Standing water doesn’t have to be a standing problem

by Melissa Martin

It usually starts with a small puddle in the yard following the spring thaw and quickly transforms into a wading pool after a heavy rainstorm. It’s the source of all those muddy tracks leading into your home and the breeding grounds for mosquitoes that crash your summer barbecues and autumn bonfires. Sound familiar?

You’re not alone. Pools of standing water in the yard are a common complaint among homeowners here in Northeast Ohio, but experts say it’s one that doesn’t have to become the bane of your existence – or your landscape – for years to come.

Tom Rice, owner of Rice’s Landscaping in North Royalton, said standing water is usually caused by two common problems: poorly draining soil and low spots in the yard. While there are many solutions that can resolve such issues, before you can stop the water from pooling up in the yard, you have to figure out why it’s happening in the first place.

“More than 90 percent of the time, poor grading is going to be the issue when it comes to standing water,” Rice said.

While re-grading the yard so that the slope declines at a slight angle from the house toward the street and culverts or sewers is the likely the most expensive solution, there are a few simpler, more economical fixes Rice and other area landscapers recommend homeowners try first.

One solution, Rice said, is the construction of a dry creek, which consists of the installation of a path of gravel and rock made to look like a natural dry creek bed over the low spot in the yard.

“In these areas, you would install a bed of river rock over the wet spots,” Rice said, adding that homeowners could place a bench on top of the rock and make it a focal point in the yard. “It’s not going to eliminate the problem, but it is effectively a temporary solution to a permanent problem and will keep consistently wet areas from becoming eyesores.”

If there is a low spot on your property that collects water, and there isn’t enough slope to drain it with a creek bed, homeowners also could consider transforming those soggy patches into rain gardens.

As homeowners likely know already, standing water is incredibly harmful for most plants. Within a few days of being submerged, plants typically will succumb to root rot and will literally begin to “drown.” When plants start to die, their roots are unable to hold the soil firmly together and, as a result, erosion begins to take place. Within a few weeks, the entire yard will be full of dead plants.

Rain gardens, however, are designed to catch rainfall and are usually filled with water-loving plants including hostas, ferns and ornamental mosses that can dry out saturated areas. While rain gardens don’t necessarily resolve the yard drainage issue, they can be far more attractive than a muddy hole full of soaking grass.

Though willow trees are a prime example of a water-loving plant, Rice said he cautions homeowners against planting them.

“Unfortunately, as soon as the water dries up, these trees send out roots to look for other water sources,” he said. “That’s when they can become extremely invasive and have been known to chase water lines, causing property owners even bigger problems.”

A more permanent solution, Rice said, is the installation of a French drain, which consists of a gravel-filled trench that slopes down toward a suitable exit point. Most French drains consist of a perforated plastic drain pipe, called a drain tile, that move excess water quickly. An exit point for the water may be a storm drain or even a dry well installed on the property.

Rice said French drains are versatile and can be installed almost anywhere. They differ from a creek bed or drainage swale in that a French drain consists of buried piping underneath the soil, as opposed to a shallow trench that redirects runoff on the graded surface. “Every property is unique in that there will be different solutions that work best on individual properties,” Rice said. “While some solutions can be simple fixes homeowners can do themselves, it’s best to have a landscape contractor come into advise as to what the most effective remedy is.”