How do I make water puddles look good? (PICS)

car0linalove(z7 NC)July 28, 2010

Well I just moved into a new townhouse apartment and there are some erosion and drainage issues with the yard. The soil seems to be mostly clay and so does not drain well and becomes a muddy mess when it rains.

I had the idea of a "faux' dry stream bed considering that I cannot do any digging or major landscape changes. So the rock/pebbles would be sitting ON the muddy area. Im not sure how good this would look. I whipped up an example of what I mean in MSpaint. Please try to overlook the bad image quality, these are camera phone pics.

And here is what I was thinking with the pebbles

The back yard also has an area that fills with water, I was thinking of adding mulch to level the area out.

Here is my idea, thinking of running mulch up against the foundation down the side of the building as well.

Any ideas or advice will be very much appreciated!

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I agree to your ideas,but you need more big rock to resist water and clay

Here is a link that might be useful: if need other design

    Bookmark   July 28, 2010 at 1:20PM
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car0linalove(z7 NC)

Wow thanks, nice ideas & quite beautiful! The stepping stones are a nice touch, as of right now if I dont park directly in front of the walkway I have to walk across the grass so thats something I hadnt thought of. Are you saying I should add the bigger rocks to the inside of the "faux" dry stream bed, and not just have them outlining it?

    Bookmark   July 28, 2010 at 2:19PM
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It looks like there's some erosion there, and that should be corrected. If the owner will not do it, then carefully consider what you are allowed to do and how much effort and expense you are willing to invest.

Those paving stones by the walk should come out, in my opinion, since in their present state they are a hazard.

See if you can find out where the water is coming from, and where it's going, and whether you can somehow interrupt that flow to slow down the erosion. Maybe from downspouts in the area? This very well may involve going out during or immediately after a rainstorm to observe the runoff patterns. River rock or something similar to create a dry stream bed may work, but I'm afraid that until you address the erosion problem, it is only going to get worse, and your stream bed will silt in ... followed by weeds.

It's hard to tell from the picture, but it looks like there may be some erosion around the base of the tree also. Not good for the tree. If you can slow or stop that erosion, so much the better, but be careful not to raise the soil level above above where it should be for those tree roots.

If the owner doesn't mind, and you are willing to take on the project, with the wooded area to the side this site has nice potential for perhaps a faux stream bed and some naturalized plantings. Check your local cooperative extension service or native plant society for some native plants that thrive in a moist clay soil in shade. (If there are deer in those woods, look for plants that are deer-resistant.)

    Bookmark   July 28, 2010 at 3:24PM
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With no roof gutters and downspouts that I can see, you've got no way to redirect the roof runoff - which could be a real torrent with anything more than a light shower. Pebbles would just wash away; and rocks bigger than pebbles would still have the clay oozing up through them. Looks like it definitely becomes a slippery mess that either the owner or builder should fix for you. You said "new"... new to you or new construction?

    Bookmark   July 28, 2010 at 3:56PM
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car0linalove(z7 NC)

Thanks all for the suggestions! There is a major problem with erosion and the water runs off the roof right beside the patio where the erosion is worst. I was just out in the rain yesterday taking these pictures and it got really nasty pretty fast. The edge of the woods that you see is a sloped embankment that goes down to a dry creek bed (when it isnt raining).

The place is "new" to me, sorry for the confusion. Yes its an older building and the apartment complex show no interest in making it look better. They installed a catch drain but it is on the other side of the sidewalk, lol. And I'm assuming that the paving stones were laid by them as well, I can see where that whole area used to be a huge puddle! But they were not installed right and so the sand underneath has washed out and they are falling off the base. That's a whole different project in and of itself!
Also, I dont know if you can see it in the photos but there are exposed tree roots in the area as well. If you think the pebbles would wash away should I just maybe plan to put down pavers in that whole area? Or could I put down some type of liner then put the pebbles on top to stop the erosion?

I dont want to put too much money into it because its a rental but I want it to look nice while its "mine" :-)

    Bookmark   July 28, 2010 at 4:16PM
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Well, for the sake of interest, Google cost of gutters per linear foot. If the owner and the architectural committee of your HOA (assuming you have one) approves, even with the cost of installation that might be the cheapest and most effective of the true solutions. How wide is your unit - 20 some feet? With a few downspouts directed to the side and downspout extenders you can channel roof runoff away from the structure... you have no way of doing that now.

But I don't blame you for not wanting to incur any real expense. It's just that stopgap measures are going to be just that, temporary. You might have to live with it and let it annoy you every time it rains. Or, put in a few strategically placed larger slabs of flat topped stones (sorta like the mock up from China) which might make better splash blocks. But you'll still get some erosion; water is a powerful force to contend with.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2010 at 12:40PM
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car0linalove(z7 NC)

It's really up to the apartment complex to do those kinds of changes so I have no say there. I just wanted to make it a little better, and at the very least not have an eye sore right at the front door. Thanks for the ideas!

    Bookmark   July 29, 2010 at 9:05PM
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queerbychoice(USDA 9a/Sunset 8 (CA))

I have exactly the same problem as you! Complete with the fact that I'm renting and the landlady isn't interested in fixing it. The only difference is that my puddles are way bigger than yours. (Click on my username for pictures.)

So here's my advice, most of it gained the hard way:

1. Filling in low areas with dirt will definitely help dry them out. (It may just move the puddles elsewhere, but it will at least be effective at doing that much.) You should especially try to raise the ground level enough directly next to the building that there will never be puddles along the foundation.

2. Putting mulch or pebbles on top of the existing puddles may make the water less visible for a while, but you will probably need to add more mulch or more pebbles far more often than you might imagine. Sopping wet clay soil pretty much eats anything and everything sitting on top of it within one or two rainstorms. You can slow the rate of mulch disappearance by using very coarse mulch (boulders rather than pebbles, tree branches rather than little chips of bark), but I have even had branches three inches in diameter and a foot long disappear into my soil over the course of a few months. Since your bricks are staying on the surface of your muddy areas at the moment, you should probably look for something about the size of those bricks.

3. Dry streambeds are a lot easier to build if they're actually going to stay dry. When there's going to be actual water in the streambed but no current like in a real stream, mud tends to accumulate on top of the rocks and bury them. You can slow the accumulation of mud somewhat by making the channel at least twice as wide as it is tall; if the channel is any narrower than that, the sides will collapse and the whole thing will fill up with mud several times per year, forcing you to redig the whole thing from scratch. But no matter how wide you make the channel, you should wait at least a year to make sure it's stable before you attempt to line it with rocks. This is because once you do line it with rocks, it will be practically impossible to dig through if the channel starts filling up with mud again.

4. If you have an interest in gardening, I suggest planting some wetland plants. Nothing makes the unpleasantness of mud puddles more bearable than knowing that your plants wouldn't grow half so well without those puddles being there. (See this post for my latest unexpected success.)

5. Whatever you do, don't have indoor/outdoor dogs. The amount of mud that gets tracked into the house is mind-blowing.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2010 at 4:02AM
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peachymomo(Ca 8)

I have a friend who just rented a house with some landscaping issues and she was able to work a deal with the landlord to have rent knocked off in return for yard improvements. I don't know if your landlord would be open to that kind of arrangement, but it might be worth asking.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2010 at 10:26AM
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car0linalove(z7 NC)

queerbychoice: talk about water puddles! yikes!
You mentioned that the mud would eventually seep through the rocks, do you think I could put down landscape fabric to avoid this or is it something thats bound to happen in a dry creek bed? I do love gardening but the area with the puddles is riddled with thick tree roots so it's kinda unplantable, I mostly do container gardening.
Those stone pavers are staying because there is gravel underneath them. But its not level and there was no retainer used around them so they didnt stay in place very well.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2010 at 11:53AM
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The erosion is happening because there is no downspout there.

Putting pebbles will leave you with pebbles buried in mud, putting pavers will have it splattering all over the house.
Catch and soften the water coming off the overhang by placing a large pot half-full of pebbles there, surrounded by taller pots of growing stuff.

Also, you need to consider where the natural drainage is and make sure the water has a way to get there.

Planting shallow-rooted, shade tolerant plants in that area qill minimize puddles and slow down the creation of more puddles.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2010 at 12:15PM
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car0linalove(z7 NC)

Now thats a great idea lazygardens, I love it! Maybe I can even make a "dry fountain" using flower pots :-)

    Bookmark   August 2, 2010 at 1:52PM
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car0linalove(z7 NC)

queerbychoice, when you say to fill the areas in with dirt what type of dirt should I get? Does this mean Top soil or Garden soil or should I get some kind of sand?

    Bookmark   August 2, 2010 at 4:27PM
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queerbychoice(USDA 9a/Sunset 8 (CA))

Next to the building, it's best to fill the holes with the existing clay so that it will be just as dense as the surrounding soil. If you add less dense soil next to the building, water might seep down through it and continue to accumulate around the foundation.

Away from the building, it would be fine to use whatever soil you prefer. Just bear in mind that adding dense clay will tend to redirect the water to other parts of the yard, whereas adding a lighter, fluffier substance (preferably a coarse mulch) will tend to encourage the water to seep down out of sight.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   August 2, 2010 at 11:45PM
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car0linalove(z7 NC)

Thank you so much for the information!

    Bookmark   August 3, 2010 at 9:07AM
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I like lazygardens idea since it will be the most economical for you. I'd also play with different size pots...maybe a large rectangular pot vs several small ones.

I'd definitely remove those pavers and spread the gravel into the low area where water is holding. It'll clean up the front area and make decorating around your entry much easier!

    Bookmark   August 6, 2010 at 11:56AM
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car0linalove(z7 NC)

I was thinking of removing the pavers as well, they either need to be laid correctly or gone. I almost tripped on one of them yesterday. And boy, I thought I had seen what the water was like until yesterday. It was like a monsoon in the yard! That area off to the side of the pavers that looks like it runs off into the woods was about 2ft wide. It was quite a mess and a larger problem than I thought. I am still going to try the pot filled with stones idea and have seen a few that might work.

On another note, I found out that our building will be getting a new roof but could get no confirmation on whether they were adding downspouts, I can hope can't I?

    Bookmark   August 6, 2010 at 1:40PM
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car0linalove(z7 NC)

I just wanted to update the thread, I've taken up the pavers and made them into a border, added soil to level the puddle/hole with the rest of the ground, covered with cardboard then added drainage rock on top. I plan to fill the faux rock planter with stones to catch the roof run-off. Need more pavers to complete the border, trying to work with what I have...

Please excuse the mess!

    Bookmark   February 11, 2011 at 7:01PM
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