How to Build Swales (Part 3 Planting)

So the surveying has been done, and good level swales have been dug with the soil placed carefully and loosely downslope from the ditch as berms. At this point it is very important to establish your plant material as soon as possible to avoid erosion, and to soak up the water that will accumulate. I installed my swales late in the fall, and I had not yet purchased my trees and shrubs. I seeded in alfalfa and annual rye just to hold it until the early spring. I ended up being too late, and my germination was spotty at best, so I added about an inch of compost to help protect the soil that was quickly eroding.

Peach Guild


This past spring I went ahead and planted the berms. I was careful to plant the trees and shrubs that liked well drained soil mid-slope of the berm, or near the top. For those trees & shrubs that like wetter conditions, I planted near the bottom of the berm. After planting the trees & shrubs, I seeded in my polyculture seed mix, and then added a light covering of mulch. The mulch did wonders for germination of the seed and it really helped to hold water on the berm for the plants to become established. Eventually, the roots of the trees will be able to access the recharged water table, but they need a little help getting established.

Pear Tree Guild

Below is a list of the Medium to Large Tree Species I Planted

American Persimmon- Native fruit tree

Alder- I planted the most of this tree, because it is a nitrogen fixer.


Cherry- I mixed common fruit trees, to see how they would do w/o the high level of care in an orchard.

Common Hackberry- Great companion for my walnut trees

Crab Apple- Excellent pollinator for my apple trees

Maple “Sugar”

PawPaw- Native fruit tree that can grow as an understory tree



Red Mulberry- Native fruit tree that is very multi-functional

Sassafras- Multi-functional tree with edible parts

Shagbark Hickory- Timber area

White Oak- Timber area

VA Pine- Timber area

Swales Planted

Small Trees & Shrubs

Nanking Cherry- Actually is a small plum tree

Comfrey- Fantastic nutrient accumulator, I planted 109 of these.

False Indigo- Great nitrogen fixer, I planted 66 of these.

Goumi- Great nitrogen fixer, I planted 26 of these.

Russian Olive – Great nitrogen fixer

Eleagnus- Great nitrogen fixer

Virginia Rose- Great for wildlife habitat

Blackberry- Pioneer

Raspberry- Pioneer


Serviceberry- Great pioneer species



Black Currants

Swales Planted


Alfalfa, Dutch White Clover, Bee Balm, Calendula, Yarrow, Chives, Daikon, Dill, Oregano, Lambsquarters


Swales Planted


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