Planting flower beds is not simply a matter of digging out a square piece of earth, filling it with topsoil, and planting colorful flowers. There is much more to it than that, including picking flowers that will grow in your area, planting them at the right time, and providing proper drainage so they get the right amount of water. If you haven’t had much luck with flower beds, adding drainage to flower beds will make a big difference.
Determining the Problem
If you have pre-existing flower beds with too many weeds and poorly growing flowers, then you probably have a soil or a drainage problem. Examine the soil closest to the house first. Usually, when a house is built, the back fill that is put in after construction will not be the same as what was removed, and often times contains too much clay to grow anything very well.
Investigate each planting site. If you don’t find soil that is sandy and well-drained, you are probably dealing with too much clay in the soil. The problem with too much clay is always poor drainage.
Poor flower bed drainage prevents proper root development and the growth of beneficial soil micro-organisms that are responsible for decomposing organic matter that releases nutrients for plants. To test for soil drainage, dig a hole that is 18” deep near one of the beds and fill it with water. If the water is still there in the morning, you have a drainage problem.
Different Types of Drainage:
There are several ways to handle this kind of drainage. The easiest way is to plant flowers that thrive in a poor drainage situation, but that is only as a last resort. You can mix sand into the soil loosen it up, but you must add enough sand to have a mixture of about 80% sand to 20% soil in order to make a difference. If you are fortunate enough to have a hard, compacted layer on the surface with a drainable layer of soil below, a hole can be dug down to the permeable layer for each plant with some success.
If the clay and hard rock are solid all the way through, you may be better off going a more professional route. Most home improvement centers have drainage systems that are designed specifically to go through hard clay and rock. You may need some help installing them, but when the drainage problem is so severe, it’s worth it.
A more creative way of adding drainage to flower beds is to raise them. Raised flower beds are fun to make and beautiful to look at. Measure the areas where you want to put your raised flower beds and buy enough treated lumber or railroad ties to build the boxes that will house them.
Cut the wood to fit the measurements and build the boxes by assembling them into squares or rectangles. Dig a trench around the perimeter of the soil and set the box in place. Put a layer of gravel in the bottom of the box for drainage and then fill the rest with topsoil.
Another solution is constructing a French drain. This is used to redirect water when sloping terrain drains water into flower beds or other areas of a lawn. A French drain is essentially an unobtrusive trench filled with gravel and sand. It is fairly simple to install before planting and effective for routing water away from flower beds.
These are just a few ways of adding drainage to flower beds. The best way to decide on how to proceed with a home improvement project like this is to watch the weather, pinpoint the problem areas of your property and figure out which drainage system will work with the flowers you want to grow.
Photo by Soham Banerjee