Soil erosion, or the movement of soil, is a common problem for many farmers and homeowners. Though simple in definition, the consequences can be dire. Although it is often a natural process, it causes many issues ranging from landscape changes to ecosystem destruction.
Knowing how to prevent soil erosion by stopping rapid water flow through your yard or field is an important part of creating and maintaining a healthy environment and productive land.
While physical landscape changes may be a bother to the amateur gardener, nutrient loss is a harmful effect of erosion. Erosion disrupts the balance of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen in topsoil and ag-runoff. This results in dead soil, which lowers the chance of success for anything to flourish.
The oxygen deficit created through erosion and runoff has created Dead Zones in the ocean, killing marine life and their habitat. Knowing how to prevent soil erosion is an important skill in ensuring healthy vegetation and ecosystems.
What causes erosion?
Grade and length of slope are also important factors in noting when and how erosion might occur. Close proximity to non-permeable surfaces such as retaining walls can pose a threat as they do not absorb water and therefore compound the problem.
For example, a small concrete wall that is merely 100 square feet will add 100 square feet of water to the slope. The runoff then becomes a compounding problem over time.
Where would soil erode the fastest?
When most people think in terms of erosion they are often envisioning creeks and rivers overflowing, torrential downpours and other causes of flooding. While it is true that water is the largest factor or culprit, wind plays a very important role.
Open prairies typically have flat grounds and lush vegetation. This prevents the wind from ripping at the ground and scattering particles everywhere. There is little need for wind breaks due to the prairie grass and flat ground. However, in other parts of the world where the ground consists of rock, silt or clay wind rapidly chips away at the surfaces and creates a detrimental environment for vegetation to grow. Imagine a newly established seedling, with roots only ½ inch deep being whipped by the wind. It is likely that the wind would erode the entire base of the soil and expose the root zone leaving the seedling at risk. The result is barren ground.
Water erosion is the most common. Rainy season conditions can destroy pond dams, rip through river basins and tear away crop rows. These natural phenomena are obvious, but the slow unchecked degradation of soil conditions by light rains can be more detrimental if gone unchecked. Anywhere you have a slight slope, you should test the water conditions during rain often. Patterns change and slowing down water flow is important.
Soil Texture and Conditions
Compacted soil is a real problem. When soil structure evolves to the point where it no longer absorbs water, then erosion is bound to occur. Compacted clay and rocky ground do not hold water. There is also little chance to establish vegetation on compacted soils in order to prevent further erosion. It is a compounding problem.
Likewise, loose and sandy soil is just as problematic. Wind and water are likely to wash and blow sand and soil particles, quickly leaving exposed ground that is not conducive to many natural activities.
Lack of Vegetation
Soils that have little to no vegetation stand to be ripped apart. Nature takes no mercy on barren grounds. That is why weeds, trees and grasses populate so quickly. It is nature's defense against her own elements. Getting vegetation to rapidly establish is far more important than picking out the perfect vegetation.
Weeds have their place. When forests are timbered and land is cleared, it is a good practice to spread grasses, clovers and allow weeds to temporarily establish. These are situations where irrigation will not be in place, so choose a drought-tolerant plant. The focus is not on beauty but strictly on ground cover. This holds in soil nutrients and will reduce soil runoff from the site. Vegetation holds better than man-made contraptions, such as silt fencing.
Being well-versed in slope erosion control will serve you well and give your plants a fighting chance!
Flat surfaces are relatively safe choices when planting seed, but if you are hoping to establish vegetation on steep slopes, you must be mindful of success rates on different grades.
Anything steeper than a 25 percent grade will be difficult to establish a healthy root system on. Because of this, slope erosion control is especially important. At slopes greater than 25 percent, success rates diminish greatly.
Knowing how to stop erosion on a steep hill is another important skill needed to establish healthy soil. A 3:1 slope ratio means that for every 3 feet of horizontal run, the vertical change is 1 foot. This grade will require special care. On a 2:1 slope ratio, only very large rocks (riprap) should be used to control the erosion.
As the slopes increase, your chances of preventing erosion decrease. Knowing how to prevent soil erosion on slopes will increase your odds of healthy hillside life.
The slope length is also important in determining the success of your planting efforts. The longer the slope, the greater the gravitational pull of the water when it rains or experiences runoff. If you are planting on a long slope, consider building terraces to break up the runoff and prevent soil erosion. If you have questions about how to stop erosion on a hill, reach out to a specialist to learn more about your landscape’s specific needs.
There are many ways to prevent erosion in your yard or garden or field plots, and most are quite simple. Slowing down the effects of natural elements, such as wind and heavy rain, is important.
Since wind plays such an important role in the process, you should consider normal wind patterns and seek to establish windbreaks, such as planted trees and structures. Man-made berms can also be positioned in ways to “spoil” the wind up and over areas that need protection.
The easiest and most effective way to prevent erosion is to create root systems through growing vegetation. Strong plant root systems hold the soil and create stability beneath the surface.
Mats, especially on steep grades and inclines, are another simple way to keep the soil in place. As the grade increases, consider the use of rocks or stone riprap to keep soil in place. Another effective erosion prevention method is contouring, or planting across a slope instead of vertically on it.
When establishing vegetation, it is important to be aware of how you are preparing and maintaining the soil. There are many ways to prepare the soil and ensure that your seed takes root quickly to prevent soil erosion. Striking the right balance of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen will allow necessary microbes to flourish and feed your seed! We will cover this in depth in our next article.
There are many ways to prevent erosion, but the most important is a healthy soil environment and root system. You can do this, and we’re here to help!