How to Conserve Soil

Three Parts:Preventing Soil ErosionControlling Water RunoffRestoring Soil Affected by Erosion

Soil erosion is a growing problem in today’s world, as evolving climatic conditions cause soil to be lost and exhausted at an alarming rate. Topsoil is vital to sustaining plant growth of all kinds, natural and cultivated, and is typically lost through two means: wind erosion and runoff from precipitation or excess watering. Follow these guidelines to safeguard the soil around your home and garden and ensure that it remains hospitable to botanical life.

Part 1
Preventing Soil Erosion

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    Plant grass and trees to secure topsoil. Sow grass and plant trees, shrubs and other greenery in bare spots in your yard or garden. The foliage will absorb excess water and protect the topsoil from the impact of rain, heavy wind and foot traffic. The roots of the plants will also help anchor the soil once they take hold, safeguarding the soil beneath from water runoff.
    • Grass and plant roots also serve to draw nutrients from deep in the soil closer to the surface, improving the healthiness of the topsoil.
    • Ryegrass and clover make excellent choices for basic groundcover, as their roots spread deep and hold fast. Other useful anchoring plants include grains such as wheat, barley, and rye and crops of root vegetables like radishes.[1]
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    Grow windbreak cover for fields. If you have a field or flat, wide open space on your property, considering growing a row of trees to act as a barrier from the wind. This is known as a windbreak cover and is an efficient means of combating wind erosion often employed by landscapers. A windbreak cover will cut down on the amount of wind that sweeps an open area of land, keeping topsoil from being scattered and dried out.[2]
    • For best results, group trees or shrubs relatively close together so that little space exists between them for wind to penetrate.
    • Choose tree species that develop thick foliage.
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    Avoid compacting soil. Look for areas where the ground is hard and bare. This is most often a symptom of compacted soil. Sew grass in these areas, and be sure to water and aerate the soil frequently. If not remedied, the soil below can become even more dense while the top layer erodes, making growing conditions inhospitable.[3]
    • When soil becomes compacted, its particles are pressed tightly together so that water cannot penetrate deep into its sublayers, causing the uppermost layers of soil to be worn away by runoff. In addition, soil compaction cause aeration problems within soil, meaning that it’s less likely that you’ll be able to get things to grow in places where the soil is badly compacted.[4]
    • Be careful about habitually walking in the same places if the soil in your yard or garden is compacted; this will just make the problem worse. Choose a new footpath to take, or stand on a broad, flat board when gardening to keep your body weight from contributing to soil compaction.
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    Employ no-digging gardening techniques. Building a no-dig garden involves layering materials over the topsoil in which plants and crops can be planted so that there’s no need to disturb the soil itself. When gardening is done above the soil instead of within it, the soil will not be exposed to lots of harsh digging and watering that can damage soil and lead to erosion.[5]
    • Create multiple no-dig plots to serve as flower beds or patches for growing crops that require similar soil conditions.
    • A wealth of different planting schemes exist, but all make use of the same basic structure: multiple tiers of compostable matter are layered over a permeable surface like cardboard directly on top of the ground. Look into different ideas for constructing your own no-dig garden.[6][7][8]
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    Spread mulch over growing plants. During peak growing season, spread a thin layer of mulch around the base of thriving plants. The weight of the mulch will keep the soil from being exposed to wind and water while also preserving important nutrients and moisture in the soil at root-level.[9][10]
    • Mulch can be bought cheap at any gardening center, or you can easily make your own at home by feeding scrap wood, live foliage and decaying plant matter into a shredder to form a composite.

Part 2
Controlling Water Runoff

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    Dig drainage channels to guide rainwater runoff. If you live on a hillside or in a valley where water might collect, create channels around the edges of your property to redirect runoff water. Drainage channels work much way gutters do for your roof. Reducing runoff keeps surges of water from carrying off soil or killing plants due to overwatering.[11]
    • Dig a simple paved irrigation ditch by hand, or embed PVC or drainage pipe into the channel to install what is known as a "French Drain," which conducts water away with greater efficiency.[12]
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    Till and contour your garden. Protect the soil in your garden by tilling it and shaping it to catch rainwater. Tilling turns the soil to allow nutrients to spread through it evenly, while contouring (planting flowers and crops in long, linear depressions with mounds between each row) will ensure that water soaks into your crops instead of washing over the top and taking topsoil with it. Soil compaction can be avoided by tilling, as well.[13][14]
    • Tilling can be done using an automatic or push rototiller that makes use of a rotary wheel covered in small spikes that aerate the soil as they turn, or by hand, using a shovel or pitchfork to make shallow stabs into the soil and turn it over a few feet at a time.[15]
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    Build a terrace. Terracing involves constructing a series of short step-like platforms on which to grow plants and is a useful alternative to planting on sloped ground. Rather than simply running down the slope, water will soak into the flat soil of each platform, hydrating plants and keep soil from being swept away.[16]
    • Create a landscaping terrace by leveling the embankment of a slope and reinforcing the vertical walls with wood beams or stone.[17]
    • Constructing a terrace is also a good way of organizing flowering plants and crops, as each level of the terrace can be used to grow something different.
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    Install a rain barrel or catch basin. If precipitation tends to cause flooding in your area, a rain barrel or catch basin can be implemented to collect excess water. As the name suggests, rainwater is “caught” in the basin, which is installed underground with a grated drainage opening, or stored in the barrel and saved for later use. These methods make it possible to repurpose extra water instead of simply letting it erode vulnerable topsoil.[18]
    • A rain barrel most often works in conjunction with a gutter or irrigation system so that water flow is directed straight into the barrel.
    • Catch basins are easy to install yourself. The only require measuring the unit and digging a hole of the right dimensions to accommodate it at the bottom of a slope.

Part 3
Restoring Soil Affected by Erosion

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    Contact a soil expert. In many cases, professional landscapers and certain non-profit groups concerned with repairing the effects of soil erosion can come to you and assess the severity of the soil damage on your property. These experts will perform a detailed examination of your land and come up with solutions for restoring soil to its natural health. Check to see if any of your local landscaping businesses offer soil restoration services, or if there are other eco-related groups in your area that might work with you on rescuing badly eroded soil around your home.[19][20]
    • Ecological restoration groups sometimes operate out of farms and universities, and many will assist in repairing erosion damage voluntarily or for little cost.[21]
    • Even if your soil is healthy, you should consult with a professional landscaper once a year or so to inspect your property for potential problems and discuss preventative solutions.
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    Introduce earthworms to damaged soil. Purchase live earthworms and add them to areas where soil is compacted, dry or barren. Earthworms are some of the world's greatest biological decomposers, feeding on decaying organic matter and returning vital nutrients to the soil through excretion. Earthworm activity is one of the best means of naturally recycling and reintroducing organic nutrients to soil.[22]
    • In addition to infusing soil with badly needed nutrients, the subterranean movement of earthworms also acts as a kind of hands-free aeration process, increasing nutrient mixture, moisture retention and room for new root growth in topsoil.
    • Earthworms can be purchased at most gardening supply stores for this very purpose, or may be acquired locally from conservation groups.[23]
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    Consider soil amendment. Amendment is the process by which missing nutrients are added to eroded soil directly in order to restore the right chemical balance. Many different types of amendments can be used: compost is a common amendment used for gardening purposes, as are organic fertilizers, salt and peat. Soil amendment can be used in conjunction with aeration, earthworm introduction and meticulous watering to bring soil back to a healthy state.[24]
    • In order to select the right amendment for your soil, it is first necessary to identify the exact properties your soil lacks. You may be able to use erosion symptoms to diagnose various deficiencies, but it's probably wiser to work with a landscaper or other soil expert to find out what's missing from your soil and take the appropriate action.


  • Test the pH level of the soil in your yard and/or garden a couple times a year to ensure that the soil contains the right amount of natural acids and nutrients and growing conditions are optimal.
  • When irrigating using a channel ditch or French Drain, redirect the runoff somewhere that it won't cause standing water to build up and oversaturate the ground.
  • Use a scattering of hay to create additional layers in a no-dig garden. As moisture causes the hay to decompose, it will turn into a natural compost to aid growth.
  • If you live somewhere with sparse rainfall, a rain barrel, catch basin or other water collection system will provide an easy and efficient means of storing and reusing water that is indispensable to the survival of your plants.


  • Similarly, overwatering is a surefire way to kill most plants. If your area receives a lot of precipitation, or if you've constructed a terrace for gardening, make sure that you have drainage measure in place, or else you might end up with soggy plots incapable of sustaining continued growth.
  • Applying too much mulch too often can result in the death of some types of plants, as mulch will change the soil's pH levels and can prevent sufficient oxygen from being absorbed by the plant's root system, effectively smothering it.

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Categories: Environmental Awareness