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Drainage Solutions for any soggy property

Written by Dan Wells, owner MyLandscaper.com and overall landscape enthusiast

One of the most common landscaping challenges for any homeowner or commercial property owner is rainwater runoff challenges that leave yards or properties soggy, muddy, insect infested and unusable. At MyLandscaper.com we love solving drainage problems and offer many solutions per your budget or for the best use and look of your property.

In this month’s blog post I will briefly discuss a few options. If you are interested in an in-person consultation related to your own drainage challenges, please call me personally at 404-999-YARD to set up a time to meet at the soggy site very soon.

Tying off gutters:

The very first thing I do when I walk onto a property for a drainage problem estimate is I inspect each gutter and downspout on the home or building. Most times when there is a soggy yard, a gutter is not clean and overflowing somewhere or the downspouts are dumping their water into a flat or low point in the yard leading to a large unusable wet spot.

Our first recommendation is always using engineered downspout connectors leading to black corrugated drainpipes or pvc pipes that are then tunneled underground and led to a water exit on the property helping the water get to the next lowest point. We call this tying off all downspouts. This is always step one for us at MyLandscaper.com when we are asked to design a rainwater runoff management strategy. It gets more complicated when there is concrete or asphalt involved near the downspout, that’s when the other strategies below come into play.

Dry Creek Beds:

I love open drains as they will not fail. Other options can get overrun with too much water coming too fast during some of Georgia’s well-known thunderstorms that can oftentimes send hundreds or even thousands of gallons of water onto your yard in only a matter of minutes. To create a dry creek bed, we dig out a long channel in your yard that is usually around 36 inches wide and about 12-24 inches deep in the center with curved sides. We direct the entire channel to the lowest point in your yard’ s exit to lead it off your property by creating a natural slope in the channel.

Water will always try to find the lowest point in your yard as gravity is pulling it there. You cannot trick water and make it run uphill, it will always run downhill to the lowest point in your yard. All excess rainwater that does not seep into soil, eventually finds its way to community drains, sewers, retention ponds, or nearby creeks, rivers, streams and lakes. Our job is to try to help it get there in an organized way that leaves your property dry and usable. Yards that do not have natural slopes are the hardest to manage as water wants to lay on the flat surface, therefore we have to give it slope to help gravity do its trick.

We finish the dry creek bed by filling it with attractive river rock, giving it the look of a creek that you find in nature. We do our best to lay out the dry creek bed with natural curves, mimicking nature, never in a straight line to make your new landscaping addition as beautiful as possible.

Water is an amazing force on planet earth, every natural creek, brook, and stream that are not man made were formed by excess rainwater trying to find the next lowest point where it would eventually join a larger body of water, usually a lake, river, swamp or ocean. Famous stone gorges and canyons were carved by powerful swells of water that chiseled stone away over time to form rivers at the bottom of them as the lowest point. Our job is to create something very similar on your property to serve the same purpose.

As river rock is expensive and there is a lot of labor to dig out dry creek beds, this is one of the more expensive options, but usually the best option if your budget allows for it as they do not fail. We are simply following nature’s solution and placing one on your property. Nature is always right; we just need to pay attention and follow her lead.

One drawback of long river rock dry creek beds is that weed management will be needed a few times annually to kill off weeds that WILL grow up through the river rocks. This is often overlooked when creating these as it is simply not considered. However, it only takes one growing season for a dry creek bed to go from looking beautiful and clean to overgrown with weeds.

We can add black landscape fabric under the bed to prevent this, and it will work for a long while, but eventually landscape fabric tears and breaks down and weeds grow through. In addition, as topsoil is brought into the channel as part of ground water runoff it forms on top of the landscape fabric and the weed seeds that are spread by rain runoff collect in the bed and grow on top of the fabric as an additional challenge.

I am NOT a fan of using herbicides in dry creek beds to manage weeds as all rainwater is eventually going into a lake or a river, the herbicide is going there too. This has terrible effects on fish and amphibians overtime and is well documented. As a nature lover and conservationist, I hate when people spray herbicides in dry creek beds to manage weeds.

An easy but often overlooked solution is simply to ask your landscaper to use a propane torch to burn the weeds off. There are backpack propane torches, like the Big Max that make this easy. These are the types of torches that BBQ enthusiasts use to light wood fires for smoking wood. Fire is nature’s way, it kills weeds easily, quickly and can rid your dry creek bed of all weeds in a matter of minutes a few times annually.

French Drains:

French drains work well to manage slow runoff in situations when a flat grassy surface is needed or desired, usually between two properties. They are created by digging a slightly sloped channel in your yard below grade to create the new lowest point in your yard, then filling it with gravel and a corrugated pipe that has many holes in it. The pipe is covered in a cloth filter like cheesecloth, referred to as a “sock” that leads to a water exit point in your yard. The top of the channel can be recovered with sod after the drain is created so it can be mowed over and not seen.

French drains work well for slow water, but during very heavy rains the surface water moves too fast to allow the water to absorb into the channel and they can fail. French drains work well as a co-solution to rainwater runoff challenges but are usually used in conjunction with other measures such as drain boxes and dry creek beds too. For the money, they are a good option in many situations and are very common for these reasons. As they can be mowed over, they are often a great co-solution with downspout tie off to help solve your drainage problem.

Drain boxes:

A drain box is just what it says, it’s a square plastic box that has round exits on all four sides and a slotted drain cover on the surface. Downspouts can be tied off with black corrugated pipe and run underground to the drain box that is dug into your yard at the lowest point, one of the holes has another corrugated pipe attached to it underground that eventually leads the water off the property all underground. When drain boxes are done correctly, they function very well.

However, they can get overrun with too much water and water can pool at their location until the rain stops. They can also get clogged overtime. As some water always resides in the bottom of the box, they attract mosquitos. Drain boxes near entertaining areas are not always a great solution because of mosquitos, however, drain boxes are usually incorporated into a large drainage problem in most yards in some way as they are very effective and are mostly underground. For the price, they are the best solution many times when dry creek beds cannot be used or are out of the question due to budget constraints.

Culverts and Drain Pipes:

I love culverts and drainpipes as they work great and rarely fail. If they get clogged the opening is usually large enough that a person can reach in and unclog them with ease with the use of a long tool of some type like a shovel. A culvert is an open trench that is usually covered in grass, sometimes referred to as a swell. Water naturally collects there as the lowest point, they rarely clog and can be mowed and maintained easily. Weed management is easy with open culverts and swells as they get mowed often or a grass trimmer can be used to trim the grass and weeds in them often.

We tunnel open drainpipes under driveways to allow water to pass from one side of a driveway to the other or under a walking path of some type. They can also be used under fences in combination with river rock around them to create a low exit for excess rainwater runoff. They are great solutions and help get water from one side of your yard to the other, ultimately helping it get to the next lowest point.

Legal issues:

In Georgia it is illegal to force your rainwater runoff into your neighbor’s property on purpose in a directed fashion, so care has to be taken around property lines to create a drain solution that benefits both neighbors. This is easy to do when neighbors are friendly but becomes harder when neighbors are not. We can help in these situations.

Additionally, managing runoff around public streams, lakes and rivers can sometimes involve getting approval from local municipalities to include the Planning and Zoning departments and sometimes the Army Corp of Engineers around Lake Lanier in Northeast Atlanta as an example. We can help here as well.

At MyLandscaper.com, we are experts at drainage solutions. In fact, it’s one of our favorite things to do and create for our customers. Anytime we are approached to create a yard design for our customers we follow these four steps in order: Function, Form, Beauty and Cost

Questions we consider?

1. How will we manage the rainwater runoff in the yard? Always the priority and decision.
2. Where will the hardscape areas be in the yard to include walking paths, driveways, entertaining areas, fireplaces, patios, etc.? These must go in first in conjunction with underground downspout tie-offs, irrigation plans and lighting plans. Once concrete poured paths and driveways are in, it’s hard to tunnel under them later.
3. Where will plantings go and what kinds, trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, etc.?
4. How will we keep the plants wet, irrigation needs?
5. What lighting solutions are needed?
6. How can we do all these things with the budget of the customer?

In conclusion, every property has a drainage challenge when it is being turned into a place for humans to live or work. Natural land does not have drainage challenges, these areas simply become bogs, swamps, creeks, rivers, and lakes overtime. We love solving rainwater runoff challenges for our customers.

Water and gravity are two of the strongest natural forces on our planet. Together they are hard to beat. You will always fail if you are trying to work against water and gravity. You must work with water and gravity to win by following the natural laws of leading water to the next lowest point off your property in a controlled manner.

If you would like to schedule an in-person drainage consultation with me, please give me a call soon at 404-999-YARD and we will figure out your best options together to meet your budget and make your property a dry place to enjoy.


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