Just as the artist needs the right kind of paper to create his masterpiece on, the landscaper needs the right groundwork for building a successful landscape. Unlike the artist, however, the landscaper doesn't have the luxury of trotting down to the local arts and crafts supply store to buy the perfectly graded plot for building his landscape on. We have to work with what we have. That does not mean, though, that we have to settle for what we have.
Improper drainage can doom a landscaping project before it ever begins. Fortunately, drainage issues can be corrected in most cases. Evaluating the lay of the land so that you can identify and correct drainage problems before undertaking further landscaping projects can save you a lot of time, money and heartbreak later. Remember, it's always easier to address these issues before you get started with your landscaping than to try to go back after the fact and correct something that you missed.
There are several glaring red flags with indicate drainage issues on a property, if you know what to look for. Before you get started, if you don't already know, take a look at your plat or survey and determine if there are nearby flood plains. If part of your property lies in a flood plain, then you are going to have some drainage problems due to the hydric soil (soil that easily holds high volumes of water). If your actual home lies within the flood plain, on the other hand, you might be better served abandoning your landscaping plans and turning your attention to selling the home and relocating.
Next, find the drainage easements that are marked on your map (usually labeled with a DE). These most often lie along the property lines. Drainage easements mark the areas that are subject to heavy water flow during rainstorms. These easements generally experience a high degree of erosion, due to water flow. It is important to not construct any fences or structures, such as shed and other outbuildings, along drainage easements.
Creeks, Rivers and Other Bodies of Water
Thirdly, determine the location of any nearby bodies of water such as creeks, rivers, ponds and lakes. When you are first checking out a property, you may view a creek running through it as an attractive selling point. However, when the rains come that creek becomes more of a landscape liability than a boon. Creeks create higher risk of flooding, contribute to unstable soils and are subject to bank erosion. Also, any development upstream will serve to increase the water flow of the creek.
If the creek has vegetation along its banks, leave it, as this provides a crucial buffer between the delicate creek bank and the rest of the landscape. If there is not plentiful vegetation along the creek, consider installing some your first order of business. Vegetation along creek banks limit bank erosion and helps maintain water quality.
Also take a look at the elevation and slope of your property. You want to be able to get a clear idea of not only where water will be coming from, but where it will go. If you have any doubts, wait for the next rain and step outside. Take note of the path of water through the property so that you can address the notable drainage issues later.
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