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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Friday - February 13, 2009

From: Helotes, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Erosion Control
Title: Erosion for check dam in San Antonio
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

What are the best trees for a shallow soil wind break in San Antonio? I am building a check dam (maybe 2' deep by 20' wide tall) over a shallow limestone gully to slow the erosion. the gully drains 85,000 sq. ft. of road, so when it rains there is lots of water, but once everything dries up, it is just as dry as uphill areas. After I build it, I intend to fill it with soil, then plant trees to act as a windbreak for the cold north winter winds. The gully is in a highly porous recharge area for the Edwards Aquifer. I will be able to protect the trees from deer with chicken wire, so it only needs to be deer resistant Therefore the ideal tree would have the following qualities: Evergreen - slows the wind more than branches Tall - area I wish to protect is 8' uphill Shallow roots - Soil will never be deeper than 2' before it hits limestone Erosion control - holds soil together even when socked with a lot of water Taproot - punch holes in the limestone for more waterto infiltrate instead of flow downhill Drought resistant - when there is water, there will be lots of it, but it may have to go 5-9 months without water (like this year 08-09). It will get help for the first two years to establish itself. Any fill soil recommendations would be welcome. The area around the gully is a yellow caliche. I would like to fill with a soil that will retain water well, not get washed downhill too easily, but not be so fertile that the trees will refuse to grow into the surrounding caliche and restrict their root system to the fill soil. BTW - I am using your bee and butterfly recommendations. Best Regards, Robert Davidson

ANSWER:

Much as we would like to help you, this seems to be somewhat beyond our capabilities. Mr. Smarty Plants is made up of staff members at the Lady Bird Wildflower Center and volunteers, with the volunteers not necessarily having scientific, engineering or even horticultural training, as is the case with this particular volunteer. This sounds like a pretty complex project, and some of the trees you are looking for, as in a taproot that will punch holes in limestone, are unlikely to exist. We have no knowledge of soil types and how they react to overwatering or underwatering. We would suggest you go to a soil engineer who is trained in this kind of situation, and can give you much more expert help than we can.
 

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