This year’s dramatic lack of rain has left our gardens parched and dry. But the rain will come. Maybe not much, but eventually our ugly cycle of drought will be followed by torrential rains that won’t soak into the soil and instead run off, creating a raging river, making walkways impassable and threatening your home and landscape.
If your property is on a slope, or you have poor drainage and design issues, too much water is no small matter. It can cause structural damage to your home and foundation and it can kill plants, trees and grass. Standing water left hours after a rain also breeds mosquitoes and can result in mold inside and outside of your home.
If left unaddressed, drainage problems that threaten your home and foundation can lead to costly renovation repairs – repairs that are much more expensive than addressing the drainage problems at the source – out in the landscape.
So what can you do, now – while it’s still dry – to correct your water problems before the next Central Texas flood? There are many options to address drainage issues — from simple downspout connectors and underground French drains you don’t see — to attractive dry creek beds and rain gardens that can beautify your landscape while getting the job done.
One of the simplest solutions to runoff and drainage problems is to simply bury downspouts down in the soil. If water from your roof, driveway or patio doesn’t drain naturally, you can install a flexible downspout connector and extension pipe onto the end of the downspout to direct the runoff out into your landscape. There the water can be dispersed throughout the lawn, instead of making a river on your walkway. (Be sure it always drains away from your foundation.)
Rain barrels or cisterns can collect runoff from your roof to store and use to water your lawn or garden. Overflow pipes from rain barrels can also be directed to overflow into beds or rain gardens. Placing rain barrels on cinder blocks or raising them up off the ground helps with flow. Smaller rain barrels are available at most nurseries and garden centers and can be placed at several downspouts around your home. Larger, more sophisticated rainwater collection systems are also available from many sources in the Central Texas area.
As an added bonus, the City of Austin offers a rebate program for both non-pressurized rainwater barrels and pressurized collection systems. For more information, go to http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/watercon/rwrebates.htm
Another simple method to direct drainage is with a French drain. By digging the trench at the base of the slope of the problem area, it will capture and redistribute any unwanted excess water. A French drain is usually dug one to two feet deep, depending on the slope required for proper drainage. Filled with gravel and piping, it is then covered over with grass or landscaping so it is not visible.
A dry creek bed can be created with or without a French drain underneath it to help direct the flow of water in your landscape. River rock, pea gravel or other rock material is used to create a swale along the draining area, with larger rock to line the outside edges of the bed and hold the rest of the rock in place.
Like a basin in your yard, a rain garden collects rainwater from your roof, sidewalks and landscape and channels it to soak into the soil instead of causing runoff problems. Planted with an assortment of native plants, a rain garden is an attractive and low maintenance way to solve drainage issues. Situated in a low spot in your garden that already draws water, the garden is dug out with a flat bottom, the depth based on the slope of the garden area. For our clay soils, the fill for the hole should consist of sand, compost and topsoil, since clay gets waterlogged and won’t drain properly. Then a berm (with a gentle, rounded slope) is placed around the downhill edge and up the sides. Native plants such as purple cone flowers, rudbeckia and sedges are perfect for rain gardens because they require little care and will develop strong root systems. The plants should thrive in moist soil. Ground cover or grass on the berm will help prevent erosion and disruption of the plants during a big rain. As with other landscape beds, mulch well and water as you would for other new transplants, even when it doesn’t rain. In a few years the plants will have strong root systems and will only need infrequent watering.
No matter which particular drainage issue plagues your garden, there are a variety of solutions available to help you channel your problems away.