Sunday, October 15, 2017

French Drains

I kept busy 2016 winter with projects inside, but my gardener heart was ready to be outside again. I was eager to see what this season would bring and it didn't disappoint. Right after we moved in we realized we had water issues. It was Christmas of 2015 when it poured all day and we saw how bad our yard flooded.

I actually cried. Part of it was due to pregnancy hormones, but I saw a lot of hard work being washed away. There were then several rains in the Spring that kept flooding our yard.

I knew the side of the house closest to our nearest neighbor stayed wet during construction, so we made sure the contractors that graded our lot, installed the sprinklers and laid the grass, also put in a French drain to take the water away from that area between our houses.

But the rest of the house downspouts, I attached tubing that ran through the flowerbed and released the water into the grass. At each downspout I put rocks to help, and be pretty. I got this idea from another house in our neighborhood.

After the Christmas "flood" we never had a bad rainfall like that. But I noticed my plants were not growing. Some would have yellow leaves and some plants were losing their leaves completely. I started investigating and realized the plants were sitting in water! The water table in our area is high, and if I could do things all over again, I would not dig a single hole. I would have placed the plants on top of the clay and poured dirt around them. Then add mulch. This would create a berm-type of flowerbed, but it would help water not sit at the base of the plant and cause root-rot.

We also had issues with the driveway puddling. The driveway had a ridge meant to take the water to the sides, but the amount of water that came from the large driveway was way too much for the yard.

And the other issue was that each time it poured, I was having to rake mulch back into my flowerbeds.

I could put up a liner for the flowerbeds to keep the mulch in, but that also meant I would be keeping the water in the flowerbeds and continue to drown my plants. I decided to add lots and lots more french drains to control the water runoff. Each downspout on the north side of the house got attached to a drain and the drain ran out to the street. The other downspouts on the South side of the house, just release into the land next to us.

Now, I thought we agreed on the outlet being on the curb, but somehow communication failed and we got a pop-up drain in the grass. This worked fine for a while and the water flowed across the sidewalk and into the street. However, the grass area around the pop-up never dried out. This grass stayed green and lush, but I had one issue... Every time we mowed, the mower would sink in the mushy ground and leave tracks.At the very beginning of Spring, we had this issue fixed. We removed the pop up drains and had the pipe extended to the street curb.

We added drains to either side of the driveway to help with the water runoff there.

It has worked just as it should and we no longer have flooding in the driveway.

If I were to do one thing over regarding these French Drains, I would have used large PVC pipe to connect all the downspouts. I noticed a house in our neighborhood do that.

I just used the flexible piping from each downspout. Then when we added French drains, they connect my tubing to their tubing and ran it through the yard.

After the French Drains were installed I felt I could tackle the flowerbeds. I did an experimental section on the North side and the NorthEast flowerbeds. I dug up every single plant, filled the existing hole with drainage rock, put the plant on top of the rock and poured dirt around the plant. I had a lot of mounds of dirt, so I filled the space with mulch and also put mulch on top of the new mounds. Mulch is cheaper than the good dirt.

It was mid-summer when I did this, but I quickly noticed plants growing and looking healthier! My hydrangeas weren't growing at all, but they doubled in size once I replanted them correctly. After this success, I moved on to redoing every flowerbed. It was a lot of work, but so worth it. I spread it out over time. One section at a time. I got tired of the constant trips to the far away Lowes for mulch, fitting all I could in the car, that I decided to wait and place one large order and have it delivered. Lowes had 3 cubic feet bags for the lowest price. Most mulch bags are only 2 cubic feet. And Lowes charges one flat shipping fee that was worth it for the amount of mulch we needed. And we chose bags of mulch vs the truckload that we did last time because it saved us on labor. A truckload meant you were shoveling into the wheelbarrow and dumping. With bags, I could pile four bags in the wheel barrow, dump it wherever and go back for more. Mr. JCrew and I had a rhythm. He'd transport the bags and I would open them and spread them.

Early 2017

Mid 2017

I wish I had taken a picture of our pallets of mulch, but we ordered 400 bags that came on 9 pallets! It took up a lot of the driveway and were piled 15 feet high. I told Mr. JCrew the mulch was my Christmas present. And for Thanksgiving, we used our time off to spread the mulch. I felt so strong after all that work. Mr. JCrew and I joke about making a workout video called, "Garden Body by Lindsay." All I do is play in my yard and I build muscle. :)

I got a lot of mulch because of the berm-style flowerbeds we had just created. The beds are over 8 inches tall with mulch. This helps the water ricochet off the sides of the flowerbeds and also cuts down on the weeds.

I was sooo ready for Spring to get here and I can really see progress in the yard. It was too late in the season last year to see results. But with all the rain this Winter and Spring, my mind has been at ease knowing the plants are not getting too much water.

I put sand down on all the lines where the French Drains were added, but I learned that I used the wrong kind of sand (Play Sand). That causes compaction. I then used Scott's Lawn Soil over the bare areas. I then fertilized the yard and watered and by mid-June, the grass has almost completely filled the gaps. Yay!

Spring 2017

I did read a book AFTER we had performed this work, that I wish I had read before we built the house. I read about installing a reservoir tank underneath your house. I actually probably would have used the land next to our house to install. But the tank collects all the water runoff from the house when it rains. There is so much water that I see going into our street drain that I could put to use. It's like one huge rain barrel. Live and learn. There are up sides and downsides to rain barrels.

Below is a picture of a rain barrel that is installed under a porch. A builder we had interviewed early on was a green builder and he recently installed this rain barrel. Great idea!

I will say, it is a lot of fun to look back at pictures from 1-year ago and see how far we've come. It's humbling to see where we started and what we've got now. It has definitely been a labor of love. Soon, I will have to show current pictures. Raising the beds has really changed how the yard looks and the plants are performing so much better!

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