How to Prevent Soil Erosion

By Shelley Frost

Erosion takes place in nature all the time, but it can also affect your own backyard whether you live in the country or in suburbia. Signs of erosion include gullies, ruts, visible plant roots and dirt splashed on the pavement after rain. Controlling erosion keeps nutrient-rich topsoil in place and prevents contamination of the water supply that can occur with runoff.

Spring Landscape with retaining walls and garage.
credit: irina88w/iStock/Getty Images
Terracing with retaining walls helps prevent runoff.

Direct Rainwater

Rainwater follows the easiest route downhill. This can mean lots of water running down through the same area, which eventually leads to erosion. You can control where the water flows with a swale or dry river bed. Both of these dip down like a ditch to encourage the water to follow a path. They are typically lined with thick grass or rocks that hold the soil in place, and they direct the water off the property in a controlled manner.

Collect Rainwater

If the erosion on your property happens near your downspouts, consider collecting the rainwater instead of letting it flow into the lawn. A rain barrel is an inexpensive and simple option for collecting up to 50 gallons of water as it flows off of your roof. You can then use that water to irrigate your garden. Because it works on a small scale, a rain barrel is often used along with other erosion control methods.

Install Drainage

Drainage systems within the yard direct the water down into the ground instead of letting it run along the surface. A French drain is one option that uses a buried perforated pipe with gravel surrounding it. A catch basin is a similar option that uses a collection box at a low point in the yard. A pipe connects to the box to direct water underground away from the property.

Use Plants

Plants with strong roots help hold the soil in place to prevent erosion. Native plants work well because they grow well in the natural conditions in your area. Ornamental grasses and groundcover plants that grow in clumps are also appropriate because of their dense growth patterns. Healthy grass can also help prevent erosion. Keep the grass in good shape by mowing regularly, irrigating as needed and treating disease or pests at the first sign of a problem.

Build Terraces

Structures in the lawn to slow or divert water can also reduce erosion. Steep slopes in particular often benefit from terraces or retaining walls that help hold the soil in place. Each step on the terraced slope is a relatively flat area that slows the water and allows it to soak into the ground instead of running quickly down the hill. You can also plant in the terraces for additional erosion control.