University of Maryland Extension

Native Plants for Sunny Slopes

Historically, alien plant species with the following attributes were used for the purpose of slope stabilization:

  • aggressive, spreading behavior
  • deer resistance
  • quick germination and growth
  • winter presence

Many of these species are now regarded as invasive plants. A more modern and ecologically sound approach is to use native plants that have some of these attributes.

Sunny sites are brutal during hot, dry summer weather. Dryness is amplified by the quick drainage found on steep slopes. Any rain that falls doesn't stay for long. Some native plants perform well in these environments. Here are our favorite plants for sunny slopes:

broomsedge seedheads

Andropogon virginicus

Slope attributes: deer resistant, winter presence

Soil Requirements: moist to dry, poor soils

blooming milkweed

Common Milkweed
Asclepias syriaca

Slope Attributes: spreads aggressively by rope-like rhizomes, deer resistant

Soil Requirements: mesic

blooming butterfly milkweed

Butterfly Milkweed
Asclepias tuberosa

Slope Attributes: deer resistant

Soil Requirements: thrives on slopes because they provide the excellent drainage this species requires; slow growing but deep tap root may provide long-term slope stabilization value

More Information

blooming partridge pea

Partridge Pea
Chamaecrista fasciculata

Slope Attributes: rapid germination

Soil Requirements: mesic to dry

purple mistflowers

Conoclinium coelestinum

Slope Attributes: aggressive, spreads by rhizomes

Soil Requirements: good for moist ground often found at the base of a slope

southeastern wildrye seedhead

Southeastern Wildrye
Elymus virginicus

Slope Attributes: aggressive, deer resistant, quick germination, basal evergreen blades provide winter presence 

Soil Requirements: moist to dry

Note: Only native to the Coastal Plain ecoregion

Virginia wildrye seedheads

Virginia Wildrye
Elymus virginicus

Slope Attributes: deer resistant, quick germination, basal evergreen blades provide winter presence

Soil Requirements: moist to dry

Notes: native throughout the state but more abundant west of the Coastal Plain

blue red cedar berries

Red Cedar
Juniperus virginicus

Slope Attributes: small tree is among first species to colonize abandoned fields, fast growing, evergreen

Soil Requirements: mesic to dry

yellow prickly pear flowers

Prickly Pear
Opuntia humifusa

Slope Attributes: deer resistant, spreading groundcover, winter presence

Soil Requirements: only for extremely dry well-drained sites such as sand or rock outcrops

flowering hairy beardtongue

Hairy Beardtongue
Penstemon hirsutus

Slope Attributes: thrives in hot, rocky soils

Soil Requirements: dry, moderate to excellent drainage 

Notes: Grows on rock outcrops in Piedmont and Mountain ecoregions. Not recommended for the Coastal Plain.

clustered mountainmint foliage

Clustered Mountainmint
Pycnanthemum muticum

Slope Attributes: very aggressive, very deer resistant, winter presence

Soil Requirements: moist to dry

blooming black eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan
Rudbeckia hirta

Slope Attributes: quick germination, winter presence

Soil Requirements: moderate to dry

More Information

winged sumac flowers

Winged Sumac
Rhus copallinum

Slope Attributes: aggressive, deer resistant, winter presence

Soil Requirements: mesic to dry

pasture rose flowers

Pasture Rose
Rosa carolina

Slope Attributes: spreading, deer resistant

Soil Requirements: mesic to dry sandy or rocky soils, also known as rock rose because it does well in shallow soil over rock outcrops

yellow grey goldenrod flowers

Gray Goldenrod
Solidago nemoralis

Slope Attributes: deer resistant, quick germination, winter presence

Soil Requirements: poor, dry soil

wrinkled leave goldenrod

Wrinkle-leaved Goldenrod
Solidago rugosa

Slope Attributes: deer resistant, quick germination 

Soil Requirements: for moister or richer soils that can often be found at the bottom of a slope

native germander

American Germander
Teucrium canadense

Slope Attributes: aggressive, spreading, deer resistant

Soil Requirements: moist to mesic

purpletop seedheads

Tridens flavus

Slope Attributes: deer resistant

Soil Requirements: moist to dry, tolerant of roadside conditions including compaction and road salt

Slopes and Deer - Steep slopes present an opportunity to use native plants that are vulnerable to deer. Deer are browsing and grazing many of our native plant species into oblivion, but they cannot risk a twisted or broken ankle, so they avoid slopes. You can see the result in natural areas, where vulnerable species like azaleas and mountain laurels are no longer found except on slopes.


If all or part your slope is shady, you may also want to check out our list for shady 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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