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When to dig a swale?

Posts: 3738
Location: Vermont, off grid for 24 years!
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I'm planting a bunch of trees this year so I'm wondering when is a good time to dig a swale?

Specifically, do I have to wait till mud season is over? I'm doing this by hand so I don't have to worry about heavy equipment compacting the soil or getting stuck. And I wont be able to dig while the ground is still frozen. So do I need to wait till the ground has dried out a bit?
Posts: 56
Location: Eastern Massachusetts
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Hi CJ,

I am definitely not the expert on this I am completely going off of secondhand information. I think I remember Geoff Lawton saying that because the swale is a tree planting system you want the mound to be relatively soft and loose so that it is well aerated/ drained and can absorb some moisture.

My thought with mud season is that the berm on the downhill side of the swale be much more compacted due to the structure of the mud. My other thought was if you plant into it you may not have as good of success since the mud will be less aerated than drier soil later in the year would be.

Truthfully though I do not know, I suspect it would work either way I wish I had more experience so that I could be more helpful.

Good luck with your plantings and happy spring,

Posts: 3374
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Usually YES. But it depends on your soil type, how long until you want to plant trees, and what cover crops you use until then.

I know I have a two week window tops to avoid mud in the spring and still capture any spring rains. That window isn't the same time each year and I may have missed it this spring already. Glad I at least got the keyline done last fall.
Posts: 2719
Location: Maine (zone 5)
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I started doing mine about this time last year. You can check out some pictures in THIS thread about a quarter way down. I did it all by hand with an A frame level, driveway flags, a shovel, and the appropriate music.

It was just after the mud and the weekend before I put my trees in the ground so...

I say go for it.
Posts: 337
Location: PDX Zone 8b 1/6th acre
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Craig Dobbelyu wrote:, and the appropriate music.

This is the appropriate music when I dig a swale.

FWIW OP, I say whenever the shovel penetrates dirt and the hole doesn't fill with water is a good time for a new swale.
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