How to keep herb garden from washing away

clueless_in_alabama(7b)March 30, 2010

Hi all!

I'm new to this whole gardening thing. ;-) Just planted my first little herb garden in a small sunny spot of my back yard (small plants, not from seed). But hardly had I finished with a great sense of accomplishment than the thought came to me: if we get one of those heavy Spring rains like we always do here in Alabama, this whole thing is going to wash away.

I've got a 3-inch high fiber-edging material around it but that's not enough when we get our heavy rains. Wondering if anyone has suggestions for some kind of tent/covering for when the rains come.


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Your spring rains can't be any worse than the monsoonal downpours we've been having here in the subtropics in the first decent Wet Season in 10 years!

Baby plants haven't yet developed a deep or strong enough root system to withstand flooding, but mature plants have no problem. However, you want the water to drain away, and leave behind the soil, don't you?

The answer is mulching. I use sugar-cane mulch because it's cheap and readily available where I live, but any mulch will do. I think straw is best, but you can use DEAD lawn clippings or dead leaves. You can even use stones/gravel but that makes it difficult when you want to do some digging. You can also use newspaper or old wool carpet, neither of which is attractive, but you can always cover it with straw or leaves etc. If it's natural and organic (once living) it will eventually break down.

I put the straw on at least 30cm (1ft) deep. When it rains, that will tamp it down to about half that. It will break down eventually, which helps to improve the soil. I top mine up at least once a year.

Not only does mulch help to keep the soil from washing away, it also suppresses weeds (I am quite convinced that when it rains, weeds fall from the sky along with the wet stuff!!) - and I think it looks much nicer than plain dirt. Just make sure the mulch doesn't touch the stems of the plants.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 9:15PM
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Oh, I've got some pinestraw I can use. Since I'm from Chicago originally I just never thought of using it for a garden. (In fact, I don't recall my parents using any kind of mulch in their vegetable garden.)

Why shouldn't the mulch touch the stems? It's such a small area I've planted, I'm not sure how I can put pinestraw in it without touching the stems.


    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 10:04PM
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With our heavy rains that parts of the US have been having after the rain slows go out and check your plants to see if they are still planted. Look around the area to see if you can find them if they have washed away. You can hold over night or so in a dampened paper towel. Then try to raise the sides of the bed an inch or so pr use rocks to suround your bed until the plants take root. Store bought compost can be used to raise the edges if you go this route.

Once the plants are settled in and extend their roots into the ground you should not have a problem with them washing.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2010 at 12:25AM
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Anything that rots (breaks down) creates heat in the process. Too much heat too close to the plant, especially baby plants, will cook it! The problem is greatly exacerbated if you use fresh mulch (green grass clippings, green leaves, new manure etc). Mulch should be well and truly dead!

Keeping mulch too close to the plants can encourage trunk and stem rot problems.

Collar rot happens when mulch is applied too close to plant stems, trapping moisture underneath and causing them to rot.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2010 at 1:17AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Pine straw makes a good mulch, clueless. But don't apply a foot of it! Three to four inches is about right, and when it begins to disappear, simply top dress with a little more.

You won't get the heat that you would from 'green' (fresh) materials. Same with bark chips, which many people use. But it's always wise to avoid piling mulch up the stems of our plants. It can cause rot. This is the same for woody shrubs and trees, too. Less of a problem with pine straw, though.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2010 at 5:00AM
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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

Old newspapers can be used for a mulch, much like planter's paper. It can be weighted down with rocks, sticks, dirt, and will degrade by rather quickly.


    Bookmark   March 31, 2010 at 9:15AM
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Thanks for your help, everyone! Just got in from re-doing the whole thing. I hadn't broken up the soil underneath the layer of garden soil I put down, so I did that then replanted.

I've got PLENTY of stones, so I put stones all around and among the plants then did a light layer of pinestraw. They look snug as a bug in a rug now. :-)

    Bookmark   March 31, 2010 at 2:30PM
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MULCH IT !MULCH IT !MULCH IT ! The old gardener's adage.

Somebody mentioned to put down 3-4" of pine straw. That is way too much
and not necessary. No more than 1/2" (when packed) pine straw is needed.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2010 at 10:42PM
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Thanks Cyrus. I actually had only put a sprinkling of pine straw down, thinking it looked like enough to do the job, but then I wondered if I should have put down more. Now I'll just leave it as is and see how things go.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2010 at 6:55PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Actually 3 to 4 inches is the recommended layer to use in order to have the mulch function as a weed suppressant, a soil temperature modifier, a soil moisture retainer, and all of the other things that mulch is supposed to do. A good layer will buffer the effects of a heavy rain fall enormously.

If you use too much less, your soil/root systems won't benefit as much. If you use too much, the roots of your plants might end up growing into the mulch to seek oxygen.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2010 at 6:24PM
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Make "snakes" of old pantyhose legs filled with coarse sawdust, straw or pine needles. Lay the snakes across the slope at frequent intervals and hammer them into place with wooden stakes. They will slow the water down and prevent washouts.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2010 at 6:15PM
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