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Solutions for Soggy Soil

If it rained during the parade and your garden got too wet, try some other ideas for dealing with water-loving plants and water.

 If a poorly drained garden has prevented you from growing your favorite vegetables and flowers this year, don’t give up on gardening just yet. While it’s true that a garden with “wet feet” may limit your options, there are many ways to improve drainage. Or you can turn a curse into a blessing by transforming your landscape into a lush green oasis.
 
Whether you’re building flower beds and decks to grow your favorite things, or learning to love your current situation by creating a rain garden covered in ferns and moss, fall is the ideal time to give a dazzling change to a saturated place. Here are some ways to do this.
 
When we were children, the combination of water and earth offered endless possibilities and joy. It doesn’t matter whether the two ingredients conspire to form a mud puddle, a ditch, or a babbling brook in the forest. There is something about moving water that still captivates us to this day.
 

For those who have “problems” with too much water, we have the opportunity to channel water into artificial stream beds made up of rocks, pebbles, moss and plants that make the surrounding area high and dry.

The difference between a simple ditch and a rain garden is largely determined by the degree of foresight and artistry put into the project. A ditch also known as a swale is nothing more than a ditch dug in the ground to collect excess water and push it away from the house. Unfortunately, ditches often become clogged with weeds, covered with mud, or lose soil to erosion.

Create a rainwater garden. That’s where rain gardens come in handy. All that’s needed to  transform an unsightly ditch into a rain garden is to replace the grass and weeds with moisture- tolerant plants, rocks and gravel to create a natural-looking stream bed. Weeds will be eliminated  as is the case in most gardens, but the gravel and stones will act to inhibit weed growth.

The first step is to determine where the water ends up. Downhill is the most obvious answer. Do not spray water on other people’s property. Because it’s an easy way to get on your neighbor’s bad side and end up paying a hefty fine. If you have space, direct water flow to low-lying areas of your yard where water typically collects. Then plant perennials and shrubs that can tolerate standing water in the area.

To give your rain garden a more natural look, follow the contours of the land and occasionally change the width of the stream bed. Plant larger accent plants along the edges of curved beds.

Choose plants that can tolerate wet feet. Even if you’re not planting a rain garden, the easiest and simplest option is to use plants that actually thrive in those conditions. They may be a little harder to find than drought-tolerant plants, but there are many possibilities if you know what you’re looking for.

Moisture-loving groundcovers such as Ever gold sedge, sweetgrass, spiderwort and spike moss. Shrubs such as Florida anise, southern wax myrtle and holly are good choices if height is needed. I have also written a blog detailing some of the native trees that can withstand flooding.

Install a French drain. If a rain garden doesn’t suit your lifestyle or landscaping layout, French drains may be right for you. A French drain is essentially a perforated tube that collects water and distributes it away from buildings or poorly drained areas. When used within hard landscaping, such as a patio or walkway, they can be buried in decorative rocks or gravel, or covered with grass or ground cover to keep them out of sight and to drain the area efficiently if they need to pass through the landscape.

The downside to French drains is that while rain gardens slow down the path of water and absorb water along with fertilizers and contaminants, French drains send water directly from the site into the watershed.

Using both simultaneously is another option. French drains can open into the rain garden to absorb water or be placed at the end of the rain garden to prevent flooding. If possible, work with your landscaper to determine the best system for your situation.

Create a killer container garden. If you’re growing vegetables or any of the other plants that need well-draining soil, planting them in containers with potting mix will provide the plants with the drainage they need to thrive. Any container will do the trick as long as there are sufficient drainage holes underneath, but ceramic, terracotta and stoneware jars are especially beautiful and can last for generations if protected from the harshest freezes.

Fast-draining, attractive hypercalcified flower pots, can be made by mixing cement, sphagnum moss and perlite and casting them in a mold. Wooden planter boxes can be made from wood available at hardware stores.

Plant a flower bed. If you prefer a more cohesive garden than a variety of planters, you can create raised beds. It’s basically a very large container that lifts your garden out of the mud and makes it easily accessible. Typically constructed with a rectangular frame made of wood, double beds can be as fancy as you want them to be, as long as they are solidly built for safety.

Even if you do not plan to build a flower bed, you can build up the soil by amending it with organic materials such as compost.

Renew your downspouts. Fountains and waterfalls are popular for providing relaxing sounds and movement to your landscape, but they can be expensive, not to mention a lot of work. Instead, consider taking advantage of overlooked downspouts and turning them into natural bodies of water that follow the rhythms of nature without adding to your utility bills. Use PVC pipes to collect water from your gutters and choose an attractive shape for your downspouts. The bamboo used and the natural arrangement of rocks adds an oriental feel, and a single tree is enough to suggest the presence of water even on rainy days.

Please hang a rain chain. Another way to make the most of your roof runoff is to replace your downspouts with rain chains. A series of links or cups that attractively channel rainwater as it falls to the ground. Rain chains certainly add artistic whimsy to your garden, but their ability to slow the flow of water off your roof makes them even more attractive. This will help reduce erosion and increase the likelihood that moisture will be absorbed into the soil before it drains from the plant.

Add decks. Rain gardens are nice and stylish, as long as there isn’t a lot of foot traffic in the wet area in question. If so, the first thing you should do is drain the water from your home’s foundation using the method described above. Then build a deck where you can enjoy your lush, watery garden without your shoes getting muddy. You can also use wooden planks to turn paths into pools with walkways and bridges. Not only is this practical, it enhances the look of your garden and makes the space much more attractive to your guests. To prevent accidental slips from ledges, install lights to illuminate the way and include guard rails where the deck is at least 30 inches off
the ground.

Replace mud with gravel. A deck or walkway is definitely worth the investment, but it’s not for everyone and the costs can definitely add up. Luckily, you can also solve your puddle problem by laying your paths and patios with gravel, pavers, and stones. A particularly attractive solution is to lay down large pavers or flagstones and fill them with gravel or stones. This slows people down as they pass through the gaps and provides space for water to seep in and escape. Pervious bricks and pavers are a good solution for driveways and patios because they provide a solid foundation while allowing water to drain through crevices.

Lose your lawn and say hello to moss. Lastly, I would like to encourage you to make friends with moss. It’s soft, easy to step on, and can be easily installed in place of grass in areas that are too shady or wet to grow. But mostly, you should grow moss because it brings a profound beauty to everything. Most wet areas already have colonies of moss lurking beneath weeds, but you can help moss gain the upper hand by removing the weeds, dividing the moss into the ground to secure it, and then watering it until it becomes established. Moss is notoriously slow to grow, but you can get a head start by purchasing some from gardens.

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