The Garden Patch: Consider raised beds to solve poor drainage problem

This column will be a short one – solving a drainage problem – not that solving the problem is short but there’s only so much that can be said about it. So let’s get after it! Incidentally, this information comes from a book that was given to me several years ago and it’s called “The Complete Garden Guide”. Very handy publication, all 992 pages of it! Here goes …

If the site you’ve chosen for a new garden is generally suitable but suffers from poor drainage, you can consider several remedies. One is to diligently double dig the selected spot, thoroughly loosening the heavy subsoil and then amending it until it drains nicely.

If the drainage problem persists, perhaps because the site is underlain with a layer of impervious soil (hardpan), you might want to create a simple drainage system. This approach works well when the soggy ground lies fairly close to a potential runoff area, such as a gutter, a roadside ditch or a low-lying spot on your property where you can dig a catchment basin.

However, the drainage may be so poor that you have no hope of improving it except at great expense. One indication that you have such a problem is if water pools in an area after a rain and takes more than an hour or two to drain, another is if the soil is still soggy 12 to 24 hours after a rain. In either case, you can still have your garden where you want it, in the form of a raised bed. By creating your own soil for the bed, with the perfect texture, structure, pH, and fertility you can avoid not only a drainage problem but other site problems as well.

A raised bed can be of any size or shape that you wish, although its widest point should be no more than about two arms length, otherwise, you might have difficulty reaching into the center of the bed from either side. The bed can be a simple, neat raised island of topsoil dug and mounded up from the surrounding ground. Or, it can be bordered by a frame made of landscape timbers, redwood or cedar planks, logs, bricks cinder blocks or stones.

I’ve tried all of the above methods and found that for the way I garden, landscape timbers are far superior. I have one four by eight-foot garden now that I used just plain lumber, but I know that I’ll have to replace it in another couple of years.

A word to the wise here … turn your soil over with a potato fork. The fork will not compact it like a shovel will and you’ll be much better pleased. Most of my raised beds (I have five that are four by eight feet, one that is four by five feet, one that is four by 16 feet and one that is four by 20 feet) have been dug with a potato fork with good topsoil added on top of the turned soil. The sides of the beds vary in depth from four to 12 inches, depending on what I intended to plant while constructing them. Most are eight inches deep with the soil turned over under them for about 10 inches. That gives me a roughly 18 inch root zone – and that’s enough for just about anything to grow. Also, moisture is less of a problem with the soil turned over to that depth. The soil drains much better and I think makes more efficient use of fertilizer, whether it comes from a bag or is equine extract (horse manure), which is my favorite!

Why equine extract? Because horses digest weed seeds better that any other animal in this part of the country and you don’t have the seeds in the fertilizer you apply (that means you don’t have to fight the weeds later). I’ve thought about writing a book on gardening the lazy way.

Take into serious consideration what I said above about raised bed gardening. I’ve done it for 20-some years and I’m very convinced of its effectiveness. I never set a foot in any of my gardens once they are built because I don’t want to compact the soil and everything the garden needs you can do from the sides. ‘Nuf said?

If you have questions about the raised bed method, let the publisher know, he’ll contact me and I’ll get back to you. I think you would enjoy raised beds!

I promised you a short one for this week, and there you have it. Again, let us know if you have questions – we’ll be happy to help if we can. Hope you have a GREAT week ahead and we’ll look forward to visiting with you next week! Have a good ‘un!


stevehallerSteve Haller, of Osage City, a K-State Research and Extension Master Gardener, writes The Garden Patch, featuring gardening ideas and tips for gardeners in northeast Kansas. In his words: “I am not a horticulturist. By education I am an economist. By experience, I am a marketing guru from a local to an international scale. Gardening was taught to me by my grandfather and my Mom, and I’ve been doing it since World War II was going on.”

Steve can be contacted at [email protected], or leave questions or comments below.

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