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Planting swale berms, and swale size?  RSS feed

 
Matthew Rogers
Posts: 6
Location: Port Orchard, Wa Zone 8b
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Hello everyone, I recently dug two Swales on our 4% slope as we are planting three rows of fruit trees in a couple days. They are about five feet wide and 16-20 inches deep.The first swale is about 96 feet and the second is about 72'. We raked them all out and the upper swale is very close to level the first half of the ditch but then the swale drops about 3 inches in 25 feet and then another 3-4 inches the last 15-20 feet. I am wondering if this six inches over that distance will become a problem or if I am being to nit picky. Will this all be fine once I mulch over the bare soil? If so would straw and wood chips be appropriate fill for the Swales. I would also love to hear anyone's favorite plants to stabilize the berm between the fruit trees and their guilds. Thanks so much to all who read this.
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Joseph Lofthouse
gardener
Posts: 2667
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Matthew: Looking Great. Good Work! You'll get a better idea what the swales are going to do with the first big rainstorm... 6 inches in 50 feet is about a 1% slope on the swales which is huge when dealing with water... But the rain will wash the dirt, mulch, and wood chips to the low spots, then they won't be so low any more, and it'll scour stuff out of the high spots so they won't be so high any more. The lower part of the swale will be more clay/loam, and the top part will be more sandy/rocky. You can add small berms perpendicular to the swale to keep the water/compost in the upper reaches of the swale.

I couldn't see if you made provisions for spillways from the swales, but that will become obvious to you as well when a big storm arrives.
 
elle sagenev
Posts: 1282
Location: Zone 5 Wyoming
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Well I think being off contour a bit isn't a problem if that is what you need for your situation. I've stated before that my swales aren't on contour. We needed water draining away from our driveway. The swales have worked perfectly for that and they aren't so far off contour that it's a huge river running. Guess it rather depends on your rainfall and such. You'll find out when it rains if it's a problem for you.
 
Matthew Rogers
Posts: 6
Location: Port Orchard, Wa Zone 8b
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Thanks for the input. I should be clear I didn't mean to have one end lower but now that it is I'm curious if it needs to be fixed and if so how? Also my soil is very sandy and drains well, maybe too well. It has rained a couple times recently and there has never been standing water.once the fruit trees are established will enough water be in the landscape for them to access it? There will be another row of trees 15 and 30 feet below the Swales.
 
Michael Longfield
Posts: 95
Location: Southern IL zone 7
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I don't think you need to adjust the slope of your swale. If your water is soaking in, it doesn't necessarily matter whether its not perfectly level, because your water is soaking in instead of spreading along the bottom of the swale.

Generally sandy soils don't need swales for water infiltration, because the water is already infiltrating. Sandy soils could in situations benefit from a swale because of the concentrated top soil on the swale berm, which can then be used to plant trees.

Good luck on your tree planting!!!
 
Brian McCune
Posts: 27
Location: Kent County, MI
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Matthew Rogers wrote:Hello everyone, I recently dug two Swales on our 4% slope as we are planting three rows of fruit trees in a couple days. They are about five feet wide and 16-20 inches deep.The first swale is about 96 feet and the second is about 72'. We raked them all out and the upper swale is very close to level the first half of the ditch but then the swale drops about 3 inches in 25 feet and then another 3-4 inches the last 15-20 feet. I am wondering if this six inches over that distance will become a problem or if I am being to nit picky. Will this all be fine once I mulch over the bare soil? If so would straw and wood chips be appropriate fill for the Swales. I would also love to hear anyone's favorite plants to stabilize the berm between the fruit trees and their guilds. Thanks so much to all who read this.


I think it not being perfect is just fine, as long as you vegetate the exposed soil with a perennial ground cover suitable to your climate. You will still have a water harvesting feature that will last a very long time. I would just suggest to strive for a more level swale on the next one. Everyone above made good points, depending on the situation you may want to have that 6" fall in 100' (for instance above an area you want to keep slightly drier.

I didn't however see anyone mention the fact that you need to diversify. You mentioned planting fruit trees and not much else, I think that might be a mistake that will cost you more labor in the end. You might consider inter-planting some support species for those trees before they get very big. It will do wonders towards the overall vitality of the land and health/fertility of the soil. Plus its a darn site cheaper that buying all those soil amendments.

Now onto my recommended support plants, most are nitrogen fixers and many are bio-remediators. These are plants that can be planted between your future productive trees in order to have ecology on your side. Keep in mind, you can always cut them down and sheet mulch over them, thus speeding up succession all the same.


(the following are long-term overstory trees)
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Willow(weeping/various) Salix alba    D. Tree 4-8
“ “(black)                         Salix Nigra                “ 3-9

*( Use caution with willows, they are greedy and grow quite fast. Although best suited for wind breaks and site remediation, there are better choices for small sites. However i would recommend one or two, as there is an easily extracted rooting agent.)* https://deepgreenpermaculture.com/diy-instructions/home-made-plant-rooting-hormone-willow-water/

Oak (black)                 Quercus velutina “ 3-9

Locust(Black)                 Robinia pseudoacacia “ 3-8
“ “(Honey)                         Gleditsia triacanthos “ 4-7

*(Many of the Locust trees do have rather large thorns, which may be useful as a security hedge, but not ideal for chop and drop. Although i believe there's a pretty common thorn less variety)*

Alder(speckled)                 Alnus rugosa        “ 2-7
Alder(common)                  Alnus glutinosa          "       3-7

*( I highly reccomend the faster growing 'Alnus' genus for chop and drop support trees. They coppice well and have many other functions)*

KY Coffee Tree                 Gymnocladus dioicus “ 3-8
Dogwood(Pagoda)         Cornus alternifolia “ 3-7



*(The following should all be experiential, plant a bit and observe to see what works well where.)*
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Mimosa                 Albizia julibrissin        “ 6-9
Golden-Chain Tree Laburnum anagyroides “ 5-7
False Indigo         Amorpha fruticosa    D. Shrub 3-9
Olive(autumn)         Elaeagnus umbellata    “ 3-9
“ “(Russian)         Elaeagnus angustifolia       “ 2-7
Pea shrub(Siberian) Caragana arborescens “ 2-7
“ “(Russian)         Caragana frutex         “ 2-7
“ “(Pygmy)         Caragana pygmaea        “ 3-7
Seaberry                 Hippophae rhamnoides   D.Shrub 3-7
Bladder Senna         Colutea arborescens         “ 5-9
Bush clover         Lespedeza thunbergii    D. shrub 4-8
NJ Tea                 Ceanothus americanus      “ 3-8
Bush clover(round) Lespedeza capitata     P. Herb 3-8
Buffalo berry         Shepherdia canadensis      “ 2-6
Lead Plant                 Amorpha canescens          “ 3-8
Milk vetch(g. plum) Astragalus crassicarpus “ 3-10
“ “(Painted)   Astragalus ceramicus    “ 3-9
Wild Indigo(Cream) Baptisia bracteata        “ 2-8
“ “(White)    Baptisia alba               “ 3-9
Licorice(Cultivated) Glycyrrhiza glabra         “ 6-9
“ “(Wild)      Glycyrrhiza lepidota     “ 3-8
Sweet Vetch      Hedysarum boreale      “ 3-9
“ “(White)          Lupinus albus             “ 4-9
“ “(Wild)                 Lupinus perennis        “ 3-8
Prairie Turnip         Psoralea esculenta             “ 3-7
Clover(White)         Trifolium repens               “ 3-10
Pea(perennial)         Lathyrus latifolius         “ 3-9
Alfalfa                 Medicago sativa             Annual 2-9
Black Medic         Medicago lupulina              “ 2-9
“ “(Crimson)         Trifolium incarnatum        “ 2-9
Groundnut          Apios americana       Vine 2-9
“ (Traveler’s Delight) Apios priceana                “ 5-7
“ (Tuberous)        Lathyrus tuberosus      “ 3-8



There a ton more info about these plants and others at www.pfaf.org

Good luck and nice looking swale!
 
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