Landscape Elements: Drainage

Flooding in a landscape

We’ve focused on what type of plants work in different areas of your landscape but have not discussed some of the basic essentials that keep those plants healthy.  Proper draining soil being one of the most important.  If you plant in soil that does not drain and stays mucky, most of your plants will die over a period of time.  (Yes, there are those few plants that like boggy soil)

Here are some common reasons that cause a small or large area to have poor drainage:

  • Is there a low spot in your bed that water runs to and pools for more than 24 hours?  Bring the level of that spot even with the surrounding soil to level out the bed.

  • Does your bed slant to one side or the other creating a low area that water runs to and pools for more than 24 hours?  If so, you need to drain this out into the yard water using one of these solutions:

    • Dig a small micro-ditch a few inches deep and wide that allows standing water to drain out of the bed.

    • Install a drain grate where the water pools and connect it to flex pipe that exits at a lower spot away from the bed.

    • If draining isn’t an option then build a soil burm in the bed and plant in this raised dirt area.  This will raise the level of the root ball of the plant into the higher, drier soil that will drain quicker.

    • Install a French drain (a trench filled with perforated pipe and gravel that allows water to drain naturally from the bed into your yard). 

French Drain Diagram
  • Do your gutters empty into your flower bed?  If so, install downspout extenders, downspout splash blocks to prevent water draining into your bed and directing it elsewhere.
Installing Extension
  • Make sure your gutters are cleaned regularly and not full of debris which can cause water to overflow the gutters.
  • Is your Edging creating a dam and preventing water to drain from your beds?

    • Drill weep holes in the mortar between blocks if you have mortared rock edging so water can drain out from the bed.

    • Make sure the height of the bed and edging are close so the edging does not act as a dam holding water in the bed.

High bed border
  • Is your bed bordered by a sidewalk?  The concrete sidewalk and the foundation of the house can easily create a dam on both sides of the bed. Solution is to treat it as you would a slanted bed (2nd line item)

No gutter
  • No gutters allow all watershed off the roof to fall directly into the flower beds beneath them.

    • Install gutters if feasible to reduce the amount of water flowing into the flower bed

    • If gutter installation is impossible then make sure the water flows away from your house once if falls from the roof.  You don’t want standing water in your flower beds or worse to flood your house.

    • Install a French drain to help carry excess water away from the house

If you have an irrigation system, it can cause some areas to stay wetter than others.  This can be caused by one of the following:

  • Too many heads in a small area causes overwatering and keeping the soil too wet.

  • Sprinklers being blocked bay a tall plant causing the water to pool around that plant and not spraying the entire area.

  • Incorrect sprinkler patterning causes two or more sprinkler heads to overlap too much of the same area.

  • Sprinkler system valves staying open when their zone isn’t supposed to be on allows too much water in that zone.

  • A leak due to a broken sprayer head or break in the PVC pipe that causes a large amount of water to saturate the area.

sprinkler leak

Walk through your yard and access it after a good rain.  This will show you where you might have drainage issues.  Look at it again after 24 hours and see if you still have ponding water or soggy ground.

Perform a sprinkler check, turn on one zone at a time and check that all the heads are spraying properly and are not blocked, with little overlapping of coverage and no leaks.

Look for these common causes of poor drainage and make the necessary fixes to help your landscape investment pay off.  No one wants to replace dead or poor performing plants.  Having well-draining soil is the first step to having healthy, beautiful plants.

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