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I have a small creek that runs through my yard. The creek is more or less storm water control and run-off water from the area, so the water level varies greatly, going from completely dry to fast rushing "river" depending on the weather conditions.

At the current time, the creek bank, which borders my lawn, is mostly weed covered and is rather ratty looking. I would like to being some planting there to help hold the soil when it does flood and to improve the visual appeal of the area. I am looking for some flowers, tall (decorative) grasses, and shrubs for this area.

Here are the highlights:

  • Soil is generally very moist, even when the creek is dry, but is well drained
  • Soil tends to have a lot of clay
  • (Wild?) Daylilies do extremely well on the far side of the bank and I will likely plant some on the near side as well.
  • The area varies from full shade to 6-8 hours of sun in summer
  • The plants need to be able to handle being submerged in a foot or more of fast moving water 1 or 2 times a summer.
  • I am in Southeast Pennsylvania, the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone is 6b.
  • I would prefer not to block the view too much, so I would have a preference for shorter plants (1-2 feet in height), but a few taller plants or trees would be welcome.
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What a lucky person to have an intermittent creek as part of their landscape. Are there restrictions, buffer zones attached to this creek...even though it is on your property I am pretty sure it's regulated with riparian restrictions. First thing you do is look in your mortgage documents for legal stuff, call your city, county for their input...then find out what is happening upstream. Are there golf courses upstream, Monsanto, dumps...does it flow through other yards? Do those residents understand and abide the rules?

I'd assume the water flowing through your yard is unsafe to drink for sure, I'd probably have the water tested. On the positive side there might be incentives available to you as well as money, grants and riparian professionals to help you, money to have rip-rapping (erosion control with rock), plant costs and even plants provided.

Since you have a dry creek bed part of the time, I'd definitely be thinking about boulders, river rock. When it is dry, are you able to irrigate your plants while they get established? I don't know Pennsylvania at all, I am familiar with the Pacific Northwest. Your zone is...similar. My recommendations are: Salix purpurea 'nana' (my all time favorite skeleton...plants that tie your entire landscape together cohesively... shrub and you'd need to shear it 2x a year to look similar to an umbrella/funnel? Shear the top flat, then round it towards the ground so that the edge is wider than the top...like an umbrella. Still, very naturalistic looking but if you don't shear the shrub, even though it has a 'nana' tag can grow 20X20 and look rangy. Blue gray tiny foliage and cinnamon stems that move in the wind. Stems are thin, easy to prune and they 'glow' cinnamon in the winter); Carex elata 'Bowles Golden' will grow in or out of water; a perennial that might work well is Ligularia dentata 'Othello' and Ligularia stenocephala 'The Rocket'...both would add great texture, color, height...you'll have to make sure they stay watered. Only the sedge I would plant in the water...does fine when creek is dry but you will have to water. Ligularia and the Blue Arctic Willow...keep to the margins of the creek, not in it. Keep the number of TYPES of plants to a maximum of 4-5. Powerful views need framing! Consider using a grove-type tree such as Amelanchier alnifolia, Serviceberry, with multiple stems and plant 3 or 5 or more. It is a small tree, 4 season beautiful, few pests, but not to be used IN the creek. Or consider one or three of Salix mansudana tortuosa 'Scarlet Curls'...prune to thin and aerate for light shade, can handle water and poor soils.

Send a picture and let me know what you find out about the legal stuff on your creek! Lucky, lucky you!

  • To the best of my knowledge there are zero restrictions on there area I am looking to improve. There is virtually nothing upstream that would be impacted by some landscaping. I'm looking to work on the bank area mostly and leave the creek bed alone. The creek bed is pretty much rock covered so it handles the dry periods fairly well. Thanks for the input, I'll look into some of the plants you recommend and let you know if I have any questions. – psubsee2003 May 17 '14 at 22:32

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