Preventing soil erosion in your yard, garden, or pasture is essential if you have a farm or homestead. Not only does limiting erosion improve and increase the amount of workable land that you have, it makes your property look a lot nicer, too.
When we first purchased our property, we had a huge problem with erosion. Every time it rained, our heavy clay soil would either remain heavy with water or, because it was so dry and had formed a hardpan mass, would allow the water to drain right off.
After a few years of hard, dedicated work, that is fortunately no longer the case. However, now that we’ve introduced livestock some of whom (ahem, pigs!) like to root and tear up any available space they can get, we do have to be a bit cognizant of the fact that erosion can happen again.
There are several steps you can take toward preventing soil erosion. Here are some tips…
What is Soil Erosion?
Ask any soil scientist, and they’ll probably all tell you the same thing – erosion is some complicated stuff. However, at its most basic level, soil erosion is simply the loss of soil. This can be due to water, wind, or other natural elements, or due to human activity.
Unfortunately, as soil erodes, it loses nutrients, clogs waterways with soil, and eventually turns a plot of land into a nutrient-deficient desert. Erosion can happen naturally, but as you might expect, human activity can make it much worse.
When evaluating your land from erosion, know that there are several characteristics that make it much more likely. For example, property on an incline is more likely to be eroded. If your slope is less than 33%, erosion is far less likely to be an issue.
You’ll also want to evaluate the makeup of the soil. Is the topsoil thin, resting mostly on rock? Or is it deep? Sandy soils are much more likely to experience erosion than heavier ones – although, as you can see from my situation, it can still happen.
Sun, shade, and water availability can all impact the likelihood of soil erosion, too. A sunnier property is less likely to have problems with erosion, merely because it is easier to grow plants in this kind of setting.
1. Plant More Greenery
Bare soil is easily swept away by water and wind, so it only makes sense that planting a few plants (whose roots can hold the soil in and leaves can help block rain) can help prevent erosion to begin with.
There are several options you have when it comes to planting your property to prevent erosion. Some of the best are ornamental grasses, turf grasses, and low shrubs that sprawl and cover the ground entirely.
If erosion is a problem during the winter months, leading into the spring (as it is on our property – everything washes away come the spring thaw!) you can grow a winter cover crop, like winter rye, to hold in root structure.
Whatever the case may be, try to establish a plant cover as soon as you can. This can help limit erosion. This method works wonders if you are growing on a flat piece of land. If you’re trying to prevent erosion on a slope, you might have a harder time.
On a slope, you might want to plant trees. The roots of trees are invaluable when it comes to preventing erosion – they will put down thick, strong roots that can stop soil from sliding downhill.
You may need to use some of the other methods I’ve outlined below while your trees are first setting their roots, though, as they’ll be more fragile at this time.
Adding mulch or even some rocks can help weigh down the soil, preventing young plants and seeds from being washed away.
This is especially useful if you are planting a slope, where it might seem like an uphill battle (pun intended!) to get your plants to set good roots. Bark chips, grass clippings, and other organic mulches work best.
Another option? Try mulch matting. This will hold vegetation on slopes as long as you lay the mat over your young plants and seeds. On a steep slope, you should start by digging a narrow trench at the top of the hill. Lay the top of your main trench, fill with soil, then fold it over the top.
Water should run over the very top of the mat and the mat will slow it down – rather than traveling beneath it.
You might also use erosion control mats or fiber mulch mats – these are layers of mulch held together in fiber mesh. It can hold mulch together where normal mulch would ordinarily be blown away.
3. Please Stop Tilling!
One of the changes we made on our farm that had the biggest impact was when we stopped tilling. Tilling, especially when you do it frequently or deeply, makes your soil more compact. The compact soil is then covered with a layer of loose soil that wind and water can easily wash away.
Instead of tilling, use no-till methods to clear your garden, like sheet composting (also known as lasagna gardening), using a broadfork, or planting a cover crop.
4. Improve Drainage
This was another tip that saved us when we first purchased our property. Because our house was built on a slight slope, we had a severe problem with erosion at first.
You can add extra pipes or gutters to drain water away from your house. This can prevent topsoil from being washed away. If you experience a lot of water runoff, you might want to install perforated drainage pipes underground.
5. Try Fiber Logs
This is another good method if you’re gardening on a steep slope. Fiber logs are rolled-up logs made out of fibrous materials, such as straw.
The logs will slow the flow of water down the slope and will gather the mud where it stops there, rather than carrying it downhill. You can keep them in place with sturdy stakes. In some cases, you may be able to plant your seeds right into these fiber logs, too!
6. Build Some Retaining Walls
Retaining walls don’t only look pretty – but they also help to prevent erosion. Unfortunately, once erosion starts on a sloped piece of land, it will continue to slide downhill until the slope can be stabilized. A retaining wall is a great choice, since it will block soil and slow the speed of collapse.
In this fashion, the grass and other plants will have time to grow back and the soil will be held together.
Just give your retaining wall a 2% slope on the side that is perpendicular to the incline. Water will flow to the side rather than pooling.
You can use just about any kind of material to build your wall, including wood, rock, or concrete. If you use wood, you may want to use a treated option to slow down rot.
7. Limit Watering – or Be Strategic
You have to water your garden – I get that. However, are there ways that you can be more strategic about it? At the risk of sounding obvious, overwatering your garden can hasten erosion as it washes away all of your soil.
If you can, try to water less often or install drip irrigation, which will administer water only where your plants need it most.
Plus, since drip irrigation systems only deliver tiny amounts of water at once, you won’t have to worry about it flooding your garden. These systems can be installed both above- and underground.
8. Don’t Walk Through Erosion-Prone Areas
Compacted soil is one of the chief causes of erosion. When you, your animals, or your machines move over a piece of dirt, you push it down, compacting into a dense layer and reducing the amount of space between the soil particles.
As a result, water will have a hard time draining through. Soil will be carried downhill instead.
Set out cleared paths or even paving stones so you have a clear place to walk instead of traipsing through any section of your garden.
You may want to add a bit of manure or compost to erosion-prone areas, too, which will attract microorganisms who can aerate the soil and improve its ability to hold water and nutrients.
9 Try Strip Cropping
Strip cropping is the process of planting species with weak roots in alternation with more densely-rooted crops, like legumes or grass. You’ll plant them so that they form a contour on a slope and perpendicular to the wind whenever possible.
10. Rotate Your Pastures
For erosion control where your animals hang out, try rotational grazing. When you let cattle, sheep, horses, pigs, or any other kind of livestock graze the same strip of land day in and day out, it’s going to become eroded and compacted over time.
Instead, allow your animals to graze only certain chunks of land for certain chunks of time, closing off paddocks so that the plants have time to recover.
This can also help prevent parasite problems, which are frequently caused by overgrazing an area. When selecting paddock spaces for your animals, avoid bare slopes and those near major bodies of water, if erosion is an issue.
11. Keep it Covered
You should try to keep your soil covered year round, even after you’ve harvested your plants. Plant winter crops or cover crops and try to have at least 30% groundcover (ideally more).
12. Use Flumes
This is a pretty advanced, time-consuming technique, but if you build some paved flumes, you can provide rainwater with a spot to concentrate in a narrower area.
This will help you control where the water is going so you don’t have an unlimited flow of stormwater. Ideally, these will be directed into a pond or gully.
13. Try Terrace Gardening
If your erosion problem exists in the garden, give terrace gardening a try. When planting on a hillside, make raised beds out of retaining walls that run across the slope. You can grade the soil between the walls to make a flat area that is not only resistant to erosion, but great for growing plants.
14. Rotate Your Crops
Just as you rotate your livestock, so, too, should you rotate your crops. Don’t plant in the same area twice – at least, don’t plant with the same kind of crop. Allow for soil biodiversity (and as an added benefit, prevent pests and diseases, too!) by planting new plants each year.
The bottom line is this – plants need nutrients from the soil to grow. The more plants you ahv, the more nutrients you need. Over time, the soil can lose its nutrients, so overfarming like this cna make erosion worse.
Use new plants every year so that they’ll add depleted nutrients to the soil and use different nutrients than the ones they used in the year prior.
15. Plant Hedges and Windrows
Consider planting a few hedges or windrows if you live in a very windy area. This can help prevent soil from being blown away in windstorms. Evergreen trees and tall shrubs work best for this purpose.
16. Use Sandbags
Sandbags are really only temporary solutions at best, but if erosion continues to be a problem for you, you may want to divert water with sandbags this can stop the flow of water, soil, and other debris, but again, it’s only temporary.
17. Use Manure
Adding manure to the soil can improve organic matter, which will then reduce the likelihood of erosion. Manure can take some time to break down, so this isn’t’ an instant solution (and again, if you’re trying to control erosion on a slope, you may want to combine this with other techniques to prevent the manure from simply running to the bottom of the hill after it has been applied).
18. Overseed Bare Patches
When we first bought our property, we had a large chunk of bare dirt that needed to be filled in with something, as it was constantly eroding. We overseeded with grass, only to find that it didn’t take root well due to all the wetness.
The solution? A wildflower patch! These native species were much better adapted to the conditions we had been dealt, and their roots helped to hold water and soil in place until we could get good grass established.
Why Is It Important to Prevent Erosion?
There are so many good reasons to prevent erosion on your property. Soil erosion can lead to a loss of nutrients and an increased likelihood of flooding. It can cause the air and qatar quality to degrade and also lead to a build-up of dirt or silt at the bottom of driveways.
If you live in a more urban environment, erosion can cause clogged storm drains or interfere with things like swimming pools. All in all, erosion is nothing good to have around! These methods should not only help you prevent erosion, but treat it once it has started, too.
Rebekah is a high-school English teacher n New York, where she lives on a 22 acre homestead. She raises and grows chickens, bees, and veggies such as zucchini (among other things).