Ground cover fights soil erosion

A wise professor once told me: “Life on earth exists because of a thin layer of soil and possibility of rain.”

Unfortunately, every time it does rain that layer of soil becomes thinner and thinner. Each drop of rain washes unprotected top soil into streams, lakes and rivers – never to be returned. With this in mind, soil conservation begins with maintaining a ground cover. So, if you are battling an erosion problem on your land or around your home, here are some tips to help stabilize the soil and save it for generations to come.

Wind and water are the two main forces that erode soil. Usually beginning when the soil is left uncovered, particles are quickly moved offsite and lost forever. Wind erosion can generally take place on either a flat plain or on a slope. Water erosion usually requires a slope for water to flow down and carry the soil with it. In either case, maintaining a vegetative crop is the best way to minimize the loss.

There are a wide variety of plants that lend themselves to stabilizing soil on a slope or bank. Probably the most common is grass. For low-maintenance rural areas, the most popular of these is Kentucky 31 fescue. It is a tough, cool-season grass that is both disease and insect-tolerant. As an added bonus, it does not require large amounts of water or fertilizer to grow. It is easily maintained by mowing once or twice a season, and allowed to grow freely the rest of the time. For a more manicured look, or highly visible residential area, a good choice would be a blend of two or three of the many different varieties of turf-type tall fescues. They, too, are fairly insect- and disease-resistant, but they have a much finer texture and deeper green color than the Kentucky 31. Fall planting of any of these cool-season grasses is just a few weeks away.

If you want more than just grass, try establishing a groundcover. Groundcovers are plants that have a vining growth habit. Able to climb trees, rock walls or fences, they do wonderfully when allowed to spread and grow across the ground. They are at least twice as expensive and a bit more difficult to establish than grass. However, they are equally as durable and do a great job of stabilizing the soil. Four aggressive deciduous vines for full sun are purpleleaf honeysuckle, trumpet honeysuckle, common trumpet creeper and Virginia creeper. Deciduous means they will lose their leaves after the first hard frost. For shaded areas such as under trees or on the north or east side of the home, try using English ivy, pachysandra, wintercreeper euonymus or periwinkle (vinca minor). Bunchberry, a member of the dogwood family, can be used in areas that are acidic and rich in organic matter. It is a nice companion to azaleas and rhododendrons. All of these plants will form a thick mat that stabilize the soil all year long. Vines are easy to maintain and can be mowed or chopped down once in a while to rejuvenate the stand.

There are few things in life that are certain – but you can be sure that more land is not being made is one of them. So, as land is lost to development and progress, water run-off creates even a larger problem with erosion. If you have erosion problems on your land, try maintaining a cover crop year round. There are a variety to choose from but they all basically work the same. They slow the water down, hold the soil in place, and prevent the wind from blowing it away.