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Roadside Property and Ditches, what do you think?  RSS feed

 
pollinator
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I'm pretty sure this is the right section to post this question in, let me know if it isn't!

I'm looking for ideas of what to do with these two roadside strips of land and the ditches. The wooden privacy fencing is 7' foot tall. I was standing in my driveway when I took the photos. I just took these pics the other day, once Spring really comes in the water will increase and the grass will really take off. I'm in NE Ohio, grow zone 6b.

It might not be obvious in the pictures but the ditches are big, deep and steep.

It's a real pain to mow and the grass in the ditch gets really thick and tall and is difficult to get to to trim it down.


Aims;
1. I don't want my husband to have to mow it any more and it seems like it could be a good space to grow something better than grass.
2. Make it so we don't have to weed whack the ditches.
3. Looks nice so people won't complain or come and mow it for us.
4. Helps to control erosion of the banks.
5. Is useful to wildlife

Section 1. My property line ends right about at the pole and little Apple tree.

Ideas I had for this section was to plant a all season long pollinator wildflower mix in the grass area and maybe Cattails in the ditch. Down the road a bit there are a few areas that Cattails are growing in a neighbor's ditch and it appears to be just fine and not cause any issues...

Do you think it's ok to plant a pollinator area so close to the road? I don't want to encourage them to fly into the road and get squashed. The road is pretty low traffic mostly but can get more busy in the summer. I was thinking something tall in the ditch growing would act like a natural barrier to help divert insect traffic away from the road.

Section 2

It's a real pain to mow and the ditch kind of widens out into a very wet soggy area that you can't mow most of the time and it's so wide you can't weed whack it unless it gets really, really dry. (Side note; some of the water is run off from my property on the other side of the fence which I will be addressing when I design my permaculture property design layout).

I was kind of thinking about doing pretty much the same thing as section 1 ( wildflowers and Cattails) but then after the wooden fence ends and the land narrows, planting maybe some kind of natural hedge row, or some kind of thorny bush or letting the plants that are already growing there in the woods line to expand out which includes things like Multiflora Rose and wild Blackberries..

Note; The whole length of wooded line and ditch is my property which ends at a bridge with a culvert which has a large creek flowing through it.

What do you think? Any other ideas?
SECTION-1-ROADSIDE.jpg
[Thumbnail for SECTION-1-ROADSIDE.jpg]
Section-2-road-side.jpg
[Thumbnail for Section-2-road-side.jpg]
 
gardener
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I like the idea of cattails and wild flowers--I think that would look nice. You might also want to consider adding some shrubs.

I have a similar area along the edge of my property. I have been using sheet mulch to kill off the grass and then planting shrubs and trees. Right now I have planted a bunch of native upland willows (they will grow to about 40 feet) that won't mind the site drying out in the summer and a few conifers in some gaps between existing conifers. I'm also going to be planting some hardwood trees in a few areas.

Next year I'm thinking about extending the area that I'm sheet mulching and planting a bunch of native roses and perhaps Douglas spirea (thicket forming but only gets about 4 feet tall) closer to the road along the edge of what I already mulched.

My thought has been shorter thicket forming but nice looking (both the roses and the spirea get nice flowers) plants closer to the road and then taller trees and shrubs along the fence. I'm wanting this to provide a privacy screen (my fence is not solid like yours) that can also keep deer out so I can eventually take down my deer fence.

Just another approach to a similar situation
 
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Before I did anything, I would check with your county and see if they have regulations about what you can do with that area.  In many locations, including mine, the county owns from the middle of the road out a certain number of feet, and that number of feet may very well go past that ditch area you are looking at changing.  If it's like it is here, the county comes through with enormous machines that destroy everything in the way, including trees.  It would be a shame to do a lot of work in the area and have them come through and clear cut it again.
 
pollinator
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Cattails would be a seriously bad idea in my opinion, they will fill in that ditch, turn it into dry land to stop them doing that you'll need to get in with a digger ever few years and yank them out. Here it would also be illegal to plant them as they impede waterflow and that is what the ditches are for.
Also check where waterlines etc run it is often illegal to plant bushes or trees within a certain distance of them (and also a stupid idea)
 
pollinator
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Adrienne,

I want to second what Trace said about local zoning restrictions and rights of way.  Around me the county has the authority to mow the 15’ of land adjacent to roadside.  It kinda bugs me as I think that maintaining 5-10’ is fine and I like to leave as much of my property in a natural state as possible (I do live in the country).  

I am just guessing but I suspect that it is not illegal to plant anything on the area you showed, but it might get mowed right down without any warnings.  I now maintain 10’ from the road edge and I have spoken to the guy who actually does the mowing and he does not mow any further.

Also, there are bizarre rules about not interfering with a waterway and as the area you described is a ditch, some official might make a stink about planting there if the county has authority.

I don’t want to be a downer, I just would suggest checking with the county first.

Good luck and please let us know how things develop.

Eric
 
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I like the idea of cattails, or any reed bed idea that can stand drying out a bit. You might need to plant things like cattails in a sock-like wrapping, such that the water can get at the root system, but so that the cattails or reeds or whatever don't completely block the ditch. I would actually make little sock peninsulae jutting out past the centre of the ditch from one end, then the other, in an alternating pattern, such that the flow zig-zags, so it will be slow when there isn't much water, but will top the reed socks and flow overtop of them when necessary.

Though doing so ultimately will do as Skandi suggests, filling it with organic matter and trapped sediment until it fills and needs digging out. That could be a really excellent way to build up the soil periodically in this riparian area, but it would have to be planned, otherwise it would result in the destruction of all that was created.

The first thing I would do is start applying oyster mushroom slurries to the area between the roadway and the bottom of the ditch, and maybe add some organic matter atop it beforehand. Grass clippings should do. That will transform the area between the road and the ditch into a fungal filter that will work to break down hydrocarbon pollution, an excellent complimentary stage to the cattail/reed bed idea.

And if the county or whatever comes by periodically to bushwhack, I would go with something willowy that can stand drying out, something that doesn't get too big. If it's a member of the willow family, it will grow right back from the stump, or from any pieces left.

But let us know how you do it, post more pics, and good luck!

-CK
 
Daron Williams
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In my area the county does not care if you plant there they will just mow it when they need to. They mow it every year anyways. But they only mow back to a certain point and I'm just planting behind that point. The rose and spirea will just regrow if they get mowed so no issue there and the trees will be back far enough that as long as I trim the branches growing towards the road the county won't bother them.

But every county is different but in this area they don't seem to care since as long as you don't put something in that blocks them from mowing.
 
pollinator
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Another aspect to consider is sight lines. I believe you said the photos were taken standing in your driveway. It would be a shame to go through a bunch of planting to find out in a few months that your ability to see oncoming traffic is blocked when trying to pull out of your drive. Plants on the fence side probably would not cause an issue, but taller things on the the street side could very easily create problems.

In my area of western Illinois a lot of the farmers that do plant something along those ditches will plant a few daylilies and in a few years the whole bank is covered. Orange daylilies.
 
Adrienne Halbrook
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Thank you for all the replies!! I'm working through them, I just wanted to quickly say that we own the property out all the way to the center of the road( and thus pay property tax on it) but the county has "right of way" X amount of feet past the ditch into my yard. I can't remember the exact amount but that is why we set our fence so far back, well back away from the right of way line.

However the county doesn't really care what is growing just as long as it can be mowed down if they want. But mainly they just want the grass strip along the road kept mowed down, the stripe between the road and ditch. They come once in the summer to mow. They also will trim back tree branches or anything that starts getting to close to the road. My township is unzoned so they don't care about this stuff.

So the ditch and the embankment we maintain. We can also put a little sign out that says "NO MOWING" which is what some other people do who have specific plants growing in their ditches and embankments that they do not want the county to mow down, which works.

 
Adrienne Halbrook
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Daron Williams wrote:I like the idea of cattails and wild flowers--I think that would look nice. You might also want to consider adding some shrubs.

I have a similar area along the edge of my property. I have been using sheet mulch to kill off the grass and then planting shrubs and trees. Right now I have planted a bunch of native upland willows (they will grow to about 40 feet) that won't mind the site drying out in the summer and a few conifers in some gaps between existing conifers. I'm also going to be planting some hardwood trees in a few areas.

Next year I'm thinking about extending the area that I'm sheet mulching and planting a bunch of native roses and perhaps Douglas spirea (thicket forming but only gets about 4 feet tall) closer to the road along the edge of what I already mulched.

My thought has been shorter thicket forming but nice looking (both the roses and the spirea get nice flowers) plants closer to the road and then taller trees and shrubs along the fence. I'm wanting this to provide a privacy screen (my fence is not solid like yours) that can also keep deer out so I can eventually take down my deer fence.

Just another approach to a similar situation



Great ideas! That will look so nice when you are done. I like the idea of some native roses for down along my wood line. I will have to look into it and see what is available. I will look into shrubs and see what might be a good fit. Thanks for the suggestions.

 
Adrienne Halbrook
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Skandi Rogers wrote:Cattails would be a seriously bad idea in my opinion, they will fill in that ditch, turn it into dry land to stop them doing that you'll need to get in with a digger ever few years and yank them out. Here it would also be illegal to plant them as they impede waterflow and that is what the ditches are for.
Also check where waterlines etc run it is often illegal to plant bushes or trees within a certain distance of them (and also a stupid idea)



Thanks for the reply. Many of the ditches that are like mine in the area naturally have Cattails or some kind of tall Reeds or other water loving plants growing in them. The ditches don't dry out, they are very boggy. No matter what the ditches get over taken with lush plant growth of some kind, even if it's just very thick, tall grasses.

There are no waterlines to worry about, I am out in a rural farm area and we all have personal water wells. There are no county water lines or fire hydrant lines to worry about.
 
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Let it go wild. Don’t do anything.
 
Adrienne Halbrook
pollinator
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Eric Hanson wrote:Adrienne,

I want to second what Trace said about local zoning restrictions and rights of way.  Around me the county has the authority to mow the 15’ of land adjacent to roadside.  It kinda bugs me as I think that maintaining 5-10’ is fine and I like to leave as much of my property in a natural state as possible (I do live in the country).  

I am just guessing but I suspect that it is not illegal to plant anything on the area you showed, but it might get mowed right down without any warnings.  I now maintain 10’ from the road edge and I have spoken to the guy who actually does the mowing and he does not mow any further.

Also, there are bizarre rules about not interfering with a waterway and as the area you described is a ditch, some official might make a stink about planting there if the county has authority.

I don’t want to be a downer, I just would suggest checking with the county first.

Good luck and please let us know how things develop.

Eric



All good points. My county usually only mows along the road and maybe a little into the ditch. So I am not too concerned but I will put up a nice sign that says "NO MOWING" just in case. Other people have done that and I have never seen it mowed down.

Also the other ditches like mine( big, deep, boggy) on my road naturally have water loving plants such as Cattails and really tall reeds of some kind growing in them so my property wouldn't standout. No one seems to care about that so it should be fine. I'm not going to make a big production of it though just in case, more of a stealth planting plan.
The ditches as they are become filled with crazy thick, tall grass that grows like wild that is hard to trim so I figure if it's going to be growing plants anyway why not a low maintenance natural plant instead of grass?
 
Adrienne Halbrook
pollinator
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Chris Kott wrote:I like the idea of cattails, or any reed bed idea that can stand drying out a bit. You might need to plant things like cattails in a sock-like wrapping, such that the water can get at the root system, but so that the cattails or reeds or whatever don't completely block the ditch. I would actually make little sock peninsulae jutting out past the centre of the ditch from one end, then the other, in an alternating pattern, such that the flow zig-zags, so it will be slow when there isn't much water, but will top the reed socks and flow overtop of them when necessary.

Though doing so ultimately will do as Skandi suggests, filling it with organic matter and trapped sediment until it fills and needs digging out. That could be a really excellent way to build up the soil periodically in this riparian area, but it would have to be planned, otherwise it would result in the destruction of all that was created.

The first thing I would do is start applying oyster mushroom slurries to the area between the roadway and the bottom of the ditch, and maybe add some organic matter atop it beforehand. Grass clippings should do. That will transform the area between the road and the ditch into a fungal filter that will work to break down hydrocarbon pollution, an excellent complimentary stage to the cattail/reed bed idea.

And if the county or whatever comes by periodically to bushwhack, I would go with something willowy that can stand drying out, something that doesn't get too big. If it's a member of the willow family, it will grow right back from the stump, or from any pieces left.

But let us know how you do it, post more pics, and good luck!

-CK



This is excellent!! Thanks so much for the suggestions! Definitely gives me a starting point and a solid plan, now I just need to start researching and do some studying so I can do this right. And I really like the oyster mushroom slurries idea. The water ends up pouring right into a river at the end of my property so any little bit to help with pollution is great.

I will make sure to post in the projects area when I get started on all this! I have a 3 month old baby right now so I'm not sure how much I will get done this year but I wanted to have time to get good ideas and study up so I can be prepared and hit the ground running when I am able to get started.
 
Eric Hanson
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Adrienne,

I am slightly jealous of you!  My country takes their roadside mowing pretty seriously.  If I don’t have my roadside mowed to the required (15’ I think, maybe 20’) distance, then they come in with a large (6’+) mower and will mow past that distance.  It bugs me for a number of reasons.  Firstly I adamantly believe that as it is my property, it is my business what I do with it.  Traditionally I would mow two passes on the roadside (8’) which I think would be plenty of distance.  Now I mow 3 passes (12’+) and the county still wants to mow 6’ past that distance.  I eventually went out and talked to the guy who actually does some mowing and he told me that the county wanted mowed back even further, but that as long as I was mowing 3 passes he would ignore my property from then on.

Personally I like tall grasses and wildflowers.  This used to be pastureland, but I have given serious thought to planting native grasses, and especially big bluestem.  I am required to mow once per year and I am ok with this, but I see no reason for keeping a mowed stretch of grassland 20’ back from a road for no reason.

Sorry if I ranted too much.  I like your idea of having wildflowers in an area you don’t really use like a lawn.  Congratulations on being able to exercise your rights as a property owner to maintain your land as you see fit.  Please keep us updated on your future plans.

Eric
 
Adrienne Halbrook
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Dennis Mitchell wrote:Let it go wild. Don’t do anything.



I've definitely thought about it! But it would drive my husband crazy seeing it turn into a jungle of grass. Also one of my goals for my property is to use it to teach people about permaculture so I feel it's important that out front "looks nice" and cared for even if it's more of a tended wildness kind of look.
 
Adrienne Halbrook
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Caleb Mayfield wrote:Another aspect to consider is sight lines. I believe you said the photos were taken standing in your driveway. It would be a shame to go through a bunch of planting to find out in a few months that your ability to see oncoming traffic is blocked when trying to pull out of your drive. Plants on the fence side probably would not cause an issue, but taller things on the the street side could very easily create problems.

In my area of western Illinois a lot of the farmers that do plant something along those ditches will plant a few daylilies and in a few years the whole bank is covered. Orange daylilies.



Very good point!! I didn't think of how tall the Cattails would get. I will have to go out and look at what my sight line is when sitting at the end of the drive and how deep the ditches are. I think most/all of section 2 would be just fine, that ditch is deep and it is so much lower than the road, to plant them but section 1 might be an issue... Daylilies! Great idea! I have seen them growing in ditches around here in my area so they wouldn't be out of the ordinary and I even have a volunteer patch of them growing on my property.  So section 1 might be a better fit for daylilies. Thanks for the idea!
 
Adrienne Halbrook
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Eric Hanson wrote:Adrienne,

I am slightly jealous of you!  My country takes their roadside mowing pretty seriously.  If I don’t have my roadside mowed to the required (15’ I think, maybe 20’) distance, then they come in with a large (6’+) mower and will mow past that distance.  It bugs me for a number of reasons.  Firstly I adamantly believe that as it is my property, it is my business what I do with it.  Traditionally I would mow two passes on the roadside (8’) which I think would be plenty of distance.  Now I mow 3 passes (12’+) and the county still wants to mow 6’ past that distance.  I eventually went out and talked to the guy who actually does some mowing and he told me that the county wanted mowed back even further, but that as long as I was mowing 3 passes he would ignore my property from then on.

Personally I like tall grasses and wildflowers.  This used to be pastureland, but I have given serious thought to planting native grasses, and especially big bluestem.  I am required to mow once per year and I am ok with this, but I see no reason for keeping a mowed stretch of grassland 20’ back from a road for no reason.

Sorry if I ranted too much.  I like your idea of having wildflowers in an area you don’t really use like a lawn.  Congratulations on being able to exercise your rights as a property owner to maintain your land as you see fit.  Please keep us updated on your future plans.

Eric



Wow, ya that stinks.  I'm pretty lucky that way then! My county is quite poor and my township is unzoned so I think that helps. Being unzoned makes it so there is no standard to enforce, pretty much anything goes as long as it's not illegal or a true public safety or health issue. That is why we bought property here, we wanted more freedom to use our land without a bunch of restrictions. We can put up fences and build without having to get permission or permits.  And that is why we were able to build a solid 7' privacy fence in our front yard. Around here people either love it and wish they could have one too or hate it and think it's somehow something against them some how...? We just wanted to cut down some of the noise from the road and have a little privacy. Also I wanted a fence that livestock couldn't get though and get in the road. We joke and call it our fortress fence.  It's easy to give directions to our house, we just tell them what road we live on and that we're the house with the wooden privacy fence out front. "Oh you're that house! Ya I know where you are".
 
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I always enjoy area planted to lilies or other flowers and you've got a lot of good suggestions.

I'm pretty practical, so I'd probably plant it all in comfrey.  I'd then set up temp fences and let the animals graze it down or, for more work, chop and drop where you want it.  I like the way comfrey plants look, too, but animals love them as food.
 
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Have you considered planting something for biomass and mulch in this spot? Here crimson clover would be good for over winter. I have a neighbor that uses this self seeding annual on his bank above the ditch. Maybe under seed and follow it with a summer crop as well. Buckwheat? Something else?

Then if they mow it down, just rake it up and use it for its intended purpose!
 
Timothy Markus
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Forgot to add, if you grow comfrey, you can self-propagate and then start selling root cuttings, so you'll get a fodder crop, beautiful (I think) plants with flowers that the pollinators love, and an income stream.  
 
Adrienne Halbrook
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Timothy Markus wrote:I always enjoy area planted to lilies or other flowers and you've got a lot of good suggestions.

I'm pretty practical, so I'd probably plant it all in comfrey.  I'd then set up temp fences and let the animals graze it down or, for more work, chop and drop where you want it.  I like the way comfrey plants look, too, but animals love them as food.



Thanks for the suggestion! I keep reading how super awesome Comfrey is, guess I better go read up on it and it's uses.
 
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This has some interesting information on rain gardens and photos of ditch gardens that are really stunningly beautiful. You might want to read it ... The Beneficial Beauty of Rain Gardens.

Personally, I would go with a few well-spaced clumps of cattail on the upper portion of the fence side of the ditch, interspersed with the old fashioned tiger lilies (those orange and spotted daylilies), horsetail (Equisetum arvense) and then plant lower-growing plants like native irises that prefer boggy areas such as iris brevicaulis or I. fulva along with native reeds and wetland grasses on the roadside where you need more visibility.
 
Adrienne Halbrook
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Joylynn Hardesty wrote:Have you considered planting something for biomass and mulch in this spot? Here crimson clover would be good for over winter. I have a neighbor that uses this self seeding annual on his bank above the ditch. Maybe under seed and follow it with a summer crop as well. Buckwheat? Something else?

Then if they mow it down, just rake it up and use it for its intended purpose!



Thanks for the suggestions! And yes that's true - if they mow it down no big deal!
I was originally thinking about maybe clover, White Clover grows there mixed with the grass and would happily take over if it could. Maybe I could do a clover, wildflower mix?

I didn't think of Buckwheat, I don't know much about it so I'll have to check it out.

What I would love is for the grass stripe along the road to be some kind of clover instead of grass so wit wouldn't have to be mown but I don't know how I could accomplish that.
 
Adrienne Halbrook
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Deb Stephens wrote:This has some interesting information on rain gardens and photos of ditch gardens that are really stunningly beautiful. You might want to read it ... The Beneficial Beauty of Rain Gardens.

Personally, I would go with a few well-spaced clumps of cattail on the upper portion of the fence side of the ditch, interspersed with the old fashioned tiger lilies (those orange and spotted daylilies), horsetail (Equisetum arvense) and then plant lower-growing plants like native irises that prefer boggy areas such as iris brevicaulis or I. fulva along with native reeds and wetland grasses on the roadside where you need more visibility.



Oh wow!!! Thanks for the fantastic link! I have never seen rain and ditch gardens before, they are gorgeous!!  I just looked at the photos so now I'll head back and read the info.

Your layout design sounds beautiful!
 
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Perhaps this would not be a real concern. I've never lived on a road with ditches, so this is pure theory speaking; though just keeping ahead of nature on two small properties, I became very conscious of the importance of managing water. My understanding is that the ditches are a functional part of the road drainage system. Thus, if the ditches fill with soil, they may not perform their designed function and need to be dug out. I'd guess this to be a "natural" process that occurs in any case, but IF plantings lead to this maintenance every 5 years, instead of the previous every 20 years (or some similar of compression of the major maintenance interval), they may not turn out to actually be what you'd call and improvement...


Regards,
Rufus
 
Adrienne Halbrook
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Rufus Laggren wrote:Perhaps this would not be a real concern. I've never lived on a road with ditches, so this is pure theory speaking; though just keeping ahead of nature on two small properties, I became very conscious of the importance of managing water. My understanding is that the ditches are a functional part of the road drainage system. Thus, if the ditches fill with soil, they may not perform their designed function and need to be dug out. I'd guess this to be a "natural" process that occurs in any case, but IF plantings lead to this maintenance every 5 years, instead of the previous every 20 years (or some similar of compression of the major maintenance interval), they may not turn out to actually be what you'd call and improvement...


Regards,
Rufus



Thanks for your thoughts.  This is a bit of an experiment. The ditches already grow very tick tall grass that grows really fast and that requires trimming down often throughout the growing season. Reeds, Cattails, Daylilies, etc. grow naturally in deep ditches in my area.  
So the question is would these other ditch growing plants cause more soil buildup than heavy, thick grass? If they do, then how much? Just a little bit? Or maybe less buildup?

They would be very low maintenance and look nice. So I think it's worth a try. I can always pull them out if it doesn't workout. Which would be work but we already put a lot of work in the ditches as they are right now so no big deal.
 
Deb Stephens
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Rufus Laggren wrote:Perhaps this would not be a real concern. I've never lived on a road with ditches, so this is pure theory speaking; though just keeping ahead of nature on two small properties, I became very conscious of the importance of managing water. My understanding is that the ditches are a functional part of the road drainage system. Thus, if the ditches fill with soil, they may not perform their designed function and need to be dug out. I'd guess this to be a "natural" process that occurs in any case, but IF plantings lead to this maintenance every 5 years, instead of the previous every 20 years (or some similar of compression of the major maintenance interval), they may not turn out to actually be what you'd call and improvement...


Regards,
Rufus



I'm going on pure theory here myself, but it seems to me that having plants in the ditches would actually help slow soil build-up because the plant roots would stabilize the banks and prevent erosion. The plants, themselves would take up much of the water as well, so the ditches would carry less water than previously. If leaves and dead plants are periodically raked out to prevent natural decay into soil, that should be enough, but it is also possible to line the bottom of the ditch with large stones and gravel for a threefold benefit -- to help control erosion, make an area where plants will not grow, and still allow for the water to percolate through and into the soil beneath them. Basically, you would be turning the ditch into a sort of natural stream bed with planted embankments.
 
Chris Kott
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I am assuming the ditches upstream look largely the same as what's in the pictures, but my logic in thinking that planted ditches would fill in whatever you do is because unless there is no interruption in the flow, plantings will decrease the rate of flow, decreasing the average size of particle the flow is able to carry.

A ditch so planted would drop increasingly fine particles downstream as long as or wherever the current slowed.

-CK
 
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