While it may seem a little early to be thinking about dust, mud in the winter becomes dust in the summer. If you had muddy spots this past winter, that might mean you’re getting lined up for dust bowls this summer. The good news is that it’s still early enough in most parts of North America to deal with dust.
Control dust by planting grass in bare areas now.
Do you recall what happen during the 1930s dust bowl? Long-term drought plus farming practices that destroyed grass plants left soil exposed and vulnerable to wind and erosion, turning the Midwest and central West into a seething cauldron of monstrous dust storms. (Some of those dust storms even reached Washington DC, causing the streets to go dark during daytime!) In a miniature form, that is what’s happening to your bare soils come summertime.
Research shows that exposure to dust is a potentially serious health risk—for horses and their owners. It can cause inflammation and constriction of airways and decreased lung capacity and function, and it aggravates equine health problems such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (often called heaves) and pneumonia. Plus, it increases the risk of developing infections by overloading the lung’s primary defense mechanism.
In addition, dust is basically soil erosion. And anyone trying to grow grass or hay knows that we need to hang on to all that valuable topsoil and not watch it end up in the neighbor’s yard or swimming pool!
And come next winter all those bare dusty spots will turn back into more mud. And even worse weeds and dust the following summer… and the cycle continues.
Fortunately, there are some low-tech solutions for avoiding dust and soil erosion. Simply growing something to hold onto the soil is the best solution. Matt and I and the horses moved onto our new property in southwest Idaho mid-summer last year. The previous owner left things in beautiful shape, but his solution to keeping things neat was to use herbicides to eliminate any stray growth. That left large portions of this 10-acre property completely void of any plant life. And when the winds blew (as they frequently do in this area!), we were all covered in dust and coughing.
Now we are working like crazy on dust control by planting dryland grass (species of grass that are tolerant to low levels of rainfall) in the non-irrigated areas of our property. In areas where we can water we are planting trees, shrubs and native plants. We are covering driveway areas with crushed rock.
On your horse property, to avoid dust simply plant, plant, plant all that you can. Then cover the rest with some type of footing material (such as gravel, sand or chipped wood) wherever possible.