Friday, October 4, 2019

When You Know The Water's Coming

Animated images of rain falling in water with tall trees in the background. gif by giphyWater, water, water everywhere – this has been the reality for millions of people this year. If you are one of those affected, the consequences can be devastating. Hopefully, as you are reading this you have moved passed the drying out and cleaning up phase and are ready to assess what’s next. Because there will be a ‘next” and it will bring more water your way. Climate change is real and one of the undeniable effects it has on real people is that storms are bigger and more destructive than ever. As we work our way through autumn and into winter, it is a good time to determine what you can do before spring rain (or perhaps an unseasonable snowmelt) arrives. Preparing your home and family for even minor flooding encompasses a long list of variables (here is a flooding preparedness checklist from the Red Cross), but preparing your lawn or garden is something that need not be overwhelming. Many of these things you can even do in stages, to reduce time and money spent.

Backyard patio alongside raised terraces and rock channels (aka swales and berms
Swale and Berm landscaping
Runoff rundown: The objective here is for you to be able to determine where the water will go when it comes. Swales and berms are landscaping techniques that have been used since ancient times to direct water. Swales are depressions in the earth that hold water. They are often used in conjunction with dams, cisterns and other water catchment systems. Where swales are dips, berms are rises – they are raised beds or hills that move the water down into swales and/or other preferred drainage areas. French drains are another method that can be used to channel water. Simply put, they are sloping trenches lined with stones that has a pipe leading water away (here is a video on how they work). These are used extensively here in Southern Arizona, where our rain comes fast and furious Their name, by the way, has nothing to do with a country in Europe; it comes from Henry French, who wrote about them in 1859. While you are considering runoff, look at your rain spouts; redirecting their flow can be done relatively easily with great results (here are some wondrous examples). If you have them empty into rain barrels or a cistern, the water you don’t want in your yard can be stored and used later on your terms.when it comes.

A orange rain spout in the shape of a giant watering can against a grey wall. In Anacortes, WA by Joe Mahl
Anacortes, WA by Joe Mahl
Soaking it up: As an extension of some of the ideas above, you may want to look into better drainage around the hard surfaces in your yard (patios, driveways, etc.). You can always create drainage alongside these areas, but a better (albeit more costly) solution would be to change out concrete or asphalt for gravel, rock, brick or permeable paving materials. Loosely apply these materials so that water can slip right through and into the ground. You will have less water in your yard and be doing your part to recharge ground water.

A cluster of decorative plants in a depression at the foot of a tree.
Rain garden
Planting with purpose: Before planting anything in your newly flood-proofed yard, make sure you’ve got your soil right. Why? Because, that’s always the first step in planting. And (if you read my blog last week you already know this) soil that has been flooded will most likely need to be amended to bring it an optimal condition. Well-structured soils are able to absorb and drain well, with sandy soils being able to drain better than clay-like soil. If you are more committed to a flood-busting landscape than you are to a particular look, it would pay to seek out those plants that like the sandy stuff. Likewise, if you feel that you will still have standing water at some point, pick plants that are tolerant to wet roots. Additional ways to improve your chances of success are planting native plants, diversifying the plant species you choose and aggressively cleaning and clearing out any area or thing that can dam up or hold water. Still unsure what plants will work for you? Here are some ideas to get you moving down that path.

A closeup of a water droplet on a green leaf.
Embrace the rain: Instead of trying to create a garden that can handle excess water, why not just go all in and plant a rain garden? A rain garden is similar to a swale in that it is on a downslope or depression and meant to catch water, but these gardens are filled with decorative plants, while swales are meant simply as water catchment systems. Determine how much and for how long water will be in your garden and pick plants that will flourish in those conditions (here are some plants that can handle extended submersion). If you are dealing with sea spray and/or salt water, be particularly careful to choose plants that can literally stand up to those elements. Let your imagination fly and create a beautiful garden in what would have been an area of standing water.

Preparing for a natural disaster and praying it won’t happen seems to be the sensible way to roll these days. It is widely accepted that certain steps can and should be taken to lessen the effect of wildfire on property, flooding should be viewed in the same way.

Submitted by Pam

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