Violet's Hot Garden: Puddles

violetwestJuly 19, 2013

I'm at the very beginning planning stages for my backyard landscaping, which right now is a patch of compacted, clay, sand, and rock. I am in the Chihuahuan desert, in which gardening has been likened to "mining" -- jackhammers are favorite tools and rock mulch essential. Sunset zone 10, USDA Zone 7-8 (still figuring this out).

So -- I've been in the house since January and it finally rained enough so I can really see what the water does. And . . I have puddles! Since I am planning out my space, and hope to get a crew in to do dirt work in September (dig holes for trees, lay trenches for irrigation, lay out shapes, etc.), I have some decisions to make.

I am posting some pics of the puddles, which clearly show the low point. Water is supposed to drain to the sides, then toward the street in the front of the house. In the pic of the survey, the patio pad is in the lower right. Right now, the water is getting stuck at my gate, and not flowing to the front.

Unfortunately, the big puddle is right in front of my patio pad, so whatever I put in there will be in full, prime view. I was going to put a small, rug-sized patch of winter grass there, but now I'm not sure if that's doable.

Lots of good info here, and I'm researching, researching, researching! ? So I thought I'd ask all of you good folks some questions:

1) How do you think I should address the drainage issue? Stormwater runoff is a big problem here in the desert.
--Build up the back of the lot so there is more slope? (which I am actually planning to do
--Build a rock river to the side toward the gate?
--Build in some kind of French drain?

2) Should I speed the water toward the front? Or "capture" it and direct it towards plants? I'm getting some conflicting and confusing info here. Keep in mind that New Mexico has the worst drought conditions in the nation, so water management is essential.

3) What should I put in front of my patio? Is a turf option still viable, given that it's the low point?

Survey shows . . .

Here's the puddle:

and the puddle, viewed from the patio

This post was edited by Violet.West on Fri, Jul 19, 13 at 14:10

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You must drain water away from the house, paving and walls. If you want to manage rainwater, you should be putting it in containers of some sort and storing it for later use ... not directing it to where plants are located alongside the house or toward the other aforementioned elements. An underground cistern is one way of storing water. Rain barrels are another. Having unsightly containers at the downspouts for storing water is not worth the sacrifice in appearance for many people. You'd need to judge for yourself what you're willing to put up with or pay for. If water is precious, you might be willing to make greater sacrifices in order to store rainwater for later use.

Forget about a french drain if there is any way you can avoid it, and I'm pretty sure you can. It will not protect you from flooding. I've marked arrows on the survey in order to illustrate the general idea of how you would be draining your property. The yellow areas represent the direction water would flow at the surface. In a heavy storm, a sheet of water would flow as they point. The Blue arrows represent how water would be collected throughout the yard in order to drain toward the front. (The blue arrows would be higher in the back yard and lower in the front.) In a heavy storm, it would be like your personal miniature "river." When the rain stopped, it would drain completely. I can see that you'd need to raise the grade flush with the patio in order for it to slope away. You'd probably be adding soil at various places in the back yard and excavating soil as you approach the front yard. However, adding & subtracting would be subtle, not pronounced. With grade as generally flat as it is, tolerances would be very tight. I suggest you find someone who can design grading and is capable of establishing spot elevations with some kind of leveling device so that there are distinct, known elevations to achieve. The difference in elevation from the back yard to the front will determine much of what will be possible to do, or not do. If it's done correctly, you won't have any puddles no matter how much rain comes.

Building a drainage way of stone will not make any difference if your yard drains or not. It's the grade that's established that will make the difference.

Of course you can have sod at the patio. Account for it when calculating elevations. (In other words, it has a thickness that must be accommodated.)

    Bookmark   July 20, 2013 at 6:17PM
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Thank you, Yardvaark. I pretty much have already figured out and agree with what you've posted, and you are quite correct about where the water is supposed to go. (and kudos for making that nifty diagram with the arrows and things -- how did you do that?)

I've been studying rainwater harvesting alternatives, which may (or may not) be for me, but it's obvious I do need some grading fixes. My homeowner's manual says the grade should be 1 foot in the first 10 feet, tapering to a 2 percent grade. But I hope to build it up a bit by the back wall to create a bit of a slope and for planting too.

    Bookmark   July 21, 2013 at 9:03AM
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While you don't want to direct storm water towards plants along the house, you can direct it towards areas away from the house that have plants which like periodic moisture and don't mind drying out in between rain events. It seems counterintuitive to me if you are in a drought that you would want to be sending storm water off your property and adding to water going out into the streets or storm drains. Around here there's quite a bit of research going into various ways to convert impermeable surfaces into surfaces that are more permeable to relieve stress on the systems for handling storm water.

Since you will be needing to do some regrading, check out rain gardens while you are looking into rainwater harvesting. (Also check out the legal aspects since I know in some western states it's illegal to do rainwater harvesting.)

    Bookmark   July 24, 2013 at 9:00PM
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Believe me, I've been researching rainwater harvesting like mad.

I've come to understand that I want to keep rainwater on my property and use it, although I'm a bit of a loss on how exactly to do that. Those puddles are being absorbed right now in about 4 hours. If we get a lot of rain, it will flood. Our soils around here just cannot take a large amount of water. The idea is that the excess stormwater goes to the street.

Not sure how to direct water to the plants, though. Maybe a rainbarrel or two -- no room for a larger cistern, but doing that math that really doesn't give me enough to water my whole yard.

I can make small basins, but that low point is near where I really can't plant much. It's a narrow area that serves as the main path and gate route, and my homeowners' guide says cannot plant anything within 10 feet of my house's foundation. Since my side yards are only 7.8 and 5.6 feet wide, respectively, you can see how that would restrict any plant material there.

I'm thinking about just making a river rock river across my yard, where I can see where the water goes. Going with the flow, so to speak.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2013 at 9:15PM
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" ...and my homeowners' guide says cannot plant anything within 10 feet of my house's foundation."

One cannot blindly follow advice that contradicts common sense. I'm sure if you look around the town, you'll see house after house that breaks this rule. It would be important to understand the reasoning behind the rule in order to put it in perspective. We live in a society today that often has those giving advice (or making rules) going to extremes simply because they wish no liability or complication on their part.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2013 at 12:10PM
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they don't want water that near the foundation.

It's not in the covenants, so I think I could disregard with some impunity (and my front landscaping -- installed before I bought the house -- already has plantings closer than that.

Nevertheless, the areas to the sides are very narrow, and It also states that you cannot do anything (i.e., plantings, structures, grading) such that it impedes the flow of excess stormwater toward the street.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2013 at 12:23PM
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It would be true of all homes everywhere that "they don't want water near the foundation." But that's why grading to carry water away from house foundations, not toward them, is a universally applied solution. In spite of that, there will come rain and there will be moisture next to the foundations and since it can't be prevented, houses must be equipped to deal with it. Having plants, or not having them within several feet of the foundation, will not make the difference.

It makes sense that one cannot impede drainage water flowing in tight spaces between houses. But having plants in those spaces is not the significant factor. What the grade is doing is far more important. Saying that one "can't have plants that impede the flow of water" is not the same as saying one can't have plants in those areas. One person's idea of having plants might be a raised garden and you could see how that could be detrimental in a tight space between houses.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2013 at 12:51PM
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