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ricksample 10-31-2011 06:21 PM

Adding dirt to backyard
I have clay soil and I've always had a drainage problem. I'm creating a garden themed backyard. Right now I have all of my mulch beds in place and I have a series of 10' wide grassy paths running everyway though my backyard. Well some of those paths get wet and stay wet for days. Water doesn't physically lay on the backyard... Let's say it rained on Monday morning, if you walked the path on Tuesday or Wednesday, you would have a little mud on your shoes.

My backyard is roughly 250' wide, 100' deep.

I was thinking in the coming years of adding soil to these paths and re grassing. Right now it's mostly weeds back there anyhow, we've never had actual grass growing (Our fault when we built our home). Not a lot of soil, maybe an inch or a little more and build it up in the lowest spots. Would this help at all with drainage?

Msradell 10-31-2011 09:11 PM

Playing it simply, NO! Just adding soil to the surface won't help. Drainage needs to be developed from the bottom up. The one thing you could possibly do that might help is to crown the walkways and put a small drainage channel along each side. that wayne the water would run off of the walkways instead of soaking in. Not a great solution but it may help some.

DexterII 11-01-2011 08:07 AM

We have a subdivision in our area, where the developer did just that; leveled the clay, put down a couple inches of top soil, seeded, and called it a day. I have since worked there on several occasions, but on two in particular, it was raining, and walking on the ground was very much like walking across a mattress. The lawns all appear to be in remarkably good shape, but you can literally feel the earth move when it is wet. We were able to solve a couple of similar situations on our property with relatively minor grading; preventing the water from accumulating in those areas, by directing it to lower areas. I don't know if there is any way for this to be effective on an existing lawn, such as by lightly broadcasting, but in our garden, we have seen a huge improvement in the consistency of our garden since we started working in Canadian Peat every couple of years.

High Gear 11-03-2011 10:40 PM

I put in around 75' or so of gravel pathways ( 3' wide) for my wife's gardens.

I dug out and then vibrator compacted around 3 to 4 " of roadbase and then

covered it with about an inch or better of decorative chip stone.

Then I bordered it with 4 to 6" granite rocks to seperate it from the mulched beds.

This is on the worst part of the clay yard and the pathways stay dry and firm.

Perhaps you could do something similar.

If you don't put a roadbase in your decorative gravel will disapear.

You can use paver edging to contain your decorative chip stone.

ralph g 11-12-2011 10:02 PM

lots of ways to deal with drainage
Here are some thoughts:
dig shallow trenches along the edges of the paths. They don't have to be huge, just a shovel's width and 3 inches deep. If you're worried about twisting your ankle on them, fill with gravel or wood chips, bulky materials that allow water to drain.
add compost to your soil, this will help break down the clay and add nutrients so the grass will grow better. Tilling it in is nice, if you want to do the work, but even spreading it on top of the existing grass and raking it in a bit will help.
add lime: there's a relationship between soil acidity and drainage. Lowering the pH improves the soil's ability to absorb water.
aerate. It will work better if you amend the soil. If it's solid clay, the holes the aerator punches in will just eventually fill up again.
get some earthworms. They are nature's aerators.
hope you find these ideas useful.

user1007 11-13-2011 10:09 AM

I do wish people would post their locations in their profiles. Not specific house addresses but at least a regional reference?

I added earthworms to the clay soil around my California home for years. They did not fare so well. The clay was just too dense even for them to get through---especially when wet. There was no air or crawl space in it at all. And the site was a former orchard so whatever topsoil was not scraped off and it had been tilled a couple times each season for the life of the orchard.

The gardener turned over all the beds on a regular basis and we kept adding ammendments each time. Over time, the situation improved.

When I put in the lawns I brought in a guy with a farm tractor that tilled in yards and yards of ammendments---not topsoil. The lawns did alright if I aerated at least once a year put they never really rooted much below the depth of the plugs. It took a fair amount of water to keep them looking nice.

You do not want to add topsoil as a layer over the clay. You need to till it to make it work. Maybe a rototiller is in your future?

If your beds are raised, I would think seriously about the gravel and decorative stone idea. Or you could put down some square pavers with space in between for some groundcover or something.

ralph g 11-13-2011 10:58 AM

last time we lived in a heavy clay area (MD, on land that had been farmed out and had a layer of hardpan) we dealt with it by doing the reverse of raised beds: dug trenches between the beds, filled them with wood chips, and let the excess water drain into them, rather than building the bed above the soil. From what the original poster described, his problem didn't seem as bad as ours. We went 2 feet deep with the trenches. The next home had river silt soil: a little less dense than clay, but prone to cracking. No matter how much we watered, the water would just go down the cracks. Compost solved that problem. Took about 4 years. Spreading a layer of compost (not topsoil) into the existing lawn, raking it in, and overseeding worked well, but we spread lime annually for years before we did that. Our current home is in the piedmont area of NC, red clay all the way. We won't be here long, and therefore have only done piecemeal solutions. When we planted our garden, we just dug holes in the clay, filled them with compost and planted our sets. When putting the garden to bed for the winter, I noticed that the clay and compost had begun to intermingle. If we're here next season, we'll dig the new planting holes in between the old ones, and in the interim have sheet composted the garden with chopped leaves and grass clippings and a layer of straw. We also spread the ashes from our fireplace on top as they are generated over the winter. That lowers the pH, adds minerals, and helps the leaves break down faster. I realize that's not really an option for the lawn, but it works well in the garden areas.
As for the worms, yes, dropping them into solid clay is pretty useless. I'm sorry I wasn't clearer about that. Give them something to work with! When you amended your soil, did you lime heavily (2x what the soil test recommends)? I've found that adding organic matter plus lots of lime works, but over time.

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