How to Control Erosion in Your Landscaping

House, Residential Building, Building Exterior, Real Estate, Luxury

Are you noticing exposed roots or muddy sidewalks near your yard? Erosion happens, especially if your yard has several hills or sloping areas. 

Excess water can cause healthy, microorganism-rich topsoil to wash away, leaving your plants less protected and eventually leaving areas of your yard looking sparse. Steep slopes in your yard can give way to gravity. Keeping soil healthy is vital to maintaining your curb appeal and plant health.

What Is Landscape Erosion?

Close up image of a tree growing with the roots above ground in a front yard with bare spots in the lawn.

What is erosion anyway? When we hear about erosion, we might think of the slow process that changes the landscape around us. But the truth is, erosion in your yard can happen quickly, after just a storm or two. When the organic matter and soil wash away, plant roots are exposed. 

It's important to note that prevention is key when it comes to landscape erosion control. Using a few practical tips, you'll prevent erosion in your yard, keeping the soil where you want it (around plants and in flower beds) and away from areas you don't (like the sidewalk and gutter).

Landscape erosion occurs when wind and precipitation cause soil to move from one spot to another. This often happens during heavy rains in the early spring when the ground is still frozen, leading to poor drainage. In areas that aren't well-protected or built on a slope, the dirt and soil become loose and move the way of gravity.

On a large scale, we might see this as a mountain mudslide or a widening waterways. But even in our backyard, erosion can become unsightly. Ultimately, it can damage plants and make your yard less hospitable to plant growth.

Why is Controlling Erosion Important?

Closeup motion blur of storm water runoff flowing through metal drainage culver under road. January storms brought heavy rain and flash flooding to Illinois

Now, erosion is tough on your plants, giving you a good reason to control erosion in your yard. But the bigger issue is that erosion is also bad for the environment all around us.

When dirt and topsoil erode, they may contain pesticides, chemicals, and other less-than-ideal substances that move down the storm drain and into surrounding waterways. This erosion can lead to water contamination and larger water quality problems for everyone in the area.

You may see large-scale examples of the effects of water erosion when soil erodes near factories or when runoff from construction leads to waste in the waterways. Rivers, streams, and other nearby water sources can become dangerous with chemical levels that present a hazard to waterfowl, fish, and, ultimately, the people who rely on these natural resources.

What Causes Erosion in Yards?

Garden bushes, tree and green grass lawn covered with water due to snow melting thaw and flash high water at spring. Natural disaster deluge flooded house backyard pathway ang greenery at countryside

In your backyard (or front yard), soil erosion is mainly a concern because it makes your landscaping projects more challenging. The bare soil in your yard can become cracked, compacted, or dry. The elevation in your yard shifts and changes, leaving you to deal with your drifting dirt as loose soil particles wash away in the flow of water. 

All yards can experience soil erosion, but some areas are more prone to experiencing erosion regularly. Sudden torrential storming and flooding can cause the landscape to change very quickly. Other forms of weather, like wind and expected rain and snow, can still lead to the eventual shift of dirt in your yard. Gravity is another cause of erosion—any time your yard is on an angle, dirt will migrate. 

If you live in a desert region, it's essential to take measures in your landscaping to accommodate drainage and implement erosion control solutions. Grasses and certain plants help to keep the soil in place, but in areas where grass doesn't thrive, you may need to consider grading your yard, terracing, or using rock barriers (sometimes called riprap) to keep your soil in place.

In areas where rain is a regular occurrence, it's still important to landscape with erosion control in mind. Those who live in storm-prone areas may want to build natural barriers and walls in their yard to protect soil from washing away in the next downpour. If grass thrives in your area, it can significantly help with controlling erosion. Still, you may need to take additional precautions, especially in the spring when melting snow and ice can lead to extra moisture.

One important note—if you live near a waterfront, shoreline, or wetland, you may need professional assistance with erosion control. Waterways are particularly tricky, and it's important to keep your land and the environment safe. In most cases, though, you can build in measures to protect your yard from erosion.

So, how can you prevent residential landscaping erosion? If you’re wondering how to keep fresh dirt from washing away or you notice things changing around your yard, here's how you can keep dirt in place.

1. Plant Grasses to Prevent Erosion

One man farmer adding grass seed to the lawn soil. male hand of worker, grass seed For Lawns in springtime for the perfect lawn. Grass seed in man's hand on garden background.

A great way to prevent and mitigate erosion is with grass. Grass is the best DIY erosion control method for most homeowners. The unique root system of grass holds onto soil and keeps it in place. However, if your yard is new or you need to add grass to a specific area, you may need to take a few steps to help the grass seed take (before it gets washed away).

There are a few different ways to help grass seeds thrive. The easiest is to use a landscaping blanket. Specialized straw blankets can protect the grass seed as it establishes on the sloping area of your yard. Other options include covering the area with loose straw. The straw method is suitable for areas that are protected from wind. It works best if the area is flat or only features a minor slope.

Some folks like to plant a quick-germinating annual grass like rye as more slowly growing grass gets established. This can help the perennial grass seed stay in place as it takes root, with the added bonus of looking nice as it covers your yard.

Whatever method you choose for growing grass in the eroding area, plan to regularly aerate the grass to help it stay healthy. When soil becomes compacted, the grass can die back, and soil will erode.

2. Choose Soil-Retaining Plants

Beautiful garden with ornamental grasses.

If you prefer plants in receding areas of your yard, consider ground-cover plants that spread and help the soil around them stay put. Installing landscaping rock and even wood chips can keep the soil beneath in place. Adding plants amongst the rocks can create an appealing rock garden landscape, especially if your yard features gentle slopes.

Ornamental grasses are often an excellent choice for preventing soil erosion. There are many options that are easy to care for, and there are versatile styles suited to different environments. Desert grasses are wonderful for sandy soil. Moisture-friendly wetland grasses are a nice choice for wetter climates. Tall grasses provide privacy and protection for surrounding plants.

Depending on your region, you may also look at native plants that thrive in your area. Choose perennials that spread out quickly—especially those that thrive on the hills and angles of your locale. Ground covers are a good choice to protect a large area from erosion. Daylilies, pachysandra, lamium (deadnettle), stone crop, creeping thyme, and sedum are good choices for many areas of the United States.

3. Consider Terracing and Designing Your Yard to Stop Erosion

beautiful landscaping garden retaining wall

We often see charming terraces and retaining walls in English gardens. That’s because those climates see a lot of rain, which can cause their soil to wash away. You can use the same technique in your own yard to keep soil from moving downhill. Terracing is one of the best ways to apply sediment control to yards with a steep hill. It offers long-term solutions to stopping surface runoff. 

Terracing looks similar to stairs—a series of flat surfaces that work their way up to your yard. As you create the tiers, you have a flat surface for plants (that can hold onto soil). Each tier of the terrace has a slightly angled retaining wall to hold soil in place.

The best method for building terraces is to begin at the bottom of the hill or the lowest part of your yard. Use a shovel to dig in a few feet, creating a tier. You’ll then use stone, treated wood, bricks, or blocks to create a terraced effect. A dry creek bed or river rock garden can also help to protect vulnerable areas during heavy rainfall—providing an attractive drainage system for erosion control.

4. In Urgent Situations, Use Barriers to Hold Soil

Silt Fence fabric with wooden posts installed prior to the start of construction.

As you explore the solutions to stop soil erosion, you may need a quick fix to help you prevent erosion during an upcoming storm. In these urgent cases, there are a few erosion control products and DIY erosion control options that you can put in place to help prevent too much soil from escaping your yard.

Sandbags, erosion control blankets, and flood barriers are a go-to option during flooding and help you hold the ground while you complete landscape projects, like creating a French drain or installing wattles (underground fiber tubes filled with straw that drain water from the yard). Sandbags are a good preventative measure to ensure that erosion doesn’t reach other parts of your yard.

Another option for stopping erosion is a silt fence. These small, temporary fences are often used on construction sites and during yard landscaping to temporarily prevent erosion. These fences are sometimes called filter fences. They feature a filtering textile with pre-attached stakes. Once staked into the ground and trenched along the bottom, silt fences prevent sediment and contamination from seeping into surrounding waterways.

Prevent Soil Erosion with Help from Do It Best

No matter what soil erosion solution you choose, your local Do It Best has the supplies and tools you’ll need for a healthy and thriving yard.

Soil erosion happens because of wind, water, and good old gravity. You'll likely notice soil erosion if your yard features a slop or angled area. Taking preventative measures and planning your landscaping will help you keep the soil in place.

Grass is the best and easiest way for most homeowners to prevent erosion. Use landscaping cloth or plant annual grass while your perennial grass takes root. Alternatively, you can use ground-covering native plants, grasses, and landscaping rock to help prevent soil erosion.

Other solutions to erosion include terracing your yard in a tiered fashion to help create flat areas where plants and soil can stay in place. In urgent situations, you may need to use sandbags or silt fences to prevent erosion while you adjust the landscaping of your yard or install drainage solutions.

For all the supplies you need, Do It Best has you covered. We carry landscaping products to help you get (and keep) the yard of your dreams!


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