Gardening 101

Solving Drainage Problems

Drainage problems lead the list of challenges that confront gardeners. Much of the land now developed was once thought to be unbuildable. Poorly draining soil is just one of many reasons for water problems. Extreme slopes and homes built next to floodplains show potential for water and drainage problems later on.

water drainageTo solve your water woes, take a systematic approach.
1.    Determine the origination of the water that is causing the problem. Downspouts are notorious for collecting and dumping large amounts of rainfall in confined areas with insufficient thought given to water disposal.

2.    Insure there is positive flow away from the foundation to eliminate standing water in the crawlspace. A swale or aboveground shallow sided ditch can be created to allow drainage from the foundation to make its way around the house to a lower elevation.

3.    Connect downspouts to perforated drainpipe to water the plants along the way of its final destination, using a fall of two to three feet for each 100 feet of horizontal distance. Corrugated drain line is inexpensive, lightweight and easy to install. Insure you do not run the lines toward the neighbor’s property. If you do not have downspouts, capture the water coming off the roof along the drip line using perforated drainpipe placed in a bed of gravel. Maintain a suitable drop in the line to avoid sediment buildup in the pipe. Then use solid or perforated pipe once out of the collection area. As an alternative, go with river rock laid above ground to convert a drainage problem into a creative dry creek bed landscape feature.

4.    Grab an umbrella and go outside in a heavy downpour to track the origination of runoff making its way onto your land. If you can tackle the rivulets before they form rivers, you may be able to divert and utilize the excess water during times of drought. Re-grading or terracing these areas to reduce erosion allows for greater infiltration of heavy rainfall. Digging and amending the soil with pine bark mulch or Permatill allows for better drainage as well as improving the soils compatibility for many of our plants that desire a well-drained soil.

Sometimes a severe drainage problem calls for the help of a professional. Engineers, landscape architects, and grading and drainage contractors are typically prepared for this challenge.  Catch basins, trench drains, dry wells, French drains and sedimentation ponds are sometimes necessary in extreme circumstances.Work with your neighbor on a common solution before handing them your drainage problems.

Hoyt Bangs, a Raleigh native and landscape designer is owner of WaterWise Garden Design. You may reach him at

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