Paul James Solves Your Garden Drainage Problems
Dry up drainage problems by installing a catch basin and drainage pipes.
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Have a tough drainage issue? Maybe master gardener Paul James can help.
"In just about every landscape, there are problem areas," says James. "And in my landscape, I'm less than pleased to report that there are several of them." One area that has been the source of much frustration is in front of James' garden shed (figure A). Due to a number of factors acting in concert, it has been next to impossible to get grass to grow well there. For one thing, this area is heavily shaded by several mature trees, and the tree roots quickly absorb any water and nutrients from the soil. This competition for nourishment makes it tough to grow any kind of turf. In addition, the soil is hard, compacted clay.
But the most wearisome problem of all is the poor drainage. Water moves into this area from a higher grade left of the shed and flows to an area on the right side, particularly during heavy rains. In addition, water flows off the shed roof and splashes mud all over the front porch. Those two problems combined means that the area stays muddy for days on end, especially after a heavy rain. Nevertheless, there is a relatively simple and inexpensive solution.
To solve this dilemma, James first installs a catch basin "upstream." A catch basin is simply a square box with a plug on one side, a flange on the other and a grate on top (figure B).
To install this handy device, he digs a hole for the basin in the lowest point of the lawn. He places the basin in the hole, making sure it's just slightly below the grade (figure C). Next, he digs a trench, roughly eight inches deep and eight inches wide, for the drainage pipes.
He slopes the trench gently downhill and connects the pipe to the basin (figure D).
James connects the other end of the drainage pipe to a section of PVC pipe in a stone wall that he had installed several weeks ago in anticipation of this project. He fills the trench and gaps around the catch basin with the excavated soil. When it rains, the catch basin will collect the water, and the water will move through the drainage pipes away from the shed.
Of course, when it rains really hard, chances are the catch basin will get full in a hurry, making this whole area muddy. So James also builds a simple platform out of rough cedar (figure E), and positions it over the problem area and flush with the stone wall. Now he can cross the area without getting muddy and can also get a wheelbarrow or other garden tools across with ease.
That takes care of drainage issues upstream, so next James deals with matters downstream. On the other side of the stone wall, he digs another trench roughly eight inches deep and eight inches wide to accommodate three sections of drain pipes. "The trick here is to make sure the trench slopes gently downward from the high side to the low side. Otherwise the water could pool on the high side and make a real mess."
James uses a level every few feet to verify that the slope is progressing downward as desired. Once he's satisfied with the depth and angle of the trench, he lays the drain pipe in the trench and connects one end to the pipe installed in the stone wall. He fills in the trench and covers the pipe with three to four inches of excavated soil. "You may be wondering where all this water is ultimately going to wind up," he says. "For now, it's going to flow out of the pipe and into a trench that I dug several months ago and finally out into the lawn. It's not an ideal solution, but at least it takes care of the lawn in front of the shed."
The last step to resolving the muddy mess is to prepare the space in front of the shed. Using a scuffle hoe, James gets rid of what little grass is growing and lays down mulch, which will not only improve the look of the area and keep mud from forming, but also prevent mud from splashing onto the front porch when rain flows off the roof. And for yet another finishing touch and to separate this area from an adjacent garden bed, James places cedar logs (figure F), which were cut from his own trees.
Master gardener Paul James explains the intricacies of that common garden tool, the watering can.