Drainage Solutions for Your Property
Water. This one, simple element is essential in sustaining life on our planet: helping plants grow, providing us with drinking water, and creating entire habitats for millions of species, amongst many other uses. However, too much of a good thing can cause problems. What happens when there is an excess of water in the wrong places?
Many things can affect the drainage of your yard. Drainage problems are numerous and can cause a multitude of issues for homeowners. From improperly installed downspouts (or a complete lack of them!) to low spots in the lawn and everything in-between, most homeowners will, unfortunately, encounter some sort of drainage issue at one point or another.
Luckily, there are a surprising amount of drainage solutions available as well. From beautiful rain gardens to simple French drains, water management is key in keeping your yard and home in top condition.
Today we’re taking a look at some of the problems excess water can cause, what causes them, and solutions to each.
Problems That Can Arise From Poor Drainage
Perhaps the most common water issue homeowners face is standing water in the yard. We’ve all seen it: Those depressions in the yard collecting rainwater and snowmelt year after year for weeks on end, long after other puddles have dried up. The soggy, muddy spots that never seem to dry completely between rain showers. Not only are these unsightly and messy, but they also provide a breeding ground for unwelcome insects, especially mosquitoes.
Poor drainage can also hurt your existing landscaping and planting beds. When the soil around plants becomes too saturated for an extended period of time, it can lead to root rot, mold, wilting, and even completely kill your plants.
If you use mulch in your landscaping, as many do, to keep weeds at bay and for a nice, uniformed look, too much moisture can lead to mulch mold and mulch fungus (sounds gross, right?). While fungus in mulch is actually common because it survives on decomposing natural material, such as wood, it can get out of hand and become an unsightly nuisance in super-saturated conditions.
When standing water is concentrated near buildings, it can also cause major structural damage to foundations of homes, garages, etc. These problems can range from slight to severe, including:
• Moldy, discolored siding
• Easily flooded basements
• Foundation damage, such as cracking and movement (which can lead to cracks in interior walls and cause doors and windows to “stick”)
• Mold or mildew growth inside your home, and can even lead to
• Termite infestations (wet wood is easier to chew through than dry)
These issues can both be costly and a threat to your health, making them easier to prevent than to repair.
Winter weather can also bring often-overlooked side effects of standing water. Aside from puddles or even larger areas of your lawn turning into mini ice rinks during cold temperatures, poor drainage can lead to excess ice on non-porous surfaces, such as driveways, sidewalks, and patios.
Last, but not least, there is erosion. More often than not, eroded areas are caused by stormwater runoff rushing down oversaturated soil, generally on slopes. However, it can still occur over more level terrain if drainage is poor, causing ditches, ponds, creeks, and more to fill up with sediment. There can be a countless number of things that warrant drainage solutions.
Do any of the problems above sound familiar? Let’s take a more in-depth look at what could be causing these issues.
What Can Cause Drainage Problems?
There are a multitude of things that can lead to poor drainage. Here is a list of “the usual suspects”.
• Steep grades/improperly graded slopes. Most often these issues cause erosion and water being directed to places you don’t want it, such as homes and depressions, where it collects, creating even more problems.
• Low spots or depressions in your yard. As we already mentioned, these can become breeding ground for mosquitoes and create a mucky mess.
• Poor existing landscape design. Whether it was a DIY project gone wrong or a project completed by a well-meaning, but underqualified, landscaping company, your landscaping and hardscapes could be inadvertently causing the problems. This can stem from using too much topsoil, grading planting beds toward your house, causing excess water to collect there, and even walkways that have been graded in the wrong direction can cause issues. Walkways are even trickier because oftentimes they run parallel to a house before making a 90° turn towards your front door. This creates an “island” of lawn where rainwater can become trapped, creating soggy areas.
• Clogged drainage pipes. This is one of those things that’s easy to forget about. After all, out of sight, out of mind! But underground drainage pipes can become clogged just like your gutters over time with natural debris, such as rocks, leaves, and sediment, and can even have roots from nearby plants grow through them!
• Clogged gutters or leaking or misplaced downspouts. Obviously, this is not an issue with your yard, but it’s still worth mentioning when it comes to outdoor water issues. Plus, we have a really great solution for this issue below! (Aside from cleaning your gutters more often and having them properly routed away from your home or outbuilding, of course.)
• Your soil. Despite your best efforts regarding your yard and home upkeep outdoors, your drainage issue could simply be the soil type where you live. While most of Indiana has loamy soil (which is why we have such high agricultural success), some areas around the state have an even denser, claylike soil. This can easily cause drainage issues as it is not as porous as sandy, silt, and loamy types of soil, causing liquid to take much longer to permeate through the ground, leading to areas of standing water on your lawn.
Drainage Solutions for a Variety of Issues
While any of the drainage issues listed above can be a nuisance, there are, fortunately, many creative solutions for each. Let’s take a look at some common ones.
Rain gardens can turn that unsightly area of your lawn that never seems to dry out into a thing of beauty! While these types of gardens can be made to add character to your yard and help dilute polluted rainwater in cities, many homeowners like to utilize them in their “problem areas”. In a nutshell, rain gardens are a bit like an onion. You have the inner layer that already receives plenty of runoff. More outer layers of soil and rock are mounded in a grade around it, culminating in native plants being planted around the edge. Why native plants? Because not only do they attract pollinators and add color to your yard, but they are already adapted to live in that environment and thrive! Some of our favorites to use are purple coneflower, Solomon’s seal, and swamp milkweed. You can learn more about the benefits of rain gardens and how we can help maintain them here.
If you’re unfamiliar with bioswales, you might like to think of them as a sophisticated drainage ditch. However, they’re really so much more than that. For starters, while they do work to channel water away from somewhere, bioswales are also designed to help the area more efficiently absorb excess rainwater.
Bioswales are great for areas that are already linear in nature, where rainwater naturally flows down, possibly even causing erosion trenches, as well as near downspouts. They are kind of a cross between a rain garden and a plain old drainage ditch. Like rain gardens, they are also great at collecting debris and pollutants from stormwater runoff. Oftentimes, water-loving native plants and rocks are also placed along the edges of these, making them look nicer and more eco-friendly. Drains can also still be installed at the end of them to help channel away any runoff that does not get absorbed, which is great for the heavy rain events that central Indiana typically sees in the springtime.
Be sure to check out the very informative webpage “An Introduction to Bioswales” to learn even more about these useful features.
Dry Creek Beds
Dry creek beds are very similar to bioswales and the terms can be used somewhat interchangeably. (Some people refer to rock-lined swales as dry creek beds and vice versa.) With that being said, the biggest difference is that dry creek beds utilize a lot more rocks in their design as opposed to the grass and other plants of bioswales, though there is still certainly a place for plants in dry creek bed designs. After all, the goal of this drainage solution is to “mimic a natural riparian area”. Their purpose is the same as bioswales, though: Slow water down, spread it out down the trench, and help it absorb into the ground.
As long as the grade isn’t too steep (over 30% or so), a dry creek bed can be used to help alleviate erosion issues from too much stormwater runoff and also prevent those water-filled depressions we talked about. You’ll want to install dry creek beds well away from buildings, at least 10ft, so excess water isn’t seeping down next to your home, causing a wet basement. However, as long as it is installed properly, exceptions can be made if one of the problem areas you are looking to fix is close to your foundation.
If you need a solution for water that is pooling closer to your home, a French drain may be just what you need. These are tubes with small holes covering it to allow water in, but are usually covered with a meshlike material to keep silt, pebbles, and other decomposing matter and debris out. French drains help areas with excess surface and groundwater drain more easily, preventing the foundation issues listed earlier and preventing water in your basement! They are an economical solution and don’t require as much maintenance as other drainage solutions.
They’re not just good for keeping water away from your foundation, though. French drains can also be used in or near those low-lying areas of your lawn that always seem to be collecting water to help it permeate the ground faster. This might be an especially good idea if you have a lot of clay soil in your area.
According to Jim Lesti, a landscape architect based in Atlanta, GA, lawns with as little as a 3% pitch can properly divert stormwater runoff…Which is good news since it is fairly flat here in central Indiana! However, even if you do have an even flatter yard, French drains and catch basins can help tremendously. If you’ve been thinking of having some landscaping done anyway, actually adding in a slope to your yard in the form of raised bed retaining walls could help with this drainage issue. This solution works well for steep grades as well. Or, especially if erosion is a major issue caused by your steep incline, you can always just have it graded down more.
As promised, this is our functional solution mentioned under the issue of “clogged gutters” above. Again, you still need to clean your gutters regularly, but if you need to replace missing or leaking downspouts, why not invest in a rain barrel too and put all of that rainwater to use? Plus, they help keep excess water away from your foundation! You can find out more about these helpful contraptions in our post “Do You Know the Benefits of Installing Rain Barrels?”.
With the wide array of economical, creative, and aesthetically-pleasing drainage solutions available,
Greenscape Geeks is a central Indiana landscape architecture and landscape design, construction, and lawn maintenance company, serving Indianapolis (including Meridian Kessler, Herron Morton, Williams Creek, and Irvington), Carmel, Noblesville, Fishers, and Zionsville.
This is a guest post by Alicia Owen