Using Drainage To Improve Your Garden Soil

By: Susan Sportman

Excessive drainage in sandy soil can be an annoyance, you have to water frequently in dry weather and it is necessary to build up a water-holding structure by adding as much organic matter as you possibly can. Faulty drainage is much more just a nuisance, it can be a plant killer. Stagnant water laying all around the roots starves them of air.

Helpful bacterial activity is slowed down and harmful organisms flourish. Toxic gases build up and the overall result is poor growth to start with followed by the eventual death of the plants if conditions do not improve.

Poor drainage is associated with heavy topsoil. Water moves very slowly through clay, so the solution is to improve the structure by cultural means. blocked drainage is a more major problem, because the downward movement of water is not just slowed down - it is blocked.

There are actually three prime causes:

Non-porous rock below the soil, a sub-surface pan below the topsoil or a high water table in the area (the level at which porous rock is saturated with water). Soils with impeded drainage are saturated for long periods during the winter months, so some remedial action is necessary.

Either of the following methods mentioned below could potentially solve your dilemma. All of it depends on what problem that you find yourself having to face along with the kind of soil you have.

Cultural Aids:
Poor drainage caused by a higher clay content in the topsoil can be improved by double digging in the autumn. Under no circumstances should the rough clods be broken Up at the time of digging - leave them to be crumbled by the action of wind and frost during the winter months.

Double digging will also break up a thin soil pan therefore allowing water to drain through. From time to time the sub-surface pan is too thick to be penetrated with an ordinary garden fork, instead use a pickaxe or steel bar and sledgehammer. In rare the pan cannot be broken. You will then need to use an artificial drainage system or else raise the level with brought-in-soil.

The crumbs created by digging provide temporary relief, but it's essential to build up a permanent crumb structure by putting on heavy dressings of organic matter at regular intervals. Add calcium in the form of lime or chalk if the soil is acid - use gypsum if it is neutral or alkaline.

If the causes of poor drainage is either non-porous rock near the surface or an abnormally high water table, an artificial aid is normally recommended. Laying drains is an expensive, tough and time consuming project, it is often better to tackle the problem by raising the soil level. Buy good quality topsoil and add it to the entire surface if the garden is small or use it to fill raised beds.

Artificial Aids:
A tile drainage system consists of a herringbone pattern of plastic or earthen ware tile drains. A rubble drainage system is made in the same way, however the drain pipes are left out.

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