Annie Calovich

November 10, 2012

Rain garden a solution for drainage, dog problems

When the rain pools in a low spot or the dogs dig where they’re least wanted, the yard can become a hole where our hope drains out.

When the rain pools in a low spot or the dogs dig where they’re least wanted, the yard can become a hole where our hope drains out.

What happened to that refuge that our bit of earth is supposed to be? The place where we can find a connection with nature that we so desperately need?

Such is the case of the yard belonging to Anne Dixon in east Wichita. When we asked readers about their landscape problems, Anne wrote that her house was about to receive new siding, and she hoped to take care of two nagging problems with the yard at the same time.

We asked landscaper Charolett Knapic of Echo Landscapes for her ideas of what to do with the problem areas, and she came up with solutions – including a sculpted-soil rain garden – that you may want to try in your own yard.

Here are our reader’s problems, and Charolett’s solutions.

Problems: digging dogs, drainage

Writes Anne Dixon of Wichita:

I am having new siding installed and I have two large dogs that like to dig under the fireplace and have a tendency to chew the trim on the house. Needless to say, I must keep them away from the new siding. I need some sort of barrier behind the house to stop them. There is also a drainage problem in this area which is made even worse when the dogs dig under the fireplace.

Another area has been sodded twice, and I have been unable to get the grass to grow. This area turns into a lake every time there is a hard rain. I don’t know what will grow and I also have to address the drainage problem.

Solution 1: a rain garden

From Charolett Knapic of Echo Landscapes:

This home’s drainage problems are twofold. First, the small yard where the water pools is the same level as the house foundation and as the bordering concrete slabs, and, secondly, the dogs are digging their holes near the outer wall of the house, which serves to hold even more water near the house.

Let’s address the yard-level problem first:

•  I would sculpt the soil through the body of the small yard to draw water into the low areas, creating a rain garden.
•  I would make new shrub beds with deeply cut edges. This will serve to store rainwater in the subsoil to be absorbed during the summer. Any chemicals that are used will stay within the yard, creating as little run-off as possible with less use of municipal drainage systems.

Sculpt the yard by removing soil so that there are slopes to the low areas. See the photo for an illustration of the levels:

•  Carefully remove the soil that’s over the tree roots from the trunk out about 3 feet as pictured. This will expose the roots as handsome yard sculpture as well as help to create the slope into the low areas of the rain garden.
•  The sloped areas are shown as the dark “ground cover” in the photo.
•  The lowest areas are shown covered with river rock. They should be dug a foot deep, and those holes should be filled with gravel or chat for even greater water containment. (Drain tile can be placed at the bottom of the holes to hold even more water.)
•  Plant ground cover in the lighter-colored areas of the photo that don’t slope.

Mark the planting beds, and dig 18-inch-deep edges with 6 inches of chat in the bottom. Lay 4 inches of slotted drain tile topped with 4 more inches of chat. Plant the beds with plants that will mature into appropriate sizes, shapes and interest for the space.

Metal edging can be used to define the planting beds and contain 4 inches of native tree chip mulch to top the beds off, feed the soil life and contain moisture for the new plantings’ survival. Additional soil soaking will be needed during dry weeks.

Rain-garden plants

Here are some plants that can tolerate standing water and dry soil.

Spreading plants: mints, hardy ageratum, woodland phlox, goldenrod

Ground covers: vincas, ivies, spreading euonymus, sedums

Grassy-type plants: grasses, sedges, flags, Siberian iris, blue-eyed grass

Other perennials: stonecrop, hosta, tiarella, asarum, monarda, phlox, obedient plant, fringed bleeding heart, cardinal flower, swamp milkweed, joe-pye-weed, hardy hibiscus

Shrubs: summersweet, red-twig dogwood, sweetspire, elderberry, viburnums, deciduous holly

Trees: serviceberry, willows, maples, swamp white oak, black gum, birch, evergreen magnolia.

Digging dogs

Dogs add another twist to the drainage problem. I have added shrubs for them to lie under with room in the beds where they can dig into the cool earth away from the foundation. As the shrubs get larger, the holes won’t be noticed at all. Some people even add a sandbox to their yard for their pets to dig in.

I’ve also added plants that have movement and attract beneficial insects and birds that will help keep the dogs entertained and not as likely to chew on the house siding:

•  Sea Green evergreen junipers in sun, or densi yew in shade
•  Crape myrtle or privet
•  Russian sage and/or butterfly bushes. The flowering plants won’t flower as much in the shade, but the leaf color should be good.
•  Dwarf maiden grass, which works great in the shade.

Source: Charolett Knapic, Echo Landscapes Inc., 316-993-9857

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