University of Maryland Extension

Native Plants for Shady Slopes

Protecting a shady slope is different than protecting a sunny slope. The tree canopy intercepts raindrops, and that's a big head start on preventing erosion. Leaves shed by trees accumulate on the forest floor and intercept any raindrops that make it through the canopy. Tree roots stretch out in all directions, holding soil in place. In the forest, even soil that seems devoid of vegetation is likely to be full of tree roots. As a result, in the woods, you don't need to cover every square inch of ground to prevent erosion. In fact, too much digging around in the tree roots will hurt the trees, and that would be counterproductive. To minimize damage to tree roots, sow seeds or plant the smallest potted plants available (usually plugs or quarts) rather than planting larger specimens. Here are our favorite native plants for vegetating a shady slope:

orange columbine flowers

Wild Columbine
Aquilegia canadensis

Slope Attributes: deer resistant

Soil Requirements: mesic to dry soil with good calcium availability

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bottlebrush grass seedheads

Eastern Bottlebrush Grass
Elymus hystrix

Slope Attributes: deer resistant, quick germination, winter presence

Soil Requirements: moist to dry soil with good calcium availability

blooming wood aster

White Wood Aster
Eurybia divaricata

Slope Attributes: spreading by rhizomes

Soil Requirements: mesic to dry

yellow woodland sunflowers

Woodland Sunflower
Helianthus divaricatus

Slope Attributes: spreads by rhizomes, deer resistant, winter presence

Soil Requirements: mesic to dry, not acidic

Note: for the Piedmont and Mountain ecoregions

blooming native hydrangea

Wild Hydrangea
Hydrangea arborescens

Slope Attributes: This shrub naturally grows on steep slopes and cliffs.

Soil Requirements: Requires good calcium availability.

yellow golden groundsel flowers

Golden Groundsel
Packera aurea

Slope Attributes: spreading, winter presence

Soil Requirements: wet or moist soil like that found at the bottom of many slopes

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native Christmas fern

Christmas Fern
Polystichum acrostichoides

Slope Attributes: deer resistant, winter presence

Soil Requirements: moist if well-drained, to dry

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Wreath Goldenrod
Solidago caesia

Slope Attributes: deer resistant

Soil Requirements: mesic to dry


Black Haw
Viburnum prunifolium

Slope Attributes: more deer resistant than most other shrubs, winter presence

Soil Requirements: wet to dry


You may also want to check out our list for sunny slopes.

Your local native plant vendor can recommend even more great native plants to help you with your slope planting project! They will want to know the specifics of your site, such as soil texture, pH, and moisture. If you live in Maryland's mountain counties, your vendor will also need to know your slope's aspect and soil depth.

You can get more information about preventing soil erosion from your local Soil & Water Conservation District.

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