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Fixing garden drainage

After it rains, the water is supposed to sink into the soil, not sit on top of it
Photo courtesy of Iowa State University

We all have those spots in the garden that don’t ever seem to dry out. These areas are hard on plant roots due to low oxygen levels in the soil. Poor water drainage can result from a number of reasons, including heavy clay soil, a lot of compaction, or low spots where water naturally collects and stays on the surface.

Dennis Patton is an Extension horticulture agent at Kansas State University. He says you could work in organic matter and topsoil to build up the area, and create a berm to redirect water flow. There are ways to improve drainage below the soil surface, too.

"That usually involves something called a French drain, or a perforated drain pipe. So basically you’re going into the soil and trenching, maybe 3,4-feet deep and then you’re putting a drain pipe in there that’s perforated. You usually encase that in some gravel or chat and then you backfill around that," says Patton. "So the goal is then by the trenching, you’ve opened up the soil to move down through that hard compacted clay."

Patton says he’s also had success using a small tractor and posthole auger to bore holes through compacted clay soil.

"And what you’ve done is you’ve punched through that transition zone that a lot of times in the soil prevents that water from going through it. So it’s almost like you’re punching holes in this blanket, so-to-speak," he says. "You’re giving then through natural gravity a place for that water to percolate on down deeper into the soil. And of course, you’re doing quite a few of these, maybe putting these every 3,4,5-feet into the garden."

Raised beds are a wonderful alternative to in-ground gardening, and might be an easier solution to a pesky drainage problem.

Find more tips for improving poor drainage

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