or a grass that lays somewhat
    flat, or some attractive, sturdy flowering plant, vine that could be contained
    with minimal effort?

    – Maria of Grand Blanc, MI



    I empathize with your dilemma. I know that at the Steelcase design building here
    in Grand Rapids they used Buffalo Grass instead of regular grass for the entire
    lawn. It doesn't grow very tall and needs little care once established. It's main
    disadvantage as far as I know is that it is hard to find anyone to put it in for
    you (regular landscapers have never heard of it), and it turns brown during dry
    conditions. It doesn't die during these periods, it just lies dormant until it is
    wet again. I don't think it would matter in your situation. One question I would
    want to ask before I started anything on the ditches is who truly owns them and
    what regulations say about what can or cannot be maintained in there. If you
    wanted t grow taller, there are some very attractive plants you could choose from
    (if allowed). One thing that helps with the neighbor complaints is to try and
    make it as garden-like as possible by using borders of some sort and other
    decorative garden-type ornaments, like perhaps a butterfly house and a Wild Ones
    sign. I hope you get other useful responses and good luck!!

    -- Linda of Grand Rapids, MI


    Your problem is one often encountered by Louisville gardeners with yards that
    have steep slopes that are really too dangerous to mow. Many have solved the
    problem by planting ground cover instead of grass. I have seen vines, pussytoes,
    wild ginger, foam flower and creeping thyme used successfully, depending on whether
    they were in sun or shade. You have to kill the grass first, but it has worked very
    well, with little maintenance. Perhaps there is a landscaper who will do this for
    you. At the Air Pollution Control District, where I work, we have a website with
    pictures of yards that use alternatives (not all native, but neither are most cool
    season grasses) to traditional grass to reduce the air pollution from gasoline mowers
    (which is considerable!), and some of these homes might give you ideas. Take a look
    at the website, www.apcd.org/lawncare, especially zip code 40204, and you will find
    a few.

    -- Phyllis from Louisville, KY


    This does indeed sound as if it is a county storm water drainage area. As such it
    probably falls under the jurisdiction of your County. Suggest you check with the
    appropriate office (Could be highway commissioner or public works director or drain
    commissioner, etc) to find out what you can or cannot do.

    If your neighbors are complaining about your lack of care of the area, ask the one
    who is complaining the loudest if they will take care of it for you.

    -- Jewel of Saginaw, MI


    Prairie Nursery in Westfield, Wisconsin has a "no mow" grass seed that will only
    reach about 10" in height with no mowing. You would, however, want to kill
    verything that is there (i.e. the weeds) before you plant this so that the existing
    weeds don't choke out the new grass.

    -- Marlene of Woodstock, IL

    I believe that the answer for you is the same as it was for me – No Mow grass
    from Prairie Nursery. You can get their catalog at: www.prairienursery.com.

    – Bill of Oshkosh, WI


    If you are a senior citizen, your complaining neighbors should be mowing the
    slope. If they are complaining to a village authority, there might

    be an organization that helps seniors with this type of work.

    -- Gail in Downers Grove, IL

    We had good luck planting Eco-Turf® low maintenance grass mix on our bank. This
    mix has seven fine textured fescues that provide a low growing turf which can
    establish in deep shade, full sun and even the most neglected areas. It has only
    grown about five or six inches high this year. We bought our seed from Michigan
    Wildflower Farm in Portland, MI. They have a free catalog which you can get by
    calling 517-647-6010 or e-mail: wildflowers@voyager.net. Their website is Good luck.

    -- Marji of Hastings, Michigan


    My neighbors here and in the past used Crown Vetch. Please don't use it if it can
    spread into other areas. Too aggressive. I like the low growing sumac-may be
    called Fragrant Sumac. It is pretty, grows thick, reroots and spreads I think.
    (Haven't used it yet but I'm considering it on the road strip by my house.) A
    landscape architect also suggested a dwarf form of Forsythia that rooted itself.
    The problem I have had with vines like Vinca is they usually don't get thick
    enough quick enough for me to crowd out the weeds or Creeping Jenny so you have
    impossible weeding with which to contend. Good Luck. Note from WO Hostess:
    Crown Vetch and Vinca are not native and can be invasive in some areas.
    Forsythia, I believe, is not a native as well.

    -- Hayes from Rockford, IL
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