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In the Garden

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Reducing Stormwater Runoff in Your Garden


Photo by Fotolia

There's nothing quite like the feeling of taking in a beautiful garden. All of your hard work and energy spent caring for your plants pays off when everything is in bloom and looking its best. A well-maintained garden is the perfect complement to any house — it definitely spruces up your home's outdoor image.

Unfortunately, runoff from your garden can undo all of your work. What's worse, it can combine with pollutants and end up ruining not only your garden, but also the areas around your house, like creeks and streams. While your local municipality probably has implemented processes such as street sweeping to reduce the runoff entering our waterways, making a conscious effort to control runoff in your lawn or garden can help even more.

Stopping polluted runoff is the only way to keep your garden looking fresh and prevent it from causing unintended environmental damage.

Here's a few ways to keep that runoff at bay:

Block the Runoff With a Swale

A swale is a ditch designed to intercept water. It's shallow with gradually sloping sides that allow rainwater and runoff water to collect at the bottom of the ditch.

The swale can fit into your property's style better if you add some rocks. Not only will it look nice, but the rocks also slow down the runoff, filter it and keep the soil stabilized.

This is a project not suited for manual labor, however — you'll need a machine to help dig the hole.


Photo by Fotolia

A Berm Keeps Runoff out for Good

Think quickly back to your history lessons in high school. How did the greatest empires survive? They built their palaces and castles on high ground, surrounded by protection like walls and moats to keep intruders out. A berm acts the same way. It's a fortress for your garden!

It's a hill covered in grass and plants designed to divert runoff away from your most important plants. One of the first things to consider is where you want the runoff to go. Think about what plants should receive the runoff and build them around the berm. That way, most of the runoff is used up by all the plants surrounding the berm.

Collect Runoff With a Drywell

Drywells are exactly what their name suggests — they're a hole in the ground that stays dry often. That is, until flowing water is directed to the well. It collects the water, but the water doesn't just sit there. It gets filtered into the soil at a better pace through geotextile fabric, a permeable fabric.


Photo by Fotolia

Collect Runoff With a Barrel

All of the rainwater that falls on your house ends up in your garden or lawn through your gutter system. The quick stream of water coming from a gutter can easily sweep up soil and nutrients that you painstakingly placed there. Don't let all that hard work go to waste — a rain barrel can solve this problem!

Just purchase a special rain barrel and place it right under the gutter stream. Be sure to put it on a slab of concrete to make sure it's completely level. You can use the collected water for anything you choose — washing the car, rinsing off tools or filling up a watering can, for example — without raising your water bill.

Get Rid of Your Impermeable Surfaces

Asphalt, stone, concrete — these are culprits for increased runoff. Why?

Their hard, impermeable surfaces make it easy for runoff to run over them without any trouble. This can lead to major flooding in some areas!

If you can, consider replacing these surfaces with materials that allow runoff to be filtered or absorbed. Flagstone and gravel are good choices because the small spaces in between each stone allow runoff flow to be slowed down.

Make Sure You're Not Doing More Harm Than Good

Are you aware of what you're putting on your lawn and soil? Many lawn care products contain chemicals that may be useful for your lawn, but can be harmful when it turns to runoff.

Make sure to use fertilizer responsibly and if possible seek natural alternatives. You can also follow these quick tips to properly care for your lawn.

Runoff is a pain to any gardener. It can suck the moisture out of your garden and it can also cause environmental concerns in the areas surrounding your home. By taking advantage of these tips, your garden will be healthier, safer and less expensive.


Megan Wild is a gardener who is the process of cultivating her first succulent garden. She loves visiting local floral nurseries and picking out plants that she struggles to fit into her yard. Find her tweeting home and garden inspiration @Megan_Wild.