Planting Between Creek and Fences

Has anyone planted anything unusual between the fence and the creek? Our creek is about 10 feet lower than our pastures. The land between the fence and the creek dropoff runs between 2’ and 10’. Mowing is a pain. As the horses aren’t on it, the soil isn’t compressed and the grass grows like crazy. I wish it grew like that in the pastures. I was thinking about doing some native planting, but haven’t decided what. Definitely want something really low maintenance both when it comes to watering and mowing. Right now mowing is pretty time consuming. I’m outside Atlanta, if that helps.
Any thoughts? Thanks in advance!

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Blueberries come to mind, but then I plant one of those wherever it will fit!

Here’s some information from UGA https://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.html?number=B987

Of course, double check if anything is poisonous if it’s within reach of the horses.

For a sustainable stream bank environment, plant native trees and shrubs. Over time, grass alone will not keep stream banks intact during flooding. Stream banks have moist, well-drained soils that fit the habitat needs of several native species, including rhododendron, mountain laurel, stewartia and oakleaf hydrangea. Trees such as tulip poplar, black walnut and southern sugar maple also require moist, well-drained soils for best growth and are excellent choices for stream bank planting.

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Sun or shade?

I’m following as I have a similar need. I’d like a low, ground cover type thing. Everything g I’ve found has been poisonous to horses.

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I will say tulip poplars grow really fast and give good shade. I would not do black walnut. If the area was outside the fence I would suggest native azaleas. I have one volunteer outside of my fence along a creek and it was spectacular this spring. It is growing better than the azaleas I have planted.

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If you’re looking for a screening plant, some sort of willow might be a good fit. We planted austree willows at our last place, and it was amazing how quickly they became a good windbreak.

@SusanO azaleas are toxic if ingested, I avoid for that reason. Even if away from the barn & horses, I worry about my dogs and barn cat. I had a house cat just mow through a little azalea houseplant once, and that was an expensive visit to the ER vet!

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You’re describing what sounds like a riparian area. Planting a riparian zone with native plants is a great thing to do, both environmentally and ease of care. And it’s pretty once established! Earnst Seeds is a great company to work with, they have pre-mixes or you can customize your mix. They’re very helpful too, can give advice based on your area, height preference, etc. I’ve looked at Prairie Nursery also, they also have pre-mixed seed. Haven’t worked with them though. It can be a good two or three years work to establish a wildflower area but once you do, you just let it go.

https://www.prairienursery.com

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I don’t have any azaleas where horses can get to them. I have a creek that bisects the property down at the bottom of the hill. I placed my fencing so there is a buffer zone between the fence and the creek and the horses have no access to my “native zone” because I didn’t want them in the creek or eroding the banks. This native azalea is on the other side of the creek which is the “wild animal” part of my property. Now if I can get the damn raccoons to move back there. I guess you could call it a riparian zone. It is wooded so I haven’t planted anything there - just left the wild plants.

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Ask your extension agent. There are probably specific nurseries or seed suppliers certified by your state. That’s the best way to go. If you throw some native plants seeds and let it go awhile, you may even get fireflies. They need tall plants or grasses to perch on during the day. Mowing kills them. Also, don’t tidy up fallen trunks or logs near the stream. Those make great habitat. Fireflies lay eggs in rotting wood.

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I don’t have to “plant” the willow, it just “happens” all on it’s own!!! It’s great, it protects the creek sides from erosion at high stream flow in the spring, and creates a border for the pastures that keeps horses away from/out of the creek.

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I second talking to your extension agent. It would be ideal to plant natives that will help hold onto the soil, stabilize the bank. choke out the grass (so you aren’t tempted to mow it and maintain it) so that inasmuch as possible, it becomes self sustaining. Or contact a local nursery with skill in native plantings, some are just distributors for bonnie plants, which is fine of course- while others can really set you on a good path for planting good citizens.

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I would vote for willow. It is commonly used for bank stabilization, non toxic for horses (though some types are very tasty!), fast growing, and if you need to you can mow it down periodically and it will come back up. The latter is a useful trait if you ever have to do something to that area.
My go to reference for willow is https://vermontwillownursery.com/ I’ve gotten about a hundred cuttings from them. There are hundreds of species of willow, some are better than others for stream bank stabilization. I coppice my willows by hand each year. It takes me maybe an afternoon. My three year old coppices of ‘x purpurea’ are now sending up 10 ft tall whips and are almost impenetrable.

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Please check your stream for Chinese tallow trees (popcorn trees). They’re a very aggressive invasive that grows in low lying areas. Also, make sure there isn’t any bamboo. That can take over and choke out any natives. Willow may not be native to your area. Check with the extension agent.

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Several willow species are native: eriocephala (Missouri), humilis (prairie), and florida are the big three, the first two are commonly available. Frankly, I suspect several other willows are also native to Georgia, it is just identifying willows is a nightmare.
In any case, always a good starting point on the native/not native (though I disagree vehemently with some of their classifications!) is the USDA Plants database. An awesome resource. https://plants.usda.gov/home

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Almost all the banks are in full sun. I have a few weeping willows that have chosen spots and I’ll add some more. I’m not especially fond of privet and sweet gum trees, so I try to remove those, unless needed to keep the bank intact.

AwiUsdi, That is awesome information. I have a tiny, tiny backyard and will start turning it into a bee/butterfly lawn next spring. I’m pretty excited. I want something pretty low, so we can easily see the horses. I’ll use those websites. Thanks!

I spoke with the Co-Op Extension Office sometime ago and the County Erosion Officer visited the farm and told me about the willows. When we moved in, everything was overgrown and now I’m trying to plant native.

Here are a couple sites I have that might be useful. It doesn’t look like the Audubon one will go through, but it can lead you in the right direction. Thanks for all the help.

Why Native Plants Are Better for Birds and People | Audubon

https://www.wildflower.org/plants/

SusanO, That sounds awesome! Our creek bisects the property, pretty much in half. I brought a Rose of Sharon from my old house and planted it halfway down to the creek. It’s beautiful now – and out of reach of the horses.

Besides the willows, I think it’s just going to take some time. I’ll check those sites and choose something to start. Many Thanks!!!

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