How To Cope With Wet Soils / Gardens

If you constantly find yourself battling a soggy, wet garden, it’s probably caused either by the existence of a high water table or by compacted soil leading to poor drainage. Or quite possibly both.

Prolonged periods of rain of course then compound the problem – as witnessed by many of our clients earlier this year.

Organic matterCoping with compacted, poorly draining soil

In the case of soil compaction and poor drainage, the problem can be alleviated – partially at least – by improving the soil structure. This is particularly the case with the heavy clay soils that are found in much of ALDA-land!

Try the following:

  • Dig the soil over (when not too wet) to de-compact and allow more air in
  • Add plenty of organic matter
  • Perhaps add sharp sand and grit. But note – sand and grit may help but are not as effective as organic matter, and tend to make the soil extremely heavy to work with.

Coping with a high water table

IrisA garden does not necessarily have to be low lying to have a high water table. Local topography plays a part, along with a number of other factors. If you live somewhere with a high water table, drying out your garden can be slightly problematical.  To say the least.

Installing land drains is often the best, or indeed, the only real solution.  (As an aside, I am planning next month to write a blog post looking at drainage, land drainage systems, soakaways, where you can/can’t drain water to… watch this space!)

But what if installing land drains is impractical? Land drains of course have to drain the water off to somewhere and there isn’t always a “somewhere” to drain the water to.

If land drains aren’t an option, another way of coping with wet soil caused by a high water table is to raise some of the garden. The simplest approach would be to build a few raised beds for plants to grow in. Or you might consider bringing in soil and lifting a whole section of the garden out of the wet – although there are obvious cost implications here.

Plants for wet soil

CarexIf all else fails, then perhaps the best solution is to grow plants that will cope with the wet conditions for prolonged periods (although not many plants like to be permanently submerged).  Some plants to consider (there are many more):

  • Trees: Alder, Liquidambar, Sorbus
  • Shrubs: Cornus alba, Hydrangea, Sambucus, Kerria, Weigela
  • Bamboos: e.g. Phyllostachys
  • Grasses: e.g. Carex
  • WeigelaPerennials: Hosta, Zantedeschia, Astilbe, Iris (not germanica types), Rodgersia, Primula (some), Lobelia cardinalis, Lysimachia, Rudbeckia, Persicaria, Ligularia, Astrantia, Helenium, Actaea.

And some plants to definitely avoid (i.e. those needing good drainage):

  • Most alpines
  • Lilies
  • Phormiums & Cordylines
  • Hebes
  • grey leaved “Mediterranean” plants e.g. Lavender

And even if your garden is normally dry…

Of course, most gardens will become saturated after very long periods of rain. Heavy rain will compact the soil, sometimes leaving an almost impermeable “pan” on the surface; it will also leach out a lot of nutrients. So, once the garden has dried out, give the garden a much needed helping hand by first de-compacting the soil as described above, and then giving the borders a feed with a general purpose fertiliser to replace lost nutrients.


Image credits: Matt Lavin, Diana House, Muséum de Toulouse, jacinta lluch valero


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