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Plants for Swales, Ditches and Trails?  RSS feed

 
Rick Bettencourt
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I have recently been looking for information on what to plant in my ditches, swales and trails. This is to minimize erosion, provide food and to minimize weeds… I have only seen one topic specific to swales and it seemed to focus on trees. I will use that to help me with that aspect of my issue. But, I would appreciate some info on what others are doing with non tree aspects of planting this part of my current earthworks….

I bought 22 acres 2 years ago and we are finally breaking ground. We have done some massive (to us) earth works to provide a driveway, trails for easier traversal of the hills and to move water away from the to-be-built house/barn&greenhouse and to flow the water to my food forrest on a lower plateau…

Hear are some details:
  • We are in the Western Finger Lakes region of NY. We have a few plateaus on the property, with steep hills between. There is quite a bit of water running down a pretty steep pitch across the property when it rains. We are building ponds, ditches and swales to slow and coerce the water where we want.
  • The soil is silty with pockets of clay - the hill we are on runs east to west and has a full day southern exposure.. We have a fair amount of rainfall with bouts of dryness. There is a mix of hardwoods , lots of oak and some black walnut, clumps of softwoods and harder evergreens, and a smaller percentage of other species. This is a somewhat mature forrest environment. We had plenty of water sheeting across the hillside when it did rain hard. We just finished the last ditch this week - These feed a larger pond, which flows into a series of ditches, swales and a collection of cascading small ponds stepping down the hillside, ending in my food terraces to be enhanced with hugelkultur beds….


  • So the questions is what to plant in the ditches, swales and trail? We have two different types of areas. One is along our driveway, the other along the trails we cut across the property to allow us easier access to the other plateaus and the creek at the bottom of the hill.

    Here are a few of the things we would like (althought we realize we can have everything! ), as a result of this planting:
  • Minimize erosion
  • Food sources
  • Make it “Pretty” along my driveway, to make my wife happy!
  • Nitrogen fixers& soil builders
  • Perennial systems
  • Minimal mow (not easy to get a mower in the various places…)
  • Winter hardy in zone 6A (last year we averaged 12º in feb)
  • Varieties that work/look good together to give me some flowers and/or color throughout the year?
  • We plan on running ducks along the ponds and the trails in a few years, so food for them is also a plus…


  • The trails and ditches are about 1500 yards long and trails average 12 ‘ wide. So, I cost effective and self seeding would also be helpful.

    I know this is a lot to ask, but I am sure many of you have had similar circumstances, and would like to know what has and has not worked for you.

    Thanks!
    -Rick
     
    Casie Becker
    gardener
    Posts: 1474
    Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
    117
    forest garden urban
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    I didn't put much thought into what I assembled on the small swale I've made so far in my back yard. I filled the swale itself with mulch and sprinkled a mixture of annual and perennial wildflowers. Relatively cheap and easy. Some of our wildflowers are nitrogen fixing, but I mainly wanted to get something that wasn't grass growing before the grass covered the berm. I've been maintaining our back yard by weed eater to work around all the wildflowers that are sprouting this fall.

    If you can add information about your climate and growing zone it can increase the usefulness of peoples replies. As an example: Lupines are a nitrogen fixing wildflower. Baker Creek seeds even carries edible varieties.That's an option for a nitrogen fixing, food crop, with a beautiful flower. If you contact them, they should be able to tell you if those are annual or perennial plants. I only grow annual Lupines (Texas Bluebonnets). Most lupines won't take the Texas heat.

    edited to suggest contacting Baker Creek
     
    Rick Bettencourt
    Posts: 3
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    Casie Becker wrote: I mainly wanted to get something that wasn't grass growing before the grass covered the berm.


    Another thing we are trying to avoid. Unfortunately timing of our project just ended and we may need to wait until winter to do a frost seeding or spring planting... Hoping to beat the generic grasses to the party!

    Casie Becker wrote: If you can add information about your climate and growing zone it can increase the usefulness of peoples replies. As an example: Lupines are a nitrogen fixing wildflower. Baker Creek seeds even carries edible varieties.That's an option for a nitrogen fixing, food crop, with a beautiful flower.
    edited to suggest contacting Baker Creek


    Did not realize some lupines were edible. Nice!

    I got too wordy and I buried our zone deep in the original question, but we are zone 6A Upstate NY...
     
    R Scott
    Posts: 3351
    Location: Kansas Zone 6a
    32
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    White clover, purslane, ground nut, lots of "edible ground cover" plants that stay fairly low. Herbal/medicinal herbs anywhere along the edges, and wildflower bee habit--any native wildflower mix.
     
    Matu Collins
    Posts: 1976
    Location: Southern New England, seaside, avg yearly rainfall 41.91 in, zone 6b
    69
    bee books chicken forest garden fungi trees
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    Chicory is nice because it has a deep taproot and is a dynamic accumulator, the leaves are edible (if rather bitter), the roots can be roasted and used like coffee, and the flower are both edible and very pretty.

    Mints and oregano would be good because they are good at spreading, need little care, are good to eat/brew in tea, and attract pollinators.

    Egyptian walking onions spread prolifically, are edible, tolerate poor soil and are comic relief in the garden

    IMG_20150726_103110.jpg
    [Thumbnail for IMG_20150726_103110.jpg]
    chicory flowers
    IMG_20150605_211226.jpg
    [Thumbnail for IMG_20150605_211226.jpg]
    egyptian walking onions
     
    Rick Bettencourt
    Posts: 3
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    One thing I forgot to mention is that our new trails , ditches and swales are now mostly exposed silt and clay... (Thus our need to plant soil builders) Used to have 6"+/- of topsoil. which is mixed in a bit.

    Are there any plants that will take a good foothold early in this soil building effort?

    One other question I have is that we plan on planting fruit trees along this new cut across our hillside. Should I try and provide drainage to the the downside of the holes, so that the roots dont swim in the clay lined holes? Or will gravity help drain where we plant?

    I have attached a rough sketch of a slice of our hillside...
    HillsideTrailSlice.JPG
    [Thumbnail for HillsideTrailSlice.JPG]
    New Hillside Slice
     
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