Rain, Rain go Away: What do if Soil is Saturated

With weather warnings of heavy rains very much in the forecast for the Houston Gulf Coast, it’s a good time to think about how to protect your yard when the rain has been pouring for days.

Does your yard tend to retain water after a heavy rainfall, or is it soggy for a long time after the weather has passed? A swampy yard can lead to several problems, but if your yard is retaining water, then you need to find some ways to improve your drainage. 

Almost all plants require good drainage to stay healthy. When the soil stays soggy makes it almost impossible for your garden plants to survive. Soil has tiny pore-sized spaces that hold the oxygen that the roots need to stay healthy, but if the soil is saturated with water, the plants are prone to disease, fungus growth, and rot. 

Does your soil drain well?

Dig a 6-inch hole. Fill it with water. If it drains quickly, you’ve got well-drained soil. If it drains slowly, or not at all, your soil drains poorly. If it does, follow these tips.

  • Prevent soil compaction, as that leads to poor drainage. 
  • Add organic matter to your soil. 
  • Dig drainage trenches, which should be about 12 inches deep and filled with gravel or coarse sand. Angle them away from your garden to direct water away from your plants. 

The dirt on a healthy garden, no matter the weather

The first step in dealing with your saturated soil is to evaluate it. How wet is your soil? Look and see which area of your yard is the wettest, and how long it stays wet until it finally drains off. No matter where you live, it’s worth investing in good topsoil. That’s the uppermost layer of your yard, and all plants rely on it for water and for the nutrients it needs. This soil should be dark—that is, as full of organic matter as possible. It’s easy to dig in, and it supports healthy plant growth. 

All the earth in your yard is made up of some combination of sand, silt and clay. You need to establish the ideal ratio of these three elements for your weather zone. This will allow for the best possible drainage, while holding the amount of moisture the plant needs. You should also consider its pH levels, which determine how acidic or alkaline the soil is, which is important for certain plants. 

Plants draw their nutrients from the soil in which they’re planted, and after heavy rain, those nutrients need to be replenished. 

Here’s what to add after a flooding event, to restore high-quality topsoil:

  • Lots of organic matter, or decomposed plant matter, like leave litter 
  • A few inches of compost
  • Granular or liquid fertilizer
  • Mulch

Some plants are heavy drinkers

If your saturated area is just too large to alter, or simply isn’t going to change, there are some alternatives to what you can plant so that your yard will survive.

There are some perennial plants that thrive in constantly wet soil, so if you’re in a weather zone where frequent, heavy rains are a problem, you need to choose water-loving plants that don’t mind a bit of a super-soaking. 

 These are some water-thriving plants that you can consider: 

  • Cannas
  • Turtleheads
  • Joe Pye weeds
  • Siberian Iris
  • Cardinal Flower

Heavy wind, rain and hail can destroy all your hard work and your financial investment in just a matter of hours. If you have time to act in advance, here are some more tips to help you protect your garden:

Create swales or channels in your yard

If you’re expecting heavy rain, it could be helpful to dig shallow swales or channels in your yard to direct excess water away from areas that tend to become oversaturated. You can make these temporary solutions, or you can make them permanent. You can also divert water by placing sandbags in certain areas to prevent waterlogging. 

Build a rain garden

A rain garden is simply a shallow depression in your yard that captures storm water runoff. Because water always runs to the shallowest spot, you can use it to direct water away from your garden, improving your yard’s drainage while protecting the environment. 

Raised plant beds

A raised plant bed is a great way to ensure good drainage for your plants, and prevent water from ponding around your plants’ roots. You can use bricks, lumber or natural stones to create the raised bed frame, fill lit with good soil, and keep your plants high and healthy even during flooding. 

While a little rain is a very good thing, a lot of rain can be a disaster. Poor drainage can negatively impact your garden’s growth, but there are plenty of ways to help you create an environment that is conducive to healthy plant growth, despite lengthy periods of inclement or even severe weather. Be as prepared as possible, but remember, your plants are resilient and what seems like a total loss might not be as bad as you think after a few weeks. 


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