10 Jul 2018

How to improve drainage in your garden

The British climate can throw a variety of types of weather at us from the Atlantic, sometimes bringing large amounts of rainfall. Many gardens in the UK suffer from poor drainage, so if your garden is one of them, rest assured, you are not alone.


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In recent times, there has been a sharp increase in the number of homeowners converting gardens into paved areas for driveways and patios. It is believed that this is a contributing factor to the increasing likelihood of flooding.

Waterlogged, boggy conditions are far from ideal when trying to maintain a lush, green lawn. Sticky, glue-like layers of boggy soil make for a lawn that’s squelchy underfoot, and that can easily turn yellow and die off.

There are many factors that can contribute to poor drainage in the garden, which have left many gardens struggling to cope with excessive water.

Good drainage is crucial for growing many forms of garden plants, so if you’re a keen gardener, improving your drainage should be high on your priority list.

Here, NeoGrass looks at various methods of improving drainage within your self-build garden.

Install land drains

This first option is generally only recommended if your lawn is particularly bad. Installing a land drain involves digging a trench, or a series of trenches, in your lawn, installing a perforated land drain encased in pea shingle. Water will drain through your lawn and into the perforated land drain pipe, which will channel it away from that area to whatever other part of your garden you choose.

If you are considering installing land drainage, it is advisable to carry out this procedure at the end of the summer or during autumn, when the ground is at its driest. It can be a very difficult task to install land drains in wet conditions.

Grow more plants

One of the best ways to improve drainage in your garden is to grow more plants. It can be relatively inexpensive and it’s sure to make your garden a nicer place to be. Plant choice is the key to success here as you’ll need to choose something that will survive wet conditions.

Unfortunately, many plants dislike too much water and cannot tolerate waterlogged conditions. However, there are some water-loving trees and plants to choose from, such as maples, willows, astilbe, ferns, filipendula, Cornus alba, bee balm, mint, Zantedeschia aethiopica, various varieties of irises, and hostas. These trees and plants thrive in wet or boggy conditions and will help to suck excess moisture out of the ground .

Improve soil drainage

If the drainage issue within your self-build garden isn’t too severe, simply improving the permeability of the soil in your beds many alleviate the problem.

To improve the drainage of your soil, you’ll need to dig in lots of organic matter. Soil with a high organic matter content allows excess water to drain through, while absorbing needed moisture.

It’s relatively easy to obtain a continuous supply of organic matter to apply to your beds and every garden should have a compost heap.

A compost heap is considered the most valuable means of improving the soil as it is an ideal independent creator of humus. The word ‘humus’ refers to any organic matter that has reached a point of stability, where it will not break down any further. Humus significantly improves the structure of soil and contributes to moisture and nutrient retention. If your soil is sticky and clay-like, it’s highly advisable to add coarse grit sand to aid drainage within the garden.

Managing surface water run-off effectively and efficiently is a great way to improve drainage. This can be simply achieved by incorporating sloping surfaces within your garden, so that the surface water is directed to an area where it can be efficiently disposed of (e.g. a surface drain or plant bed containing moisture-loving plants).

The only downside is that it may be a costly option. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to hire a mini excavator to sculpt the contours of your garden.

Use bark chippings

Adding bark chippings to plant beds is a great way of dealing with poor draining soils. The bark will absorb moisture from the bed, thereby improving drainage.

The great thing about bark chippings is that they can perform a multitude of tasks. Not only are they great at retaining moisture, but they also prevent weed growth, help insulate the beds during cold periods, and improve the aesthetics of virtually any plant bed they are added to.

Build raised beds

Another alternative to dealing with poor draining soils is to build raised beds. Building a raised bed means that you can fill it with good quality, free-draining topsoil that gets your plants up out of the boggy earth below.

Raised beds can be constructed out of timber railway sleepers or brickwork. They will not only help you grow plants and shrubs that require drier conditions, but also create interesting features within a garden.

Spike your lawn

You may need to consider spiking or pricking your lawn. There are certain tools that will make the job of spiking your lawn easier, but it can be done with a simple garden fork.

The purpose of spiking is to create small holes, ideally 4 to 5" inches deep. These holes can then be filled with a lawn dressing or horticultural sand. The idea behind this is to channel excess water to the deeper, less compacted areas beneath your lawn.

If your lawn is prone to waterlogging, it is recommended that you spike your lawn every couple of years. Do it during the autumn time, before your lawn becomes too boggy due to winter rains.

Install artificial grass

Another method of improving drainage in your garden is to consider having a fake lawn installed. Artificial grass is capable of handling large amounts of rainfall.

In fact, 52 litres of water can filter through the perforated backing of artificial grass per square metre, per minute.

But the key to a successful, drainage-improving artificial lawn is to ensure that a permeable sub-base is installed beneath the turf.

If your garden suffers from poor drainage, don’t worry, you are not alone. The good news is that there are many options open to you, to help improve the drainage in your garden.

Obviously, some options require more effort (and cost more) than others, but hopefully NeoGrass has given you some ideas and inspiration to try out a few things for a luscious, green garden that you can enjoy all year round.

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