Landscaping advice for a reader with a puddly property
The aptly named red chokeberry
After all the rain we had recently, my back garden looked like a lake for a while, so I sympathize with Anonymous from Somewhere Soggy, who posted this question: “I'm at the end of a cul-de-sac, and water runs off the road to my house. Luckily, I have no flooding inside the house, but a section of my yard seems to be forever ‘swampy.’ Is there a way to fix the situation without digging up my whole yard? Would bringing in dirt for these trouble spots help? I’ve also considered calling the town to ask them to do something about the water running off the road and not going to the drainage system.”
Sure, let the town know there’s another problem to add to the zillions on their list. But don’t hold your breath waiting for them to fix it. These are tough times, and I’m guessing “remedy swampy yard” wouldn’t be a top priority for most town supervisors.
Adding fill might fix the problem if it would level your property, says landscaper David Delardi, who owns Living Art Landscapes in Highland. “But it depends on the lay of the land, and how much elevation is involved. You could alleviate the problem in one area and cause a problem right next to it.” Adding a drain is a possibility, he says, but that sounds complicated. If you decide to go with fill, get a load of good-quality topsoil rather than “dirt,” or nothing will grow and you’ll trade your wet areas for bald ones.
Swampy sounds interesting, though. If it’s damp most of the time, Delardi suggests you could treat the area as a kind of natural wetland by adding bog plants, like cattails, iris and pickerel rush. “Or you could bring in truckloads of fill and topsoil and make a wetland meadow, seeded with wildflowers,” he says. Once it’s established, a meadow is virtually maintenance free. “But you need to make sure the topsoil is weed free, and start early in the season before things start coming up — there’s a science to planting these meadows. If it’s not done right it can be a nightmare.”
Pretty and easy to grow (clockwise, from left): Japanese sedge grass, star sedge — or any of the sedges
If you’re living in a more residential than rustic environment (which the term “cul-de-sac” suggests), a meadow might upset any conventional neighbors. Simpler would be to plant a willow tree, or willow shrubs where it’s wet, Delardi suggests. “They’ll do a good job of soaking up the water, and it would look great, too.” Weeping willows are graceful, but if the area is too small for a 50-foot tree (and they can grow 10 feet a year), consider the purpleosier willow (Salix purpurea), a shrub with blue-green leaves on purple-ish stems, that matures at around 15 or 20 feet. Beavers love them, Google reveals, but I imagine there’s not much of a beaver problem in your cul-de-sac.
Among other shrubs that like moist soil are red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), which reaches about 10 feet, and has small white flowers in spring, purple-red leaves in autumn, and edible red berries that supposedly choke you unless you turn them into jam before eating them. Any of the red-twig dogwoods are pretty, and look great in winter when the leaves fall off to reveal the red branches. They grow from 6 to 10 feet.
If you want to keep it really simple, Delardi suggests Japanese sedge grass — or any of the 4,000 sedges. They’re easy to care for, they crowd out weeds, and they don’t mind if it’s damp. All the plants mentioned prefer full sun, although they can take partial shade.
Good landscaping can add 20 percent to the value of your property, so it’s a worthwhile investment as well as a problem solver, in your case. But if you’re a novice or non-gardener, and you’re adding more than one willow tree, say, it’s worth seeking advice so you don’t wind up with a hodgepodge of plants in places they won’t thrive.