Thursday, May 1, 2003


By: Jake Donellan, BMP Forester (Ret.), Texas Forest Service

Q:    I would like your advice on Woods Road Maintenance. Just exactly how do you maintain the road ditches. We are perpetually challenged with keeping our sandy woods roads open and preventing washes. I need to know how to work the ditches and not get the tractor stuck. Our ditches are wet through early summer. Thank you.

A:   This question actually came from a forest landowner rather than a logger, however, I thought it would be a good topic of discussion for this month’s Q&A. Maintaining the ditches on a woods road can often be very difficult especially when they are located on sandy soils. In a situation like this it may be better, when practical, to wait to conduct ditch maintenance in mid-to-late summer.

There are a couple of reasons why waiting to do ditch work in mid-to-late summer makes sense. One good reason for waiting is that there is usually not as much water or in many cases no water at all in the ditches. With very little water present, the soil should be able to be worked very easily with equipment without having to worry about bogging down or getting stuck.

Another reason for waiting until summer to work the road ditches is because of reduced rainfall. The amount of rainfall and the amount of vegetative cover on the soil play significant roles when considering the potential for erosion. By conducting ditch work in the summer when rainfall amounts are reduced, you can minimize the potential for erosion occurring in your ditches despite the lack of vegetative cover on the soil. The ditches should be vegetated with grass as soon as possible but that can often times be difficult during the summer months. If you look on pages 64 & 65 in the “Blue book,” (Texas Forestry Best Management Practices) there is a revegetation chart that describes information about which grasses are best suited to plant based on soil types, and season.

Based on the chart in the “Blue book” I would make a recommendation for this landowner that they conduct their ditch work in summer and then attempt to revegetate the disturbed soil with some type of millet seed which can be planted as late as August 1st. Since millet is an annual grass that needs to be re-established each year, I would also recommend that the landowner possibly follow-up with some type of Bermuda grass which could be sown beginning in January

There are many times that it is not possible to wait until summer to maintain the ditches. In those cases you must use your professional judgment to determine whether or not it is appropriate to conduct the maintenance. Ditch maintenance should be attempted when there is a minimal chance for significant erosion. Check the weather forecast and conduct the maintenance when there will several days of clear weather and when possible, revegetate the area immediately.

You can get a copy of the Blue book at your local Texas Forest Service office or you can view it online at If you have any questions regarding BMPs please contact me.

* This article was published in the May 2003 issue of the Texas Logger