Soil Instability

Mid-Atlantic states are in the midst of an incredible winter storm. Snowfall predictions for D.C. and the surrounding areas, including Chesapeake Bay, range from 2 to 3


. This will cause lots of headaches for lots of people. Ice freezing on trees will cause breaks that take out power. At the very least, it will be horribly...inconvenient... for hundreds of thousands of people. Actually, based on population density, I'd better upgrade that to millions.

Here in Western North Carolina, we have had an extremely wet 12 months. We had been in a several-year period of drought that had folks having to dig new wells. Now the ground is so saturated that trees are literally losing their grip on the soil and falling over--especially those that have become coated with ice. In January alone, the Asheville airport recorded nearly 20" of precipitation in either the form of rain or show.

In an earlier


, I talked about soil composition. Typically, soil is 20-30% water. We are definitely on the high end of that range now. Plants can be drowned in this way because the water can push out the air in the soil, essentially suffocating the plant. (That's why they all like "well-drained soil.") When there is too much water in the soil, you end up with--you guessed it--mud. And if you're on a slope, this can lead to a mudslide. So we have a whole host of issues associated with too much water.

Friends of mine in Saluda, NC, watched in dismay as a new neighbor cut down dozens of trees on the property during construction to create a large grassy lawn area. My friends took the prudent course of prominently marking the property line to try to ensure that their own trees didn't fall to the bulldozer. Their neighbor has virtually ensured extensive problems for the future. Maybe his builder warned him, maybe he didn't--but by eliminating that many trees he has eliminated the very elements that can protect his property from erosion. He has also put my friends at risk. Mudslides happen when soil is destabilized--and construction and tree-removal are huge de-stabilizers. For more information on mudslides, go



Soil can be put at risk of a slide through construction, removal of vegetation, proximity to streams, creeks and rivers (moving water), and exposure to surface run off. These same conditions can lead to other things besides mudslides, of course. For the average homeowner not on a creek or steep slope, these same conditions can lead to structural problems with a home's foundation or soggy areas in a landscape that encourage root rot. There are things you can do to alleviate or remedy these problems.

First, and once again, get rid of some grass. (But not by digging it up. Digging it up just destabilizes the soil.)  Plant trees and shrubs or ground covers (you can over seed these in the average lawn after aeration) that will reach deep into the soil and introduce both air and stability.


can be an incredible soil stabilizer, as can alfalfa--and in a very short time period. Our

native grasses

work well, also. None of these may be immediately effective on soil that is pure clay--but through repeated plantings and other soil amendment (mulch-mowing of fallen leaves, ) you can gradually increase the depth of the root structure and thus the depth of your "fluffy dirt."

You can even use flowers to do the job. Coneflower and goldenrod can have roots up to 8 feet deep! So if you've got an area on a slope--even a small slope--with nothing but grass, consider some native meadow grasses and flowers. Goldenrod can effectively choke out short grasses, and a garden cultivar that is shorter than the true native ("Fireworks" is one) can be a very nice addition to the landscape--and a favorite with pollinators. The links provided above (clover, native grasses) will give you extensive information on appropriate soil types and root structure.

There are some other things we will discuss that assist with water management (rain gardens, drip irrigation, dry creek beds, etc., etc.) but we'll leave those for another blog. In the meantime, stay warm, and thanks for reading!

Rufus Out of the House!

Rufus Out of the House!

Unintended Consequences

Unintended Consequences