My best garden wisdom is to never underestimate the power of good drainage, especially in areas where extensive shade makes drying out more difficult. Even in sites where water pools and collects, or rages in rivulets across your garden beds, control can be achieved.
In my Urban Agriculture classes, we had hands-on experience learning about drainage solutions. The whole class would get in our Wellies and tromp out to our teaching garden, which was a work in progress. We learned about swales, French drains, rain gardens, and more. Shovels were passed around and gravel was hauled in. In the end, we built swales and French drains with satisfying results. If you need a solution on how to fix garden drainage problems, I recommend trying your hand at installing a French drain.
Installing a French Drain to Fix Drainage Issues
Even a borderline old person like me can build a French drain. You may choose from a very basic gravel lined trench or use perforated pipe for a more professional effect. The first step is to determine where the water is sitting and then where you want it to go. In some cases, you can tie into your sewer drain and send it packing that way, but this usually requires a plumber. The easiest way is to send it off the area to someplace with good drainage, where the excess moisture will soak into soil. Just make sure not to produce an even bigger mess by funneling it off a hillside where erosion could occur.
Now comes the sweaty part. You will need to dig a trench about 18 inches (46 cm.) and at least a foot (30 cm.) deep. One of the gardening tips from your utility companies is to make sure there are no lines running before you dig. They will thank you for your diligence. Slope the trench away from buildings and the soggy site.
Now, line your trench with landscape or weed barrier fabric. The material must be porous to filter out items that will clog your perf pipe. Leave excess at each end. Next, fill the bottom of the trench with about 3 inches (7.6 cm.) of gravel. It doesn’t have to be the nice washed stuff, which will save you a few pennies.
The finishing touch, and the most important part of a French drain, is the perforated pipe. Once it’s nestled in the trench, you can either cover with a bit more gravel and then soil or just backfill with soil. I like to fill with just gravel so it is easy to maintain, but you can also re-sod the site if you want to hide the surgery you did to your garden.
The next time it rains or you irrigate, check your work. The pipe should push off that excess moisture, leaving a less soggy and boggy mess, all with just a few hours of your hard work.