Saturday, January 28, 2012

Flooding in the Garden

The weather over the last few months has been difficult to predict to say the least.  From 10 degrees below freezing to ten degrees above, we've had snow, frost, ice pellets, rain, sunshine and wind wind wind.  Throughout all this I've been watching the garden with some curiosity.  How will the plants fare in spring?  Will they be wind burnt?  Will they be broken?  Will they survive at all?  The latest round of strange weather really has me worried.  We had a bit of a snow blow in and everything was nicely covered when the temperature climbed back up again and the rain began.  I wasn't able to take a picture  at the height of the problem but this is what I was looking at the following day.

It had frozen over at this point but you can clearly see the water collecting
In my newly created entrance bed, right in the middle there is a low spot.  And that area has turned into a wet mess.  It was seriously flooded the morning of the rain and this picture was taken the following day.  The water still hadn't drained but rather had frozen into pools of ice.

I have been working the past month on a new plan for this very bed.  I rush planted most of the perennials in late summer and had intended to move most of them come spring.  I had just put the finishing touches on this new planting scheme and I was quite proud of myself when the rain began.  Now looking at the pools of water I'm realizing a new plan will need to be put in place.

My first thought was I should try and fill that low spot in.  I had considered this when building the bed but I ran out of compost and decided to leave it was it was.  I should have realized what that would mean.  Now I'm wondering how much it would cost to bring in a load of soil and try and even this out.  The thing is I don't know enough about drainage and water movement to really understand how best to fix this.  I suspect that even if I add soil to this area the water won't necessarily disappear.  I would need to raise the level of the entire bed, which is substantial, and then the water will simply run into the grass around it.  I had intended to put a walkway in this area as well so allowing water to run off into the grass isn't ideal either.  In fact, as I look around the yard I see a number of low spots in our yard that are accumulating water.  Our clay soil doesn't drain easily so this is an issue I believe will continue to crop up.

Another solution is to just work with it.  It will mean changing my planting scheme since some of the plants won't be able to handle wet feet but I think it's a possibility.

The worst flooding is in the centre of the bed but you can see pools of water in other low spots.
Rather than place the red berried elder in the middle of the bed perhaps I could try the High Bush Cranberry which is more tolerant of wet soil and clay.  I also have numerous hostas in this bed which I believe can handle wet toes so maybe they could be moved as a group to some of the wetter spots.

Has anyone else had this problem?  What solution would you use in this situation?


  1. oh Marguerite I know just what you mean, my garden is on a slope so water collects in the lower area and this winter I noticed the drainage ditch outside my garden was backing up into the already flooded area, I'm more fortunate in that it is at the side of the house so not a main front bed, so far all I have planted in this area is trees and shrubs for wind protection, the downey birch are doing best,
    I am afraid I do not know enough to give help with plants,
    on the other side of my house near the front the area is low and gets run off from the field next to it, I dug out a drainage ditch and have started a ditch garden on the sloping sides of it, the new Alder terrace (my current post) is just up the hill from it which is one reason for raising the ground, the other side of the ditch garden has willows and other plants to soak up water,
    I think your idea with the hostas is good, could you vary the ground level in the bed, ie lower the area that gets the water so it will keep damp through summer and the soil you take out put on the drier areas of the bed for plants that don't like their feet in water, not a lot just a soft undulation, Frances

  2. I can't help you, but I feel for you, and wish you good luck with whatever you decide!

  3. Frances - that's a pretty good idea. Other parts of the bed are already higher up but I could exaggerate the heights even more and really make a space for water loving plants. That might be easier than trying to find plants that are okay with an in between status.

    Holley - I'll need all the luck I can get, thank you!

  4. This is a blessing in disguise, to get to see the drainage of your garden so clearly. Ilex verticillata (winterberry holly) will take damp spots and give you the shrub look and berries you are going for.

    Camassia bulbs will do well in wet spots and what a spring delight they are when they bloom.

    And lobelia cardinalis if the spot is sunny enough. Karl Foerster feather reed grass (Calamagrostis) will handle damp clay if you are wanting a grassy clump that is a lovely vertical with sun catching seed heads.

    Helenium likes wet and looks like richer-colored black eyed susans sort of. Chelone (turtlehead) will grow in damp spots but that will want a little shade. A dappled willow (Salix Hakuro nishiki) if you have the room, it is an arching shrub that gets big and billowy but has a refined look for a willow.

    Clethra, summersweet, likes it damp, and oh the fragrance.

    So many choices!! Don't try to mess with the elevation or fill the garden, instead make a rain-catcher garden with plants that will soak up the wet, or at least won't mind it!

  5. We share the clay soil, and we can have downpours in winter. The first two winters we had floods, Noah's Ark. So we raingardened. Two swales (Apple Creek and Plum Creek) - a hollow to draw the excess water, planted with reeds and arums. The paths are gravel, and they also drain the excess away from the plants. Ultimately, when the pond is full, we channel the worst to the reedbed.

    It makes the garden more interesting to work with a natural bog garden and enjoy growing something more interesting.

    Of course we don't have ice to deal with ;~)

  6. Laurrie thank you so much for your comments. I was hoping you would see this post and have some ideas. I too realized that despite the downside it was fortunate I was able to see the problem in advance. Gardening always throws a curveball doesn't it? Thrilled there's a grass that will appreciate these conditions as I had hoped to add some height in the middle with grass and shrubs. Back to the drawing board now!

    Diana - Good point about gravel paths. Gravel will be key I think to be sure any paths we put in don't get washed away or crack from freezing. This will definitely change the type of plants I had intended to be growing. Always something new to try out which is actually rather fun isn't it?

  7. Marguerite girl I have it much worse actually .. there is a frozen RINK on the grass pathway in my back shade garden .. I swore I would remember to drill holes in it by way of the pitch fork to help the drainage but no .. it literally is a rink and I see plants encased by it .. I know I lost an English lavender and now with the heucheras, lungwort, I am just not sure .. for the most part though .. it is grass so as long as I remember to keep water loving plants in the area I guess that is the best solution.
    Why don't you try a huge center piece plant like Emperess Wu hosta ? It looks amazing and talk about a focal point ! LOL
    PS .. I will probably post on my "rink" soon too

  8. hello again Marguerite, I can recommend the grass Laurrie mentioned Karl Foerster feather reed grass (Calamagrostis) and add that it stands up to the wind here which I know you get too, and the salt, I bought 3 last spring and depite the dreadful non summer and all the gales the 3 grasses are all still standing, another grass which I know some people don't like is pampas grass it grows well and stands strong against the winds and the birds love the seeds, if you are going with more perenials then what you have read of my plants in my damp meadow all like damp and stand up to the winds and they are in heavy acid peat soil, hope that helps, like others have said better to know now, good luck, look forward to see what you do, Frances

  9. Joy - I would love to see how you deal with this issue in a post. Since I'm new to the wonders of clay soil this was a bit of a stumper for me. oh yes, an xtra large hosta would be quite something wouldn't it? I bought a grab bag last year from Veseys and I'm curious to see how they expand. At least one, possibly two of them looked almost miniature to me this year but they only grew a few leaves each so too soon to tell.

    Frances - two votes for Karl Foerster! I'm actually thrilled to hear you guys encouraging a grass as I wanted a grass in this bed anyway. Now you've made my choice that much easier.

  10. Since it has actually rained here lately I have been able to see where the water stands and runs. Folks around here talk about rain gardens - make a place for the water to stay and slowly be absorbed into the native soil. Berms or ditches to capture the flow and then hold it. Planting accordingly around the area with water lovers in the parts that absorb more slowly, plants with good root growth for water rushing areas, etc. This site has some good photos: I am going to try to keep as much rain around as possible - who knows when it will rain again here in Texas.

  11. I had the same idea as Tufa Girl - a rain garden full of plants that want to be wet and can survive being dry for a bit. Or put your pond there.

  12. Looks like you found a place for your new bog garden.

    This is a common site in Alaska in the spring. Losses are usually heavy after freeze-thaw cycles and a winter with lots of snow. Typically a raised bed, even just three or four inches taller that the grass around it, would be something I'd recommend to an Alaskan gardener.

    And I never worry about killing the surrounding grass with grading changes or standing water. Turf grass is too ornery (here anyway) to die, and if it did, I'd turn it into another garden opportunity.

    Christine B. in Alaska, still snow

    The word verification is "bulshird." Sounds like a reaction to my advice!

  13. I see several people have already suggested making this a rain garden, which is what I was going to recommend. I attended a workshop last year about rain gardens, which seem like an excellent way of working with the conditions you have. The group sponsoring it gave us a list of suggested plants to use, though they might not be suitable for your area. But you could easily check out books or websites and find the best choices for your garden. Looking forward to seeing what you come up with!

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  15. Tufa - I've been doing lots of reading in the last week about rain gardens. All very interesting stuff just as you describe. Considering the summer you've just had I would think a rain garden would be a great idea.

    Tammy - I tried to talk hubby into the muck bucket pond today but he wasn't having any of it! I'll get that pond at some point but just not so near the house.

    Christine - thanks for your thoughts! I'd be tempted to raise the soil level in this bed if it weren't for the size of it. I'd need a dump truck full of dirt which I can't afford right now. Not to mention the established apple tree that would get buried. But I'm keeping all these ideas in mind as I'm pretty certain I'll have this problem again in other spots of the yard.

    Rose - lots of votes for rain garden! I hadn't even heard of this until recently so I was pleased to start reading up on it. Sounds like just the ticket. Thanks for your thoughts.