Reducing Soil Erosion: Using Plants For Erosion Control

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By Bonnie L. Grant

Urban building, natural forces and heavy traffic can wreak havoc on the landscape, causing erosion and loss of topsoil. Reducing soil erosion is important to preserve nutrient-rich soils and natural or unnatural configuration of the topography. Using plants for erosion control is an excellent biological method to safeguard the landscape and the shape of the land. There are many types of erosion control plants, but preventing erosion with native plants complements and accents the natural landscape. Native plants also need less specialized care and maintenance.

Reducing Soil Erosion

Conditions that promote soil erosion are rain, wind, physical disturbance and overuse. Overworked soils have few large plant species to help hold soil in place and have diminished nutrient resources. That dusty, lifeless soil is prone to blowing or leaching away, leaving exposed areas that become rife with weeds and unwanted species.

Preventing erosion with native plants is a common ecological practice in land management. It is a relatively easy way to conserve top soils and prevent open areas from wearing away. Other methods include coir netting, mulching, terracing and wind or water breaks.

Erosion Control Plants

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Cover crops, such as vetch, rye and clover, are excellent plants for erosion control. These hardy easy to grow plants send out nets of roots that help hold topsoil in place while also reducing competitive weeds. When tilled back into the soil, they increase the nutrient density as they compost.

Other types of erosion control plants might include the ground covers. Examples of ornamental erosion control are:

Even smaller plants like wooly thyme and baby tears are helpful in preventing weeds in overworked soils and protect the topsoil, allowing it to recover nutrients and tilth.

Grasses for Soil Erosion

Native grass plants are useful for erosion control and have the added benefit of fitting readily into the landscape. They will easily transplant and take in conditions that mimic their natural habitat. Native grasses also need less maintenance as they are adapted to the region in which they occur and receive most of their needs in the existing site. The right grasses for soil erosion depend upon your zone and region.

Overall, some excellent choices are:

  • Timothy grass
  • Foxtail
  • Smooth brome
  • Some wheatgrass varieties

In arid regions, buffalo grass, deer grass and native bunchgrasses are useful erosion control.

You can also simply use a turf grass appropriate for your zone. Consider whether you need a cool or warm season variety. Sow seeds in early spring and keep the area moderately damp until germination. Establishment after germination is rapid with the proper seed choice for your soil, average moisture and temperature and plant hardiness zone.

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