Ground cover and grass fight soil erosion on slopes

At this time of year, lawn problems seem to be top of mind with most garden enthusiasts. However, some problems can take on a more "personal" aspect, as you might guess from this first question:
QUESTION: "My husband and I are having a disagreement over planting on a sloping bank and retaining wall. He insists that it must have grass to prevent soil erosion (which obviously would have to be trimmed all the time). Please tell me if plantings hold the soil and if some particular groundcover or mulch should be used." - Kay Ralph
ANSWER: Grass is always a good protection against soil erosion, as are other types of groundcover. However, what you actually plant can depend on a number of factors including the degree of slope, the soil type, whether the area is shaded or in partial or full sun and the plant hardiness zone you are in. All groundcover will hold soil to a great degree once established. If you contact me again, letting me know your USDA zone and some indication of the other variables, I can recommend some specific ground covers.
For anyone who is unsure of the USDA zone in which you live, simply drop me an e-mail with your zip code and I'll respond with your zone. You can also go to my Web site www.landsteward.org and type USDA into the search window to see a full color plant hardiness map.
QUESTION: "I was hoping you could help me with two problems I have. First, I have some hostas in a row behind my patio in my back yard. I'm not sure what kind they are; the leaves are darker on the inside and lighter around the outside. Anyway, every year something eats a lot of holes in the leaves and they look terrible. Now I'm trying to grow bean plants in the same area and the same thing is happening to the leaves on those plants. Do you have any idea what is behind that and how to get rid of whatever is causing it?
"My other problem is that I have a lot of bare spots in my yard with no grass. I do have a lot of trees in my yard and have been told that, because I have so many trees, grass will not grow in certain areas of the yard. Is this true? I like having a lot of trees in my yard and don't want to cut them down if I don't have to. I have tried many different kinds of grass seed, shady, high-traffic and others. They seem to grow good at first then always die off. Is there any way to have a lot of trees and a yard of nice grass too? I hate the way the yard looks and really could use some help!" - Bill Freeman
ANSWER: The first problem sounds like snails. You can get rid of them using a product called Sluggo The active ingredient in Sluggo is iron phosphate so it is an organic compound that breaks down into fertilizer in your yard. There's another product called Slug It! Concentrate. I use this myself in our garden with great results for hostas. If you need some shopping information for either product, send me an e-mail at snipped-for-privacy@landsteward.org
As for the grass, a lot will depend on the soil and the types of grasses. Growing a decent lawn under shade trees is never easy! Of course, it is important to keep the lawn clear of fallen leaves and other debris. Here is a link to a site that I use on lawn questions. http://www.lawncare.com / There are numerous helpful articles there, including one titled "How to seed bare spots and thin areas."
The Plant Man is here to help. Send questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to snipped-for-privacy@landsteward.org. For resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free weekly e-mailed newsletter, go to www.landsteward.org
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