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QUESTION: Heavy Rains Wash Out Soil

My back yard has a long wood fence. Behind the fence, my neighbor’s yard has a gentle slope down to my fence.  His yard is grass and some bare areas.  During heavy rains, the water tunnels under my fence and washes out most of my top soil and any new seeds I plant.  He is unwilling to add more dirt or grass to help alleviate the problem.  So, any correction needs to be done on my side.

To date, I have added some dirt under the fence, placed barriers at the ground area under the fence, and placed wood diverters to help direct the water into my yard.  Most of these fixes do not work efficiently.  I was thinking of placing some sort of drain system at critical spots of the fence to help direct the water to my yard.  But I do not know what is a good system to use.

Anyway, I am looking for a solution, whether it be a drain or something else that would solve my problem. It does not need to be fancy.

My fence is about 140 ft. long where about a sraight 73 ft. of it is where most of the water problem is.  My garden area sits about 2 feet from the fence where the 2 feet is where most of the soil erosion occurs.


ANSWER: Hello,

If there is ongoing erosion,I do not think any drainage device would be a solution because it would simply be undermined. This problem could also be a gully in the making and that can become a very serious problem. Depending on how soft and erodable the soil is,a gully can become up to 12 feet deep and just as wide. I could tell more about the nature of the problem if I had a pic.

Basically,you have to slow down the erosion,stabilize the soil and plant the area with plants suitable for the purpose of holding soil in place. The method used to stop erosion in gullies is to build check dams. These dams can be constructed of weaved tree branches,gabions(wire baskets filled with rocks),timbers,boards and rocks. Key the dams into the sides of the gully and imbed the bottom of the dam into the bottom of the gully to prevent undermining from below. Leave a spillway notch at the top of the dam to allow an escape port for the water. This will prevent erosion on the sides of the gully.

Provide rocks,tree branches or concrete at the bottom of the outside face of the check dam to prevent the falling water from scouring out the bottom of the gully. The entire gully bottom can be lined with tree branches.

The sides of the gully can be lined with rocks between which plants are placed or jute mesh may be used with plants. Below is listed good plants for this type of erosion control:



giant reed

bitter panicum






When this process is completed,the work of repairing the area can begin. This would include reshaping the eroded slope sides,filling the area with topsoil and planting the area. This will require the cooperation of your neighbor. No fix can be done from only your side. Hope this helps. Good luck.

Mark Harshman

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------


Thanks for your detailed and quick response.  A picture is enclosed.  My gulley is not all that big.  Please notice the green barrier I put in to try and back up the water and steer it farther down the fence line where the problem is not as severe.  I think I know your answer to this question, but I will ask it anyway.  Do you see any benefit of putting in fill dirt, not top soil, along the fence line?  If required, I could add wood or plastic barriers, similar to what is in the picture to provide support for the dirt along the fence line.



I do not believe that fill will prove to be of value as long as erosion is taking place. It would have been nice to have a look at whats over the fence and have some idea of where the water is coming from and how much water is involved.

The best solution would be to plant both sides with plants suitable for holding soil. Fill the area and hold the soil in place with rocks until the plants can become established. Think about getting a court order to make your neighbor correct this problem. Your neighbor is in the wrong. He has no right to create such a disturbance on your property.

You cannot legally restrict the natural flow of water from your neighbors property,so I would not recommend any barrier. A better method would be to hold the fill in place with rocks and plant between the rocks but if erosion is still taking place on your neighbors side of the fence that could be undermined. Good luck.

Mark Harshman

For more comprehensive help check out my website at:

Note: Your follow up question was answered and is published but the record shows you did not read it. I would not really characterize my answer as "overkill". Without an accurate picture of what you were talking about,I rightly assumed the problem could be a gully and gave you the methods for dealing with gullies. I have previously stated that I only deal with general suggestions. That is about all that can be done given the nature of this site. To be accurate,maps showing the entire project area,a site analysis and detailed photos must be had and that is not possilbe here.

My original answer prevented me from having to make a boring public entry in which I simply ask you to send a pic (something that I ask all those with a question to do on the "instructions to the questioner" page) and in case the problem was a gully,it would have given you the answer without having to write back. The description of the gully also makes for an interesting and helpful entry for other readers on the site and so I do not consider it drastic at all. Its only writing about a subject. You should have gotten an email notice telling you the question was answered but that system often malfunctions on this site.

The comments you made using the terms "drastic" and "overkill" appear publicly on my comments section. At first glance some may wrongly assume that I gave an "overkill" answer to your question. I am simply commenting here to clarify the record. I realize the context in which you used the words drastic and overkill but some casual readers may not.  

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Design of landscape structures and design of planting arrangements in the landscape. I usually do not answer questions of a horticultural nature or about growing plants or gardening unless they are related to design. I will answer these questions at my discretion. I will answer maintenance questions at my discretion,usually when they are related to design. I am a landscape designer. I am not a contractor or a gardener. Although I will describe how something is built I do not provide detailed installation or construction instructions. Here are example categories of problems I can help you with: Design of residential walks,low walls,low retaining walls,fences,drainage systems,arbors,plant selection,xeriscapes (low water use landscapes),rain garden design,rain water harvesting,permeable paving,sustainable drainage. No advise on an architectural or engineering level. I DO NOT PERFORM ACTUAL DESIGN WORK THROUGH THIS SITE. I only provide suggestions and advice. For more comprehensive help check out my website at:


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