Reducing erosion on pathways

Reading Dan Janzen’s online brochure here on this site on how to build living fences, prompted the question of how to build living stair steps. One of the major sources of erosion in hillside areas are the pathways we walk while farming. I’ve often thought if those pathways could be terraced with living stair steps, erosion would be greatly reduced because the water would not be running down the pathway as it normally does. It would also make the paths easier and safer to travel.

I am wondering if any on this group have experimented with that. I have thought about it but I haven’t done it. My plan would be to make steps along the pathways by lying down horizontally a trunk or branch of a tree that is prone to rooting. Maybe a Giiricidia or Bursera simaruba or any tree that is inclined to develop roots from cuttings. If the pathway was 12 inches wide, I would lay down steps that were 3 or 4 feet long so branches could grow on either side of the pathway. That would also provide additional space for rooting.


I have “shy grass” Mimosa pudica on my lawn and driveway. It is a low-growing plant that puts out very strong vines and holds the driveway gravel in place. I don’t know if it it’s suitable, for your climate, but it’s worth considering, if it is.


Thank you Nsy for that suggestion. Even if not useful on the pathways, it could be useful in other areas.

One of the things I did not make clear is that on steep pathways not only is erosion a problem but so is secure footing. Creating living stairs would greatly increase the safety of the footing by reducing slipping and falling.

Does “shy grass” tolerant shade? Most of our paths have varying degrees of shade including heavy shade. Also, does it tolerate heavy foot traffic?

Inasmuch as many people are involved in steep hillside farming, they obviously have pathways winding up the hillside and thus these approaches we are discussing could be valuable for many people.

Thanks Glen for referencing the article I wrote on living fences. I have even done more research on that subject and more with hedge laying. You plant trees and then could lay down the tree when about 5 to 10 feet tall across the path at regular intervals so you can stop on the trunk and so you won’t slip but it eventually could become unmanageable. If suckers grow never prune them but rip them out so they can’t come back and disturb the path. Gravel on top of a rock base is considered one of the most secure slip-resistant ways to top a walkway on a slope. You also need ditches on the side and diversions sideways every so many feet depending on the slope to manage the water or you can even try to use the water to increase watering of a tree or a crop. If gravel is expensive try growing a few more high-value crops to pay for it. Put is a pole lot. Plants do not like to be walked on but there are a few weeds that tolerate it and so you can use those on the walkway depending on how frequently the walkway is used as to whether they would survive and flourish. Instructions on making roads, particularly logging road engineering will have the diagrams and instructions for putting in those ditches and diversion points based on the slope. Where the water is being turned sideways if the soil is not stable or supported by rock you may need to plant a soil stabilizer grass that does not spread and become weedy. Sometimes a bunch grass planted close together can fit that bill.