Georgia, along with much of the southeastern US, don’t have a positive past with erosion. Repetitive cropping of cotton in the Piedmont resulted in seven inches of topsoil being washed away into the ocean. Soil takes hundreds of years to create, meaning that loss of soil is something that is felt for generations. By the 1950s, new policies and programs began to change Georgia from endless cotton fields to forestland and other uses that are less susceptible to erosion. In the mountains, there is always a threat of erosion if we aren’t proactive with protecting our landscape. Let’s talk about why we should care about erosion and some things that you can do to make sure that your land isn’t eroded away.
Erosion can also lead to water quality issues. Not only does the topsoil muddy up our lakes and rivers, but also the nutrients that the topsoil is carrying can create algal blooms leading to decreased aquatic life. That is bad news for our lakes and the fish that inhabit them. Erosion can also create a hard pan that will repel water and increases surface runoff.
So let’s talk about what you can do to reduce erosion. Firstly, construction makes soil very susceptible to erosion. Removing all the vegetation from the top of the soil leaves it open to the rainfall. In construction, surround the project site with hay bales and silt fences, preserve the already existing vegetation, and keep any piles of loose vegetation or gravel covered. Whenever you’re clearing land try to leave as much of the existing vegetation as possible. This means you won’t need to plant as much back once your project is finished.
Planting permanent vegetation is the long-term goal for erosion control. Mulch can also be used temporarily while you are establishing vegetation. Grasses are really good at intercepting runoff and infiltrating it back into the soil. Shrubs are good at creating cover and habitat for wildlife, and trees are best at blocking noise.
Keep stream banks covered with vegetation and trees. Those plant roots will solidify that stream bank so that the natural erosion process will be slowed down. It will keep the stream from widening. In gardens and around the home use mulch or compost when possible to protect bare soil. This will improve water infiltration into the soil and reduce runoff.
Cleared land is most likely going to need lime and fertilizer before you can replant it with vegetation. A soil test is a great place to start to learn how much lime and fertilizer you need to add.
Minimizing impermeable surfaces such as the driveway or walkway on your property will also reduce erosion. Obviously, you will need some impermeable surfaces at your property, such as a roof for your house. For cases like that, it’s important to design pathways for the water from those impermeable surfaces to travel so that they can be deposited in a rain garden or pond. Rain gardens collect water allow the water to infiltrate back into the soil instead of having it run downhill. Usually they have plants that are adapted to living in damp soils. If you have any questions about erosion or what you can do to prevent erosion at your property please contact your county Extension Office or send me an email at Jacob.Williams@uga.edu