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How to drain your rain-caused 'lake'

Storm revealed drainage problems; tips for how to redirect all that water

Drain extension
The easiest way to direct runoff away from a home's foundation is with a downspout extension. But depending on the landscape, the location and the home's footprint, a more permanent drainage solution may be necessary. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

The aftermath of Sunday’s record rainfall was a physical reminder of a basic law of nature: Water tends to accumulate at the lowest spot. If you didn’t know where that was in your yard, you do now

So much rain after years of so little created instant lakes in landscapes that are now taking days to drain.

Where did all this water come from? Often, off your roof.

Rain gutters – in particular, the misdirection of runoff from those gutters – can lead to drainage problems. Typically, downspouts run straight down off the roof to the ground – ending close to the house and foundation. That causes water to pool around the building and potentially leak inside into basements or crawl spaces.

The solution: Extend the downspouts away from the house and foundation. Ideally, the extensions should take rainwater at least 10 feet away from the house.

If that’s not enough, a “perimeter drain” – a gravel-topped trench around the house – can help prevent water from getting into basements or crawl spaces. This drain redirects the water to a safe release point away from the foundation.

A similar technique is a “French drain” – a buried perforated pipe that collects water and directs it away from the low spot.

Despite the name, French drains have nothing to do with France. According to experts, these unusual drains were invented by an American, Henry Flagg French. He popularized them in his book on agricultural drainage, published in 1859 in Massachusetts.

Such drains can be simple to install – dig a trench, put it in – but must be strategic. (Where do you want the water to go?)

The drainage aisle of a local Ace Hardware store was looking picked-
over Tuesday, but these NDS catch-basin drain grates were still in

Remember: Don’t bury the French drain with the same dirt you dug from the trench to install it, especially if you have clay soil.

Water tends not to drain well through clay; that’s why the backyard “lake” formed in the first place. If you cover the French drain with clay soil, it plugs up the drain and doesn’t give it a chance to work.

Instead, backfill over the drain with sand, gravel, decorative rock or other fast-draining material.

Use that clay dirt to form berms to redirect rainwater away from the house and to that gravel-covered French drain.

Those berms also could form a “rain garden,” catching stormwater and allowing it to soak in where you want it – not next to the house.

Need more help? NDS, which makes a broad range of water-related products, offers tips for how to tackle drainage issues at its online Home Drainage Center. Find it here: .


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Garden Checklist for week of April 14

It's still not warm enough to transplant tomatoes directly in the ground, but we’re getting there.

* April is the last chance to plant citrus trees such as dwarf orange, lemon and kumquat. These trees also look good in landscaping and provide fresh fruit in winter.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden needs nutrients. Fertilize shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash.

* Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias.

* Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom.

* Mid to late April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce seedlings. Choose varieties that mature quickly such as loose leaf.

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