Berms vs. Swales: Uncovering the Differences

berms vs swales
5 min reading time

Welcome to our comprehensive guide on landscaping practices featuring two popular terms, berms and swales. As a professional landscaper, understanding these features’ differences and unique applications is crucial. Berms and swales are both essential elements in creating visually appealing and sustainable landscapes. This guide will explore the functionality, benefits, and applications of berms and swales. Let’s dive in and uncover the differences between these landscaping practices.

As we explore the differences between berms vs. swales, we will help you understand these features’ various uses and benefits. Furthermore, we will also show how they can positively impact your landscaping practices. Whether you are working on a residential or commercial project, understanding the functionality and applications of berms and swales will help you make informed decisions. Let’s get started!

What are Berms?

Berms are raised mounds of soil and earth that can be created using various materials such as soil, rock, or mulch. They are one of the key landscaping features designed to redirect water flow, create visual interest, and provide a sense of elevation to the landscape.

The definition of berms is simple – they are usually elongated and can be designed to fit into any landscape. Berms can be used in diverse ways, such as accentuating the natural beauty of a garden, creating a micro-climate for particular plant types, or even providing extra privacy. One of the key landscaping features of berms is their ability to redirect water flow, which is important for areas with high rainfall or those susceptible to flooding.

Landscaping Features of Berms

Berms can help create a diverse range of landscapes by adding depth and dimensionality. They can be used in various ways, including:

Landscaping Features of BermsDescription
Visual InterestBerms add visual interest to the landscaping, making it more appealing and exciting to the eyes.
Erosion ControlBerms are used to control soil erosion in both residential and commercial landscapes.
Privacy ScreeningThe elevation of berms helps provide privacy from the neighboring properties or roads.
Micro-climatesBerms can create micro-climates for particular plant types.

By utilizing berms in different ways, you can enhance the aesthetic and functional features of your landscape, making it more appealing and environmentally sustainable.

“Berms can help create a diverse range of landscapes by adding depth and dimensionality.”

Understanding Swales

A swale is a shallow depression or trough in the ground that is designed to collect and channel water. The term swale comes from the Old English word swælwe, meaning a moist or marshy hollow.

Swales are used for water management, preventing erosion, and promoting the growth of beneficial plants. They are often used in sustainable landscaping practices to manage stormwater runoff.

Swales are a simple and cost-effective way to manage stormwater. They can be used in both residential and commercial applications to reduce the amount of runoff that enters storm drains and local waterways.

The primary function of a swale is to collect and hold water, allowing it to infiltrate the soil slowly. This helps to prevent erosion and facilitates natural groundwater replenishment.

Uses of Swales

In landscaping and gardening, a swale is a gentle, sloping depression in the ground that is designed to collect and direct water flow. Swales can be used to:

  • Prevent erosion
  • Control runoff
  • Increase infiltration
  • Promote the growth of beneficial plants

Swales can be constructed using a variety of materials including soil, rock, or mulch. They can be installed in a variety of locations, including near buildings, in gardens, and along roadways.

Benefits of SwalesApplications of Swales
Helps prevent floodingRain gardens
Enhances sustainabilityPermaculture designs
Improves water qualitySustainable drainage systems

Overall, swales are an important tool in sustainable landscaping practices and can help to reduce the negative impact of stormwater runoff on the environment.

Differences in Functionality

Both berms and swales relate to water management, but they have distinct functionalities. Berms primarily redirect the flow of water, control drainage, and create microclimates. They are excellent for soil retention and can help improve irrigation efficiency. Berms can also provide visual interest and serve as windbreaks. In contrast, swales collect and hold water, promoting infiltration, preventing runoff, and facilitating natural groundwater replenishment. They are often used for managing stormwater and preventing soil erosion.

Benefits and Applications of Berms

Berms serve several purposes and offer numerous benefits to your landscaping, including:

Erosion controlGardens and landscapes
Visual interestNatural areas
Enhanced privacy 

As seen in the table above, berms can be implemented in a variety of settings to control erosion, add aesthetic appeal, and provide privacy.


Summing up, berms and swales are two distinct landscaping features that serve different purposes. While berms are raised mounds that redirect water flow, control drainage, and create microclimates, swales are shallow troughs that collect and hold water, promoting sustainable water management and preventing erosion.

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