Dealing with a waterlogged garden

Posted: Monday 26 November 2012
by Adam Pasco

I woke on Sunday morning to find a large lake on my lawn once again, with relentless rain falling on already saturated ground.

A large puddle in Adam Pasco's lawn

I tried ignoring the weather forecast last night for the week ahead. Even with the volume turned down, the symbols on the screen said it all: Monday - Rain, Tuesday - Rain, Wednesday - Rain… Need I go on?

All my sympathies go out to those affected by flooding. It’s hard to imagine anything worse happening to your home.

Putting up with a wet garden could appear rather trivial in the context of major weather events, but the past few years have highlighted how variable and extreme our weather has become. After two or more extremely dry years, many areas had drought orders imposed on them last April, with hosepipe bans for millions of gardeners. Then the heavens opened and it’s been deluge after deluge ever since.

I woke on Sunday morning to find a large lake on my lawn once again. It’s happened a few times this year, with relentless rain falling on already saturated ground. I can’t recall this happening before, and it’s quite a change from the scorched and cracked earth caused by droughts in previous years.

So what can we do as gardeners? Give up?

Well, the first thing to remember is that you can’t do anything now. Don’t walk on your lawns and borders, as the soil is far too wet to work and you’ll do more harm than good trying. Once conditions improve, consider what you can do to both improve drainage and raise the surface level of your beds and borders. Forking in bulky organic material helps, and gravel or grit can be added to heavy soils too.

If you are short on time or simply can’t find the strength to dig, spread a thick layer of compost, manure or composted green waste (like peat-free compost) over the soil surface. Worms will gradually work this in and the surface layer acts as a mulch to deter the germination of annual weeds.

On the veg plot, I surround my beds with timber edges so the soil surface can be raised by the action of digging and adding organic matter. These raised beds drain more quickly after heavy rain and keep plant roots above the water-saturated ground below. Raised beds also warm up more quickly in spring, especially when covered with black polythene or cloches, creating ideal conditions to get crops off to an early start.

I’ve built brick raised beds on my patio too, filling one with ericaceous compost for acid-loving plants such as camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas, pieris and more.

And do remember that any bulbs, bedding or shrubs planted in pots on your patio can get waterlogged unless the water can drain away freely. Before planting, make sure your pots have adequate holes in the base, then add a layer of coarse gravel to keep the holes blockage-free, before filling the pot with compost. Then stand all your pots on ‘feet’ to raise them up, again to prevent drainage holes getting blocked.

The only good thing I can say about the rain this week is… my water butts are full, again!

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Talkback: Dealing with a waterlogged garden
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birdwatch2 09/12/2012 at 19:20

what you need is ti run some drain lines under you turf so it does not pool like that. also the soil in you lawn is most clay and probably compacted.

Adam Pasco 09/12/2012 at 19:55

Thanks Birdwatch2, but the problem is having somewhere to drain the water to. Unfortunately my garden is very level, so no slope to take the water down to a lower level. No, I think the problem is too much rain, and a water table that has reached the soil surface!

flowering rose 10/12/2012 at 15:03

I have the problem of a water logged lawn as I am on a hill and the lawn is on the flat bit .there is also a under ground spring that runs through the garden so all in all its like a swamp .We planted a stick off a willow tree one year and it grew and it grew ,it kept the lawn dry but it got bigger and bigger no matter how we cut it back and for smallish garden it was a disaster,it kept the lawn dry but it had to come down.I still have the trunk as a seat.

nutcutlet 10/12/2012 at 15:13

All or nothing with the rain. For two years our ponds got lower and lower. I though we'd have an ecological disaster. Now the water is half way up my wellies on what was dry land.

frensclan 11/12/2012 at 10:40

Much the same in North Cumbria. On thick clay we have had a pondy garden for the last year as it seems to have been raining here since July 2011!! when we moved back here Like you we have nowhere to drain the water to as we are lower than all the surrounding ground if only slightly. Our solution has been to raise everything up a bit where we can so decking and raised beds. Where we can not we have created a small wildlife pond. Were we planted our fruit trees ( thinking long term they would suck up a lot of the water) they have nearly drowned so we have put them in small raised beds and in the spring will dump a load of top soil on the grass and re turf, hopefully this will allow us to walk on it without sinking into water covering our wellies. Does anyone know why the top level of soil in my 12" raised beds is still "wet" and what I can do about it as I have had to sow my garlic in modules in the hope it will dry out by spring?

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