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Tips on What To Do About a Soggy Lawn

Is your lawn just a bit too soggy?  Now that we’re closing in on the summer months and the ground is soft, May becomes a great time to work the soil.  Here are soggy lawn tips given by Amy Whitworth, owner of Plan-it Earth Designs, a sustainable garden designer in Portland Oregon. 

Assess the Site

  • What is the source of the water – Check for overflowing downspouts or gutters & natural underground springs.  Are you at the top or the bottom of a hill?
  • What is the existing grade – Be sure soil slopes away from your house, even if it means having a little swale in a narrow space to carry excess water.
  • Where is it most soggy – Note areas that may be squishier than others
  • Is there a place with better drainage to direct the water on your site
  • Know your watershed – Note the closest river or tributary to your home – that is the direction water will be traveling underground.
  • Be aware of your soil and landslide hazards – Sloping properties (20% or greater) in the hills may have soil stability issues.  If in doubt, contact soil engineer John Cunningham, Alder Geotechnical Services 503-282-7482

Determine the Need

  • How often and for what purpose do you use your lawn – match size to family requirements. Do you regularly walk through the wet area in the winter – is there another route, or can you create a gravel path to keep feet (and paws) dry?
  • Is it mossy and shady or is there enough sun to support lawn? Is it wet year round or only in the winter?
  • Is your basement prone to flooding – determine if water is coming from saturated soils or from surface runoff, and take steps to divert it elsewhere on your property

Consider your Options

  • Remove or reduce lawn and plant appropriate wetland plants for year round interest – Rushes and Sedges are the workhorses of the wetland ecosystem.  Consider other natives like Red Osier Dogwood, Salmonberry or Salal.
  • Make a swale or creek bed for excess water to drain – On flat properties, building a berm (raised planting area) will create a natural wet spot around the edges.  Add wetland plants to soak up water and add texture.  Create more interest with boulders or river rock.
  • Plant native trees like Western Red Cedar, Birch or Willow that utilize water year round while providing food & shelter for birds and other wildlife.
  • Raise the soil level to improve drainage.  Topdress lawns with up to ½ inch of builders sand or clean crushed gravel (no fines) and overseed so they will re-establish themselves with improved drainage.  You may want to repeat this every 3-6 months until drainage is improved enough so as not to be squishy underfoot (2”-3” in total)
  • If you must keep your lawn, start over and re-grade it properly so surface water is controlled.  Install a drain for water to escape in the lowest spot (permits are required for dry wells or to pipe directly to the storm system).  Be sure to amend heavy clay soils with a mixture of organic compost and pumice to improve drainage, and consider adding a product such as Turface or Axis that absorb excess moisture from the soil.

Change your Perspective

  • Problems become opportunities when you consider trading lawn space for lush water-loving plantings that tolerate dry summers naturally
  • If you have well drained soils, consider installing a rain garden to keep stormwater from rooftops and paved surfaces on your property while it filters impurities and recharges underground aquifers.

If these or other garden concerns overwhelm you, get inspired instead to schedule a consultation and move forward with new solutions.  I also have lots of great referrals for other landscape professionals that can help you to:

  • Do a spring clean-up and whip those beds into shape with some crisp edges
  • Remove lawn and revitalize your soil
  • Build a rain garden
  • Spread compost, mulch or gravel
  • Build a fence, pathway or a beautiful patio for summer entertaining

Get in touch with me for names and contact info!  Need a plan for your backyard habitat?  You know who to call.  503-239-0105

Whether you need some "new eyes" to give you ideas about what is possible in your garden, a walk-through to help determine best organic practices or what/when/how to prune existing plants, where to locate a vegetable garden or whether a rain garden is appropriate for your site, Call Plan-it Earth Design for a consultation today.

Design-on-the-Fly is a popular service for the budget conscious homeowner interested in integrating your garden with your home.  A 4-hour design intensive consolidates the design process into one fun, collaborative, interactive event geared toward creating a plan of action that can be implemented immediately by you or a recommended landscape contractor.  

This popular service gets booked up fast, so call for more information and schedule an appointment today.

Amy Whitworth, Sustainable Garden Designer
Plan-it Earth Design

Written by Amy Whitworth.  Do not republish without her written consent as this material is copyright.

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