Solutions for Damp Spots in San Diego Gardens
Even in sunny Southern California, it’s possible have troubling wet or damp spots in the garden., usually because irrigation and rain can’t quite drain properly. Or, perhaps there’s a shady spot in the sideyard where plants rarely receive sunlight making it tough for the soil to dry out.
Whatever the case may be, it’s easy to turn a potential garden negative into something more productive by using the tips outlined below.
First, Try to Fix the Drainage
Sometimes, wet spots can be eliminated with the installation of a french drain, a buried perforated pipe (in a trench filled with gravel) that captures water and directs it away from where it is causing problems, often into the drains surrounding the house. They are surprisingly effective and, depending on the length and location, usually inexpensive to install.
A drainage issue can also be a matter of grading and elevation. Check to see if you can lead water away from the spot by grading the soil toward a drain or away from the damp spot to direct the flow of water. Wherever the water winds up, brighten up the area by using plants there (see more about rain gardens below). If you need to walk through the damp space, try raising the pathway by a foot or so.
Trim plants and trees that might be prohibiting sunlight from entering the space. Keep the area weed-free so they also don’t hold in moisture.
Often times, the wet area is due to situations where water isn’t diverted properly. If you have rain gutter downspouts that aren’t connected to drains (like stormwater drains) that lead away from your property, do what you can to control the flow of water. Placing rocks underneath the downspout helps slow the flow of water into the ground by giving it a place to land and evaporate. Get clever and angle the rocks away from the downspout, to create a little makeshift creek. Though temporary, kids will love it.
Consider using rain barrels (check with the City of San Diego to see if any rebates are available) to repurpose the water in thirsty areas of the yard.
(If you’re lucky enough to have a continuous stream of moving water that the downspouts contribute to, use it to create an in-ground water feature–more on this below.)
Plant a Rain Garden
A form of xeriscaping, rain gardens take advantage of natural puddling after a rain. They are typically planted in small trenches or ditches where water can pool up. The benefits are substantial as they can be a way to lessen the need for irrigation in the yard while keeping water from flowing into the storm drains–picking up litter and pollutants on its way to the ocean.
The reality is that these plants may need water in warm weather months, so be sure that you have a means to water them sporadically between seasons depending on how wet the soil stays. We’ll dedicate an entire post to Southern California rain gardens next week.
Pondless Water Feature
In the example above, an underground basin captures water while a pump circulates it through the big stone. Pondless water features make excellent focal points, can go where plants can’t grow, and play off the area’s natural dampness. If you’re worried about electricity, pumps these days can be solar or battery powered.
Cover the Area with Decorative Rock
Playing off the pondless water feature photo, another way to mask a damp spot is to just cover it with decorative rock that will also suppress any weed growth. It’s the perfect opportunity to build a zen garden to chill out in.
Interlocking pavers provide steady footing for damp areas that receive high traffic volume while slowing the speed of water permeating into the ground.
Loose pavers with decorative rock sprinkled in between can create a rustic or Japanese garden look depending on what style you’re going for. Keep in mind that the pavers may settle lower or a bit more crooked than you intended, depending on how damp the mud below is.
Make sure that the color the pavers turn when wet is still appealing to you by testing a sample prior to installation.
Use Plants that Love Moisture
If the soil is perpetually wet, find plants with roots that can withstand consistent moisture. Which plants you choose will depend on whether or not your damp spot receives any sunlight, but here’s a nice list of pretty plants to cheer you up:
- Most ferns
- Elephant ears
- Japanese anemones
- Calla lilies
- Miniature hollyhocks (need full sun)
- Sweet flag
- Carex evergold
- Canna lilies
Many gardeners are tempted to plant horsetail in boggy areas. Don’t, it’s incredibly invasive, difficult to get rid of and may cause problems with your neighbors if it spreads.
Water-loving plants will not be able to soak up enough water to dry a moist area, but they are pretty enough to cover a potentially otherwise unusable space.
Use Artificial Turf
Artificial turf is the perfect solution for adding grass to shaded areas. Your contractor will be able to advise you as to whether or not the area is too wet for an installation, however, but it could be a viable solution.
Technically, moss is a plant but it doesn’t have leaves, branches or roots. Moss spreads by spores or division and loves mud as long as it’s not too swampy. Some gardeners also use moss as a lawn alternative. If the area is damp, you probably have moss already but it’s slow growing so you may want to purchase some to supplement it. Ask your local nursery for advice.
Decorate with Container Plants
Liven up the area with planted containers in varying heights, colors, shapes, and/or sizes. Tons of stunning plants at our local nurseries do will in shaded pots. Go all with elephant ears, cannas and other tropical looking plants. Dot sunny areas with succulents ranging from aeoniums to agaves with burrito plants cascading over the edges. The sky is the limit. Just make sure that the containers are able to drain well.
How do you spruce up the damp, shady spots in your garden?