Eroding Hillside Challenge

lovelycherry(Z7 Long Island)October 7, 2006

My husband and i bought a home on Long Island one block from the Long Island Railroad which he rides daily. The back of the house has a steep hill that abuttes the Long Island Railroad, trains run slowly by and infrequently. My yard house does not have a retaining wall. Many of my neighbors do, one of the neighbors recently broke and the landscapers said it would be $30,000 to replace and fix it. It was made from Railroad ties and kept the back of the property from eroding away into the track. Long Island at least the North Shore where I live (I do not have waterfront property) is all sand and clay.

The back hill/slope is weeds which consist of sterile grape vine and weed trees. The grape vines seem to pull down every thing in their way. they also create a dense canopy that does not allow under growth to survivie.

I need help to fix this. We do not have any money to spend on a large retaining wall. It needs to be a home job that may take a few years.

We need protection from the view of the train and erosion control. I can see the dirt sliding down.

My husband thinks if we put gravel down the hill it will keep it in place, I am not sure about that.

I will post pics but thought I would get the discussion started.

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lovelycherry(Z7 Long Island)

I for gotr to mention that beyond the train is a beautiful cemetery. It provides privacy for our backyeard as well as a lovely view.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2006 at 8:19AM
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lovelycherry(Z7 Long Island)

I am new at this so here goes my second attempt to load photos:
this is the screened in porch in the back of my house.

This is the view you see if you turn toward the hill

This is the erosion viewed from the bottom of the hill at the tracks. The railroad track is lower then my house so you don't really see it when you are in the back. The weed line/tree line prevents you from seeing it.
Hope you can see the eroding soil.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2006 at 5:14PM
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lovelycherry(Z7 Long Island)

Erosion as seen from the top. The back drops off pretty sharply at the grass plant line.

In this phot you can see the tree line then the property drops off.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2006 at 5:18PM
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OK, I use railroad ties ALOT. They are cheap and you can get creative with them. If you look under My Page, in the first image posted, under all the aloes on the left side, reside 13 railroad ties in a crossing pattern and I tied down with three foot long metal stakes. The reason I had to do that, was above the RR ties are some large rocks that I placed all along the hillside. Included up there are four huge boulders that were already there.

Anway, the point I'm leading up to, is that all that was done by me, on a budget, with the help of a friend.

I don't know how young, or how strong, or how motivated your husband is--but it can be done. And, it's relatively inexpensive. I just turned 60 and most of the work was done by me with the help of a friend or two when I couldn't do the lifting all by myself.

My recommendation, if you or your husband are going to tackle this job the way I did, is work from the bottom-up. Very important.

I use RR ties for everything, paths, steps, retaining walls--you name it.

Break your project down into smaller, achievable parts and take a break between. It may take you 2-3 years to finish it, but it can be done.

Good luck!


    Bookmark   October 8, 2006 at 9:17PM
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lovelycherry(Z7 Long Island)

Encouragment! I am glad to see that it can be done. I am 44 years old and in good health. I do not know the first thing about building things. My DH does! How willing he is is yet to be seen. We are in our home a year and it seems like we have alot to do.
My ideal yard would be a terraced yard that has some high vegetation to hide the train from view year round, maybe some evergreens? Then a hummingbird/bird garden on the terraced levels above.
I think it will take years to achieve.
Where do you begin? Everyone I talk to says I need an expert but it costs more then I could ever afford.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2006 at 8:13AM
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Here is the web address for a magazine you can read online that I have found helpful:

Native grasses might be the way to go. They root deeply. I bought some native grass seed and an erosion control blanket from All Pro Horticulture in Long Island. They were pretty nice to me and were sensitive about my limited budget.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2006 at 1:17PM
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lovelycherry(Z7 Long Island)

bob64 how about a picture of your erosion control project? I would love to see it.

I saw some local masons working on a front walkway and driveway. I asked if I could have all the broken concrete that they were going to throw away. The guy said, "yes" and even delivered it to my house. In my pile are about 30-40 belgian block and new brick. Plus the concrete pieces. I was so exicted my neighbor thought I had lost my mind.
Erosion control fill for my hole/hill/nightmare.. I fiqure by the time I 90 or so I will have it filled and planted.
I will try and post pics of my haul and my project.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2006 at 3:23PM
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Sorry, I don't have any pic's in any form that I can put in here. I have also been pretty bad about documenting my gardening activities in general. Good score on the masonry. Even if it were not in good shape, you could still fill gullies with it, etc.
Good Luck.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2006 at 5:30PM
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lovelycherry(Z7 Long Island)

I realized today that the grape vines were pulling everything down the hill.. When I released them I found a nightmare underneath sliding slipping earth. One step on it and it slides out from under you. I guess a good cry might be good for me now.
Hey.. were are all the hillies to give me encouragement!
bob64 I did call all pro in farmingdale. Spoke with John he was kind enough to tell me to send photos of my problem and then he would talk on the phone with me about how to control the erosion. he did say, " Wow sounds like you have quite a problem."
Well my hubby is down the landslide now trying to place the old concrete to best keep things in place.
Hope he doesn't end up swallowed up in the hole.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2006 at 5:48PM
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Things do improve as you add in sweat equity backed up by a little bit of research.
Your problem might require a combination of engineering materials (terraces, erosion control blankets, berms, etc.) and plants. If the trees are ailanthus trees, cut them down and paint the freshly cut stumps with high strength RoundUp. If the trees are native trees, I would be inclined to leave them be - they might be the only thing retaining all of that soil. There are various grasses, shrubs, etc. you can use for erosion control. I would definitely NOT reccommend english ivy. English Ivy is invasive, doesn't root deep enough, will kill the rest of your vegetation and will ulitimately be a problem in its own right. I only mention this because I know some neighbor or landscaper is going to reccommend english ivy to you.
Good luck to you and your husband.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2006 at 6:36AM
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lovelycherry(Z7 Long Island)

Ailanthus trees I looked those up they are scary.. but hard to ID. Maybe if I cut a piece of it and take it to the garden center they will be able to tell what it is.
I have more construction debris coming on Monday.
In studying the problem more I have decided my erosion problem is directly related to how my gutters drain.
finding information about how to correctly handle gutter runoff is diffcult.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2006 at 9:26AM
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toolilycrazy(z7 Ga)

The way to approach your gutter problem is to install extensions(which get buried below ground), at least that's what we had to do on our mountainside a number of years ago. If you check with your Home Depot or Lowes they will know what you need. They are large, hard black plastic tubes that connect to the downspout at ground level. You'll need to dig a trench in which to bury the extensions and direct the water away from the house in another direction other than the eroding hillside. Some of ours are run 15-20' from the foundation.

The advice the others have given you is good - been there, done that!! It's taken us ten years of hard work but now we have a beautiful (sometimes) hillside garden. We've used large boulders(plenty of those already here!)to build terraced areas that have been planted with flowering shrubs, perennials and ground covers. A tip I learned is to stagger the terraces, sort of in a zigzag fashion - it slows down the surface water so there's not as much erosion.

I need to look up the names of a couple of the shrubs we've used that have been successful and I'm pretty sure would also be hardy in your area.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2006 at 5:44PM
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lovelycherry(Z7 Long Island)

Thank you! Stagger the terraces sounds like a good idea and may be what I would have had to do anyway, but didn't realize till you said it. The yard is 107 feet wide so to put terraces that wide I think will be too hard. Staggering them will be best. The slope is very steep. I am not even sure you could call it a hillside. Hillsides are lovely sloping areas like in the Sound of Music.. This is a sliding slipery slope. Lovelycherry

    Bookmark   October 16, 2006 at 6:59AM
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The way I test for Ailanthus is to crush up some leaves in my hand and sniff. Ailanthus smells horrible. Ailanthus also poisons other plants around it which means less vegetation and more erosion. Ailanthus itself does not hold soil very well and the wood is not good for much.
Some people purchase live willow stakes and jam them into their slopes (it's a little more complicated than that but not much) which take root and help hold the soil. As a temporary measure for late fall and early winter you can plant rye grain seeds (cereal rye) to hold the area until spring. Chop down the rye before it goes to seed. Check the timing on this one -- I am not sure when it is too late to plant the rye (I think I did it as late as November??). Terraces might be needed to get things under control.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2006 at 11:46PM
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lovelycherry(Z7 Long Island)

I did throw some rye seed on the hill. Hoping it grows and does not just wash away.
I do think I have those Ailanthus trees. I will have to get down the slope to get to the trees. One is so tall with only leaves at the very top so I am not sure I will be able to get to those. How about the bark? Is their any thing distinct about the bark?

    Bookmark   October 17, 2006 at 8:45AM
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lovelycherry(Z7 Long Island)

Took a branch of the suspect tree to my local garden center. Those guys couldn't ID the tree. They said probably sumac but weren't sure. They own and run a local garden/landscape center. Doesn't give me much confidence in them.
I will take a piece to a larger garden center.
But I suspect bob64 is right regarding the tree.
I have one near an expensive hedge on the edge of my property, time to kill that one too before it kills my hedge.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2006 at 10:19AM
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I hate to tell you but I rarely am impressed with nurseries and garden centers. A nature preserve or arboretum or cooperative extension service would be better. I think ailanthus is a kind of sumac so you both might be right. However, ailanthus is not the sumac you want. Staghorn sumac (native, ecofriendly, etc.) might work. I am experimenting with it now. The bark of ailanthus is alleged to have something about it that helps you distinguish it from the desireable native sumacs but I could never tell the difference by the bark alone. The rotten egg smell from the crushed up leaves is usually a reliable indicator of ailanthus for me. FYI, ailanthus is also known to damage foundations, pipes, sewers, etc. Poison the ailanthus stumps immediatley after cutting so that they don't go into emergency mode and send up lots of suckers.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2006 at 5:15PM
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jeanner(SW Ohio - Z6)

I would think smooth sumac would be good too, I read it was more drought tolerant that the staghorn. And the birds love the seeds! I have a clump of smooth sumac that I just started last year.

The smell of ailanthus is quite distinctive so that should be a good clue. I don't believe that ailanthus is in the sumac family and that ailanthus doesn't turn red in the fall like th sumacs do. Maybe that will help you make a positive identification.

This has been a good thread!

    Bookmark   October 19, 2006 at 9:40PM
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Jeanner is probably right.
One of the nicknames for ailanthus is "stinking sumac" so that must be where I got the idea it might be in the sumac family.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2006 at 7:50AM
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lovelycherry(Z7 Long Island)

Little sprouts of grass rye seed are coming up on my hillside, I am very excited to see them. I girdled the aliatnus trees this weekend. Hoping they don't flop on to the RR track. I also have some nasty trees with throns on the trunks and branches. Do I kill them to? I certainly don't like them. Hawthrone trees? or something else?
Lovely cherry
I have been fishing for free plants from all my friends.. I got some tall native grass for the spring and a whole row of
tall skinny evergreen trees.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2006 at 6:55PM
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jeanner(SW Ohio - Z6)

It could be a honey locust tree.

Do the thorns look like the thorns in this picture?

Do the leaves look like the tree to the right (small, rounded leaves)

I have a ton of the honey locust trees, I actually like them, I think the thorns and the leaves are quite attractive. That's assuming you don't have to trim the trees or mow around them!

    Bookmark   October 22, 2006 at 7:23PM
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lovelycherry(Z7 Long Island)

Wow what nasty thorns.. The thorns on my trees are not as large they are single and come directly out of the stems and trunk.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2006 at 8:42PM
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I suspect your rye will fill in a lot over the next few weeks and months.
Black locust is a thorny tree that grows around here and fits your description.
I would not kill the thorny trees until you have identified them and researched whether they serve your needs or not. Right now you don't have a whole lot of stuff holding your hill together.
FYI, the girdled ailanthus trees might send up suckers from the roots. If you have a chain saw you might as well cut down the ailanthus trees that pose a threat to the train tracks so they are out of the way. FYI, it is possible that the railroad has a "right of way" for at least a few feet around either side of the tracks.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2006 at 7:49AM
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lovelycherry(Z7 Long Island)

Yes the RR does have a right of way.
I really don't think they care much for the area as long as they have access to the tracks from below the hill. Some of my neighbors I am sure have extended their property lines towards the RR.
I do appreciate you checking this forum Bob, your insight has been very helpful. It has kept me encouraged for the challenge ahead.


    Bookmark   October 23, 2006 at 8:14AM
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madtripper(5/6 Guelph)

You have not said how steep your hill is. You can have very steep hills that do not erode without adding man made structures. The key is to keep every inch of the ground well covered with plants.

Usually you will only see bare erosion spots if water is rushing down a specific point. You mentioned the down spouts, but it is not likely that they would cause the whole hill to erode.

You might think about grading the flat back yard a bit so that all the water flows down to one point. Then at this one point, create a rock slide using larger rocks so that the water does not move the rocks. In effect you create a water fall but add enough large rocks so that it prevents erosion. the rocks don't have to be too big, just big enough and irregular enough so that they are stable.

I have a slope on my property that is very steep - probably drops 10 ft for every 5 ft. It is made up of rock and soil covered with grass/weeds/golden rod. No errosion at all.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2006 at 8:09PM
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