Yes, I know. Soil erosion is not a particularly mesmerizing garden topic, but hang with me — it’s vitally important to spot and repair it in order to avoid developing some epic problems on your property and in your garden. So, first off, soil erosion is simply the wearing away of the topsoil, and there are many factors that can cause it. Let’s take a look at how to spot it, repair it, and for the love of all that’s green and growing, stop it.
Signs of Soil Erosion
Grab a cup of coffee and take a tour around your property. Not just your garden, but your entire property. Look for any one of these clues that your topsoil is wearing away:
- Gullies through the ground — Look for small, riverbend-like gullies here and there. Water could be running off and taking valuable topsoil with it.
- Cracks in the soil — When topsoil is carried off, the remaining soil becomes dry and cracks.
- Wet patches anywhere — When water runs off from one part of your property (carrying soil with it), it will end up somewhere else in the form of wet patches and puddles.
- Failing plants — Look for a trend of groups of plants not thriving; it could be a sign that water is running off from that area and the plants are not getting proper irrigation.
Soil Erosion Damage
Topsoil is a nutrient-rich top layer of soil, and when it’s washed, fallen, or blown away, it impacts the health of the remaining soil and plants. Soil texture changes, resulting in decreased water holding capacity, lowered organic matter content, decreased nutrient content, and decreased crops/yield/harvest/plant health.
Soil Erosion Causes
Many things contribute to soil erosion, and sometimes it’s a combination of things like:
- Wind — Very windy conditions can blow soil away if there is nothing to hold the soil – like plant material! from one spot to another. Combine that with sloping terrain, and it’s a recipe for eroding soil conditions disaster.
- Sloping terrain — Sloping and hilly ground is a very common cause of erosion. It’s a gravity issue; if the soil is unhealthy and as mentioned with windy conditions, if there is nothing to hold it in place, it’s going to slowly (or not so slowly) travel down that hillside.
- Poor soil structure — Poor soil structure (created by low or no organic matter, equipment run over wet soil, and bare soil exposed to harsh weather) loses its ability to absorb water. When the water can’t be absorbed, it runs off, taking soil with it.
- Rainfall — Prolonged or severe rainfall can create conditions for erosion, as the soil cannot absorb water fast enough after it’s fully saturated.
Repairing & Avoiding Soil Erosion
So, what can you do to address this? A number of things and most are fairly easy.
- Reduce tilling that leads to poor soil structure,
- Use cover crops in dormant beds to keep wind and rain from damaging the soil
- Build tiers or terraces on steeply sloped terrain (this will make your property more usable to you as well)
- Create a schedule of adding organic matter to your soil.