The lush natural environment is part of why Portland is so loved by residents and visitors alike. But unfortunately, all the natural beauty doesn’t come without some problems. If you own a home or business in Portland – especially on a slope or near a waterway – you know that contending with issues like heavy rain, erosion, strong winds, and unstable soil can be a real challenge.

Soil health and stability make the foundation of any residential or commercial landscape. Healthy soil provides structural support and nutrition to your plants, acts as a filter to keep waterways clean, and can even help mitigate the impacts of climate change. But maintaining healthy soil and fighting erosion on your property can be complicated if you don’t know where to start.

Our experts at Blessing Landscapes are here to break down how to prevent erosion and give you some tips for improving soil health in Portland’s unique environment.

trowel in soil

Understanding Portland’s Soil

Soil Composition

Unlike dirt, soil is a complex ecosystem composed of billions of dead and living organisms as well as minerals, water, and air. The relative proportions of sand, silt, and clay in a given soil determine its texture, which in turn impacts important things like drainage, moisture content, and erosion potential. But soil composition is different in different cities, and even within Portland, each property has its own unique soil characteristics. 

In general, Willamette Valley soils are well-drained and deep, forming in silty glaciolacustrine deposits on level or gently sloped terraces. The high silt content in Portland soils means they contain more nutrients than sandy soils and retain moisture well. However, it can also make them prone to water and wind erosion when they’re not stabilized by plant cover, particularly in sloped areas.

Local Erosion Challenges

Erosion can occur when soil, rock, or sediment is exposed to flowing water, rain, and/or strong winds. It can also be exacerbated by animal or human activity. In Portland’s wet climate, erosion prevention is essential to ensure the safety of people and property, maintain water quality and soil health, and protect fish and wildlife from potential pollutants.

Erosion control and prevention efforts should always be tailored to the specific situation. Soil composition, slope, temperature and moisture conditions, structures, nearby plants, and land use are just a few of the many factors that should be considered when determining how to prevent soil erosion. Erosion-control strategies should also be as sustainable and noninvasive as possible in order to protect the natural environment and all living creatures in the area.

Cultivating Robust Soil Health and Controlling Erosion

Organic Soil Amendments

One of the most effective and simple approaches to improving soil health is the use of organic soil amendments. A soil amendment is a material or substance added to a given soil to improve its physical or nutritional properties (e.g. permeability, fertility, water retention, aeration, structure). Examples of organic amendments include:

  • Wood chips
  • Grass clippings
  • Sawdust
  • Straw
  • Peat
  • Compost
  • Manure

It’s important to note that the pH of your soil matters when it comes to the efficacy of soil amendments. Highly alkaline soils need to be brought down to a neutral pH in order to be effective. Understanding the soil on your property or working with landscaping experts who understand soil composition and acidity is essential to improving the health of your soil and your plants.

Cover Cropping Techniques

If you’re wondering how to prevent erosion on a slope in a natural way, without expensive or invasive procedures, cover cropping is often the best place to start. Cover crops increase organic matter within soil and improve soil fertility. They also help prevent soil erosion by protecting the surface from rain and wind, strengthening the soil structure with root systems, and encouraging water infiltration.

The native plant experts at Blessing Landscapes can help you determine the right cover crops for your needs, but options that are generally suitable for Portland’s climate and soil characteristics include:

  • Legumes (e.g. hairy vetch or crimson clover)
  • Cereals and grasses (e.g. winter wheat or barley)
  • Brassicas (oilseed radish or mustard)

Blessing Landscape - How to transplant potted plants

Natural Erosion-Control and Soil-Improvement Measures for Your Landscape

Strategic Planting

Preventing erosion and protecting your soil and plants is just one of the many benefits of landscape design and planning. Planting trees, cover crops, and other plants in your yard without considering the soil and structural conditions on your property is likely to lead to issues down the line, especially if you have a sloped lot or drainage issues.

At Blessing Landscapes, our landscape design process is tailored to the unique characteristics of your Portland property as well as your individual needs, preferences, goals, and concerns. We can help you implement customized soil health principles and use landscaping to prevent erosion in the most effective and long-lasting way possible.

Mulching for Soil Conservation

One of the best and most natural ways to keep your soil and plants healthy, control weeds, prevent erosion, and conserve water is to use mulch in your landscape. Mulch is a protective and insulating ground cover that reduces evaporation and helps soil retain moisture more effectively, and it can be organic or inorganic. 

In Portland and the rest of the Willamette Valley region, organic mulches like bark, wood chips, leaves, grass clippings, or pine needles are excellent options if you’re looking to add nutrients to the soil, because these materials compost over time. Inorganic mulches like gravel, landscape fabrics, pebbles, or plastic last longer and may provide more immediate protection against erosion, but may not be as eco-friendly or sustainable.

hardscape design

Sustainable Landscaping Practices

Permeable Hardscaping and Xeriscaping

Fighting erosion and keeping your outdoor spaces looking beautiful doesn’t have to be harmful to the environment. In fact, Blessing Landscapes takes a sustainable approach to these practices. 

  • Hardscaping your property by installing patios, walkways, pavers, and retaining walls is one of the most effective and long-lasting solutions for erosion; permeable hardscapes offer the same benefits while simultaneously reducing stormwater runoff and filtering harmful pollutants.
  • Xeriscaping is a sustainable landscaping strategy used to reduce or completely eliminate the need for traditional irrigation; the practice can be used in both dry and wet climates and can help combat the impact of climate change.

Rain Gardens for Natural Drainage

Increasingly popular in both residential and commercial landscaping, rain gardens help manage stormwater runoff efficiently and sustainably while also adding to the natural beauty of a landscape. 

Contaminants accumulate when stormwater flows over impermeable surfaces like roofs, driveways, and streets. The plants, soils, and other materials used in rain gardens help to filter out these toxins by capturing the first inch or so of water runoff, where contaminants tend to concentrate. At Blessing Landscapes, we design, install, and maintain beautiful rain gardens in Portland that improve stormwater management while contributing to a more sustainable city.

Improve Soil Health and Prevent Erosion With Natural, Eco-Friendly Landscaping Solutions in Portland

Maintaining a beautiful landscape and protecting your property and gardens from erosion doesn’t have to be invasive or harmful to the environment. At Blessing Landscapes, our award-winning team of experts is focused on working with the natural environment, not against it. If you need help controlling erosion, improving or maintaining the health of your soil, managing water accumulation, or simply creating beautiful and sustainable outdoor spaces, we’ve got you covered.

Contact us to learn more about how we work, tell us about your needs, and to get started transforming your property today!