Improving Soil Drainage

The rising temperatures of Spring are right around the corner, and with it comes the thawing out of frozen ground. The remains of winter will melt into a quagmire interspersed only by early crocus.

This is the perfect time to come to understand the draining capacity of your soil. Why is this so important? It can make the difference between life and death for some plants.

Take, for example, Roses. Good draining soil is a must for success. Poor drainage can also lead to fungus diseases in lawns, perennials and many annuals.

So how do you know if your soil drains well? There are a few simple tests you can take to give you an idea of how well your soil drains. An easy, accurate and effective test would be to take a shovel full of soil. This can be done as early in the season, (or whenever you want to know), as the soil can be worked. Take a shovel-depth amount of soil, set it aside and fill the hole half-full with water. Come back in an hour or so.

If there is water remaining in the hole you have a drainage problem. If there is nothing left in the hole, or a small amount remaining then your problem is less dramatic.

The next step is the solution(s). The answer is going to be different for each situation, i.e., in a container garden, in a lawn, or a garden bed. Soil composition is very important. In a container garden, when using a whiskey barrel, clay pot or urn, you can provide a custom soil mix easily-it comes ready mixed in the bag. Make sure the mix has either perlite, vermiculite or some sort of soil conditioner.

As easy as it is to get perfect soil in a bag (for your potted pots), it is sometimes as daunting to produce similar results in a lawn or garden bed. It is not feasible to tear up your lawn to amend the soil mechanically, nor is it a good idea to try to displace an existing perennial bed.

There are some soil amenders you can add that work their way into the soil. For example, garden gypsum, an organic material that aids drainage, can be applied with a spreader and gets good results. You can use it on lawns as well as garden beds. Coarse sand can be added and scratched into the top two-three inches of soil. This is best used in garden beds.

In annual beds, or in planting situations, entire beds can have their soil re-worked. It’s best to add as much organic material as possible. Peat moss, manures and humus based top soils can do wonders in a planting situation. Remember to neutralize your soil with a bit of ground limestone to reach an optimum pH of 6.5-7.

Lawns, or mature beds, can be top dressed with organic material that will eventually work its way into the soil structure. A simple drainage test can go along way to answer your gardening problems.