How To Prevent Soil Erosion In Your Garden (7 Ways To Stop It)


If you notice that the topsoil in your garden is thinning, then you may have a problem with soil erosion due to wind or water.  Left unchecked, soil erosion will prevent your garden from producing the fruits and vegetables that you are hoping for.

So, how do you prevent soil erosion in your garden? To prevent soil erosion in your garden, plant grass, shrubs, and trees to hold soil in place. Mulch prevents soil from washing away due to rain. A wall or hedge prevents wind from blowing soil blowing away. Cover crops help to hold soil in place after vegetables are done growing for the season.

Of course, there are lots of choices when it comes to plants that prevent soil erosion.

In this article, we’ll talk about what soil erosion is and what causes is.  We’ll also take a look at some ways to prevent it in the first place.

Let’s get started.

How To Prevent Soil Erosion In Your Garden

There are lots of things you can do to prevent soil erosion in your garden, including:

  • Cultivate Perennials (Grass, Shrubs, & Trees)
  • Plant Cover Crops Annually (such as Alfalfa, Clover, Peas, Winter Rye)
  • Add A Layer Of Mulch
  • Divert Water (away from the garden)
  • Build A Windbreak (wall or hedge)
  • Reduce Slope (flatten your land)
  • Maintain Healthy Soil (aerate & add compost)
erosion
Erosion tends to be worse on property with steep slopes and sparse vegetation.

We’ll take a closer look at each of these methods soon. First, let’s talk about soil erosion and what causes it.

What Is Soil Erosion?

When we talk about soil erosion, we mean that soil is carried away over time by natural means (wind and water) or artificial means (farming and gardening).  When soil erosion occurs, the top layer of soil (called topsoil) becomes thinner.

soil erosion
Soil erosion is more extreme on steep hills.

Over time, this thinning of the topsoil prevents plants from growing.  The reason is that topsoil contains all of the nutrients and beneficial bacteria that are necessary for plant life.

A lack of topsoil due to erosion also means that there is less for plant roots to hold onto. This, in turn, makes it more likely that soil will continue to erode, leading to a vicious cycle of soil erosion and weaker or fewer plants.

What Causes Soil Erosion?

As mentioned earlier, the main causes of soil erosion are:

  • Wind
  • Water
  • Farming
  • Gardening

Let’s start with wind.

Soil Erosion Caused By Wind

Normally, plants help to hold soil in place with their roots. It is a sort of symbiotic relationship:

  • The plant roots hold the soil in place, and their leaves and stems prevent the wind from blowing soil away.
  • In exchange, the soil provides nutrients for the plants, which they take up through their roots.

However, this relationship doesn’t work when soil is dry and barren. Poor soil leads to poor plant growth.

With nothing growing in the soil, wind can easily blow it away.  Soil that is too acidic or alkaline will also prevent anything from growing, which will eventually lead to soil erosion.

wind sock
Strong, consistent wind can cause a lot of erosion in a short time, especially when there is a lack of plant life to hold soil in place.

This is why it is so important to maintain healthy soil, which includes proper nutrient and pH levels. If you think your soil may have a problem, you should do a soil test as the first step.

For more information, check out my article on how to do a soil test.

Soil that is out in the open and unprotected by walls, trees, or shrubs is also more likely to be blown away by the wind. However, wind isn’t the only thing that can move soil out of your garden.

Soil Erosion Caused By Water

The same type of dry and barren soil mentioned above is also vulnerable to soil erosion caused by water.  Heavy rainstorms and flooding, improper watering, and poor irrigation or drainage can all contribute to soil erosion.

runoff
Runoff due to storms and flooding can carry away lots of soil in a short time.

As if soil erosion caused by water weren’t bad enough, there is also the problem of agricultural runoff.  This means that soil washed away by rain or irrigation may contaminate nearby lakes or groundwater, since it often contains chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides.

Together with wind erosion, water erosion can quickly carry off a lot of soil in a short time. However, there is still one more thing that can cause soil erosion: plant growth without soil replenishment.

Soil Erosion Caused By Plants

Plants themselves can also contribute to thinning topsoil, since plants use up nutrients from the soil as they grow.  Over time, removing these nutrients from without replacement will lead to poor soil.

dry soil
Areas that were once lush with vegetation can become desolate if soil is not replenished after growing crops.

This poor soil cannot support healthy plants. As a result, plants with weak roots (or a complete lack of plants) leads to increased soil erosion.

Remember that if your garden is on a hill, erosion will be even worse, and it will happen at a faster rate.  The steeper the slope, the more you will need to worry about soil erosion.

How To Prevent Soil Erosion

Luckily, there are ways to prevent soil erosion, and some of these methods can be combined to maximize the chance that your soil will stay where it belongs – in your garden!

Cultivate Perennials (Grass, Shrubs, & Trees)

According to the University of Rhode Island, planting a combination of perennial grasses, shrubs, and trees will help to prevent soil erosion. This three-pronged approach works to keep soil in place:

  • Grass covers the soil to provide shade, keeping the soil a bit cooler and preventing dry soil caused by evaporation via sunlight. Grass roots also help to hold soil in place, and the grass itself prevents animals from digging up soil as they move over the ground.
  • Shrubs and trees are tall enough to provide lots of shade during the day. They also have deeper roots, which means that they hold onto the soil better and absorb more water from soil, preventing soggy soil that washes away easily.
grass
Grass helps to prevent erosion.

You can find a list of 10 plants for erosion control in my article here.

Sometimes, you cannot plant perennials in your garden due to the need to replant vegetables every year. In that case, planting cover crops might be your best bet.

Plant Cover Crops

According to the University of Georgia Extension, the amount of cover crops holding the soil plays a role in how fast erosion occurs. Generally, more plants means better erosion control – but you can get some additional benefits from cover crops as well.

Cover crops are planted in a garden to hold soil in place and prevent it from being blown away by wind or washed away by water.  Many cover crops also have the added benefit of restoring nutrients to the soil.

For instance, alfalfa is a cover crop that restores nitrogen in the soil.  Other common cover crops are winter rye and peas.

alfalfa
Alfalfa is a cover crop that helps to prevent erosion and replace nitrogen in soil.

Cover crops can also serve as animal feed, or you can till them right into the soil to restore even more nutrients.

You can learn more about cover crops (also called green manure) in my article here.

Add A Layer Of Mulch

Mulch is great for retaining moisture in soil and for suppressing the growth of weeds. However, it can also help to prevent soil erosion.

red cedar mulch
A layer of mulch will help to prevent erosion by preventing topsoil from blowing away in the wind or washing away in rain.

With a layer of mulch in your garden, the wind and water will not be able to carry away the topsoil. Of course, with severe flooding or rain, mulch can wash away (you can learn more about how to prevent soil from washing away in my article here).

If you wish, you can also use mulch on top of the soil in a raised garden bed to prevent erosion due to wind and water. You can also mulch around trees – just be careful to avoid common mistakes (you can learn more in my article here).

Divert Water Away From The Garden

In addition to the problems that over watering can cause for plants, it can also wash away soil. This is especially true in areas where water runs from a nearby street, from a downspout on your house, or from a flooded creek.

downspout
Redirect water from downspouts away from your garden to prevent erosion.

To avoid this problem, it helps to divert water away from the garden (and improve soil drainage, if necessary). It could be as simple as diverting water from downspouts in a different direction.

It could be as involved as digging a trench and burying a pipe can help to redirect the flow of water elsewhere. Either way, reducing wet soil, flooding, and water flow in your garden will almost certainly reduce soil erosion.

You can learn more about how to prevent soil erosion due to water in this article from the Penn State University Extension.

Build A Wind Break

A wind break is anything that slows down the wind and prevents it from damaging the plants or soil in your garden.  For instance, you could build a wall or plant a hedgerow (a row of shrubs or bushes) as a windbreak.

You could also put up a chain-link fence and allow ivy to grow up the fence. This creates a sort of “living wall” that is also a nice addition to the landscape.

hedge
Planting hedges strategically will help to prevent erosion due to wind.

For more information, check out my article on how to protect your plants from wind and storms.

Reduce Slope By Flattening The Land

This might not be so easy to do by hand – you will probably need to hire someone with heavy equipment to get anything meaningful done. However, if your yard has a big slope, it might make sense to flatten it a bit.

hill slope
A steep slope will make erosion worse, especially if it rains often.

It doesn’t need to be totally level, though. You just need to reduce the incline enough that water does not run so fast when it rains.

Maintain Healthy Soil

If the soil in your garden is healthy, then it is more likely to stay in place, despite pressure from wind and water.  Here are some ways to improve the health of your soil.

Replace Organic Material

As mentioned earlier, the plants in your garden will naturally deplete organic material and nutrients in the soil as they grow.  To replace this spent organic material, you should mix compost into your soil.

The organic material provided by compost also helps to improve drainage in clay soils, and helps to retain water in sandy soils.  This reduces the chance that soil is washed away by water or blown away by wind.

You can buy compost online or at a garden center, or you can make your own.  Compost can be made from grass clippings, fallen leaves, dead plants, sawdust, fruit and vegetable scraps, and more.

These scraps will turn into compost, given enough time.

For more information, check out my article on how to make compost.

You can also use manure (animal waste and bedding) to replace organic material in your garden.  Just make sure it is composted (completely broken down) before adding it to your garden!

You can get manure from animals that you keep (not dogs, cats, or pigs!), or you can ask friends or neighbors who keep animals.  For more information, check out my article on how to find sources for manure.

Another way to keep your soil healthy is to use mulch, which is any material spread over the top of your soil to kill weeds and retain moisture.  An additional benefit of mulch is that it will weigh down the soil and prevent it from blowing away.

wood chip mulch
Mulch is often made from wood chips, but you can also use compost or grass clippings.

As long as the mulch itself is heavy enough, it won’t be easy for wind and water to move it away.  Mulch can be made of wood chips, grass clippings, or even compost.  For more information on when to use each, check out my article on mulch vs compost.

Use Crop Rotation

Over time, planting the same crop in the same area every year will deplete certain nutrients in the soil at that location.  Eventually, nothing will be able to grow there, and soil erosion is much more likely to occur.

To prevent this, use crop rotation.  Crop rotation means that you alternate between different crops in an area each year.  For instance, you plant tomatoes in the first year, lettuce the second year, peas the third year, and onions the fourth year.  After that, start the cycle all over again.

pea plants
Peas and other legumes will restore nitrogen to the soil.

As an added benefit, crop rotation also helps to prevent plant diseases and pests from taking hold in your garden soil.

You can learn more about crop rotation in my article here.

Keep Soil Moist, But Not Soaked

Soil that is very dry is easily blown away by wind.  On the other hand, soil that is too wet is prone to be washed away by a sudden heavy thunderstorm.  You want to achieve balance with moisture levels in your soil.

One way to do this is to use drip irrigation, instead of a handheld hose or sprinkler.  With drip irrigation, you can control the amount of water your plants receive without washing away soil with excess water.

dry soil
Dry soil is vulnerable to soil erosion by wind.

To prevent storm water from washing away your soil, you can try to capture rainwater using barrels.  If you notice that certain parts of your garden are prone to flooding, then use drains or pipes to divert water from those areas.

If you have trouble with dry soil, check out my article on how to treat dry soil.

If you have trouble with wet soil, check out my article on how to make soil drain better.

clay soil
Soil that drains poorly, such as this clay soil, is vulnerable to soil erosion by water.

Aerate Soil

Soil will be healthier if it has proper aeration.  This simply means that there is enough air (specifically, oxygen) in the soil so that plants can absorb water easily.

Avoid tilling your garden if possible – it kills and disturbs earthworms.  Use a pitchfork or aeration tool instead.

earthworm
Earthworms do not like to be disturbed by rototilling. If you can, aerate by hand with a pitchfork or aerator.

Conclusion

Now you know some of the steps you can take to prevent soil erosion in your garden.   It’s time to get out there and take action today so you can have a greener garden tomorrow!

I hope that you found the article helpful – if so, please share it with someone who can use the information.

If you want to read some of my most popular posts, check out the “Best of GreenUpSide” page here.  Enjoy!

~Jonathon

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jon. Let's solve your gardening problems, spend more time growing, and get the best harvest every year!

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