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2018 OSU Master Gardener™ Training Registration NOW OPEN!

Register now for the 2018 OSU Extension Service Master Gardener Training! The training includes all aspects of sustainable gardening in a fun and friendly environment.  Science-based curriculum is offered in a combination of in-person, online classes and hands-on workshops that run February through March.  This unique training is followed by volunteer educational outreach.  Classes start soon so register now!

Become a garden educator and help your community to grow from the ground up!  For details go to:

Preventing Soil Erosion

Dust_Storm_TexasHow to Help Prevent Soil Erosion This Spring
By Rural Conservationist Scott Gall

“A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”  Franklin Roosevelt wrote those words in a letter to all State Governors in support of the act that created Soil & Water Conservation Districts.  That was in 1937 and the nation had just passed a series of laws in response to the devastation caused by the Dust Bowl.

Eighty years later we’ve have come a long way in our understanding of the strength and fragility native soils.  Yet erosion will always be a concern.

Soil erosion is the detachment and movement of soil particle most often caused by water and wind, gravity and even ice.  Since it may take 200 years to form one inch of soil, erosion occurring on your land is usually bad thing.  While soil erosion is of most concern on farms, steep hillsides or along a stream; erosion around a house can compromise foundations, clog drains, undermine garden plants and depending on where the soil goes – lead to liability issues.

In most instances, soil erosion occurs when the surface is not adequately covered, which allows wind, rain, and flowing water to dislodge the soil and carry it away. Some of the best ways to stabilize soil and slopes is by planting grass, shrubs and trees.  Their root systems, and the fibrous mycorrhiza fungus that attach to it, literally hold the soil in place.  The roots can also create holes, known as pores, which allow water to seep into the ground so that it doesn’t pond on the surface and wash soil away. That plants themselves also pull water up out of the soil, through the process of transpiration, prevents soil in steep areas from getting too saturated and heavy.

The roots of plants also pump organic matter deep into the soil. Organic matter, formed from the breakdown and composting of living material, is one of the most important parts of soil. It is literally the glue that holds soil together.  Organic matter also helps water to seep deep into the soil while providing nutrients for crops, trees and even ornamental plants in the garden.  While mulches, composts and other organic amendments can add organic matter to soil, plants are the most efficient way to get it deep into the soil and help prevent soil erosion.

For more information on soil, soil erosion, or other conservation practices, contact West Multnomah SWCD or attend Soil School

Your Soil Is Alive!

Over one billion living organisms live a teaspoon of soil!  Most of us think of soil as a chemical sponge – nothing but a temporary holding tank for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.  But soil is a living thing.  As you stand in your garden, you are literally standing on trillions of living creatures.  Entire ecosystems can exist between two gains of sand or in the tiniest root.

Biodiversity vs. Monoculture

Just like a normal ecosystem, soil ecosystems consist of producers, grazers and predators.  As the plants and animals above the ground live in a delicate balance, so do the organisms in soil.  Remove a predatory species and the grazers flourish but the producers (the plants) may vanish too.

For every ecosystem, diversity equals stability.  If an ecosystem is based on a signal plant, organism or input, then outside factors like disease, changes in climate or disturbances can throw the entire system out of whack.

In soil monocultures, regular tillage and the loss of organic matter can reduce soil biodiversity and increase the risks of disease, pests and lowered fertility.  When the above ground system is diverse, so is the system below ground.  Cover crops, crop rotation, additions of organic matter, reduced tillage, and reduction in chemical inputs can increase or preserve soil biodiversity.  A diverse soil ecosystem means that there will be antibodies for disease.  Diverse soils have a symbiosis with plant roots that increase their use of nutrients and water.  Diverse soils can even reduce weed infestation by providing organisms that eat seeds or weaken the plant.

Soil is a living thing.  The more you feed and nurture that living thing, the more it will give back and the more forgiving it will be when we make the occasional mistake.

You can find out more about the incredible world of soil at our Annual Soil School, held in the spring in the greater Portland area, sponsored by the West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District, Natural Resources Conservation Service and other partners.  Visit our website for event information ( or call our “Soil Guy,” Rural Conservationist Scott Gall, 503.238.4775, ext. 105;

For more resources:

Planting for Erosion Control

Erosion is the process that occurs when soil and other land matter is disturbed by either human activity or natural conditions such as extreme weather.  When land erodes, it is carried from its original location into streams and rivers, where it disrupts spawning areas, pollutes water, and reduces flood channel capacity.  In addition to creating problems by its presence in streams, the land from which it originally came suffers from a lack of nutrients.  Most eroded material is topsoil, which is necessary to sustain healthy plants.  Once land erodes, it can take hundreds of years to reform naturally.  Common human causes of erosion include poorly designed roads, inadequate drainage facilities, poor grading practices, no revegetation practices, and invasive plant species.

What Can I Do To Prevent Erosion?
Thankfully, there are several things you as a landowner can do to prevent erosion on your property.  Below is a short list of erosion control tips to get you started:

Incorporate existing native vegetation into the landscaping plan for new developments. 
Existing native vegetation requires the least care of any planting materials.  Native plants require little or no watering or fertilizer and grow on difficult sites.  Care should be taken in working around trees to prevent damage. Be sure to use native plants with roots at various depths to assist in stabilization. Though each site will be unique, consider incorporating plants that spread well or require less soil, e.g. bunchberry, sword fern, red-flowering currant, Pacific ninebark, nootka rose, and Oregon grape.

Plant grass seed or other vegetation before the fall rains begin. 
Plant a grass/legume seed ground cover on all exposed areas and cut/fill slopes to create a vegetated buffer.  Plant in fall, winter or early spring depending on the variety – make sure to check with the nursery providing vegetation for the best time to plant.  On slopes greater than 20 percent use netting and straw mulch to hold the soil and prevent loss of grass seed while native plants are establishing.  Straw mulch will provide erosion control and moisture conservation.    

Do preserve trees, shrubs and ground cover in streamside areas.
Streamside vegetation can catch and hold sediment before it enters the stream.  Roots of plants help hold the soil and reduce bank erosion.  Streamside plants also provide food and shelter for wildlife as well as filter pollutants in stormwater runoff.  Preserve streamside vegetation for its value in erosion control, wildlife habitat and pollution filtration.

Remove invasive plant species and replace with native plant species.
Many of the streams throughout Portland are being invaded by non-native invasive plant species like Himilayan Blackberry and English Ivy.  These plants have weak root systems that do not provide ample erosion control.  These plants also out-compete native plants and wreak havoc on our native ecosystems.  Remove invasive plants species and replace with a diverse stand of native plant species with varying root depths and densities for greater erosion control and wildlife habitat.

Adapted from Western Shasta Resource Conservation District (

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