January 25, 2016
When most people hear the term soil erosion, they conjure up images of vast dust storms sucking up top soil and floods eating away at earthen river banks during the spring and summer months of the year. Very few consider that cold winter months also contribute to erosion.
Just as in the warmer months, soil erosion can be a significant problem when the temperatures dip. In cold-climate areas like Ann Arbor MI, knowing the causes of erosion can help people plan ahead and minimize the harmful effects of soil loss.
Wind – Snowstorms and wind can blow unprotected soil away before the ground is frozen. Even after the ground is frozen, thermal fracturing of the soil due to extreme temperature changes can mean the loss of tiny soil clods to fierce winter winds. Composting throughout the winter can enrich and help protect the soil from wind erosion.
Water – Water is the leading cause of erosion. When a temporary thaw or warmer weather returns, snow and ice turn to water that can cause soil loss due to melt runoff. Unprotected soil can break down, compromising landscapes, lawns and gardens susceptible to further damage. With the loss of top soil, gardeners will have to resort to chemicals and artificial supplements to revitalize crops and grass coverings.
Gravity – The force of gravity is an ally to erosion. Water can only run downhill because of it. Extreme cold can expand rocks and soil, causing cracks in terraced area designed to hold water in place. Careful attention to and regular inspection of earth barriers will help correct problems before they fail.
Lack of proper plants– Plant roots help anchor the soil against the forces of wind and water. Without a proper ground cover or sell-seated vegetation, there is nothing to bind the soil to the earth. Shrubs that thrive in cold temperature and root vegetables like potatoes and carrots help aid in soil retention. Flower bulbs panted in the fall for spring blooming also help hold the soil in place.
Exposed soil – Any barren ground areas where plants or grass doesn’t exist are prime targets for erosion by both wind and water. For large areas, a cover crop like rye will provide ideal winter protection. Once spring arrives, the cover crop can be plowed under and further enrich he soil for planting. For smaller areas, use leaves or other natural mulching materials as a blanket to protect the soil throughout the winter. Where this isn’t practical, there are many varieties of soil blankets you can buy to spread across vulnerable areas. Some are made of synthetic material and reusable year after year. Others are mace of organic materials like straw that can be mulched into the ground when spring arrives.
Preventing winter erosion in an area like Ann Arbor MI can help preserve the soil resources already in place while assuring you’ll have a landscape ready for spring planting when the winter snow and freeze have departed.
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