The Central Texas cycle of drought and torrential rains has many homeowners searching for solutions to drainage issues. Our long, dry periods, combined with the clay and limestone on which we live, mean heavy rains can’t soak into the soil fast enough. Runoff can create a raging river, making walkways impassable and threatening your home and landscape.
If your property is on a slope, or you have poor drainage and design issues, too much water is no small matter. It can cause structural damage to your home and foundation, and it can kill plants, trees and grass.
Standing water left hours after rain also breeds mosquitoes and can result in mold inside and outside of your home. At the very least, it’s a muddy mess, especially for people with kids and dogs.
If left unaddressed, drainage problems can lead to costly renovation repairs — repairs much more expensive than addressing those problems at the source — out in the landscape.
What can you do now — while it’s still dry — to correct your water problems before the next Central Texas flood? There are many options, from simple downspout connectors and underground French drains you don’t see — to attractive dry creek beds and rain gardens that can beautify your landscape while getting the job done.
One of the simplest solutions to runoff and drainage problems is to simply bury downspouts in the soil away from the house. If water from your roof, driveway or patio doesn’t drain naturally, you can install a flexible downspout connector and extension pipe onto the end of the downspout to direct the runoff out into your landscape. There the water can be dispersed throughout the lawn, instead of washing away mulch and soil or making a river on your walkway. (Be sure it always drains away from your foundation.) And, always call 811 — Call Before You Dig — two business days before you plan to dig. If you’re up for a little trench digging, you can find on the internet directions and a supply list of materials easily available at your local hardware store, and tackle this project yourself.
Rain barrels or cisterns collect runoff from your roof to store and use to water your lawn or garden. Overflow pipes from rain barrels can be directed to overflow into beds or rain gardens. Placing rain barrels on cinder blocks or raising them up off the ground helps with flow. Smaller rain barrels are available at nurseries and garden centers and can be placed at several downspouts around your home. Larger, more sophisticated rainwater collection systems are also available from many sources in the Central Texas area. While larger systems can be expensive, as much as we pay for water, it won’t be too long before you can recoup your investment.
Another simple method to direct drainage is with a French drain. By digging the trench at the base of the slope of the problem area, it will capture and redistribute any unwanted excess water. A French drain is usually dug 1 foot to 2 feet deep, depending on the slope required for proper drainage. Filled with gravel and piping, it is then covered over with grass or landscaping to make it not visible.
A dry creek bed can be created with or without a French drain underneath it to help direct the flow of water in your landscape. River rock, pea gravel or other rock material is used to line a swale along the draining area, with larger rock to line the outside edges of the bed and hold the rest of the rock in place.
Like a basin in your yard, a rain garden collects rainwater from your roof, sidewalks and landscape and channels it to soak into the soil instead of causing runoff problems. Planted with an assortment of native plants, a rain garden is an attractive and low maintenance way to solve drainage issues. Situated in a low spot in your garden that already draws water, the garden is dug out with a flat bottom, the depth based on the slope of the garden area.
For our clay soils, the fill for the hole should consist of sand, compost and topsoil, because clay gets waterlogged and won’t drain properly. Then a berm (with a gentle, rounded slope) is placed around the downhill edge and up the sides.
Native plants such as purple coneflowers, rudbeckia and sedges are perfect for rain gardens because they require little care and will develop strong root systems. The plants you choose should thrive in periodic moist soil.
Ground cover or grass on the berm will help prevent erosion and disruption of the plants during a big rain. As with other landscape beds, mulch well and water as you would for other new transplants, even when it doesn’t rain. In a few years, the plants will have strong root systems and will only need infrequent watering.
Landscape designer Diana Kirby provides gardening tips on Facebook at Diana’s Designs and writes a gardening blog at dianasdesignsaustin.com, where she is also available for in-person or social distance video consulting.