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Frozinite 09-15-2010 02:03 PM

New lawn + garden - garden is now a swamp
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Hey all, this is my first post. I've done some searches and seen a lot of similar topics, but none too similar to mine.

Some background:
I've just recently bought this house a year ago, the backyard is about a 20x50 square lawn. The yard is lined with wooden fence with hedges, to the left there's a house very close by, in the back, we have trees lining the fence with another house in the back corner, and on the right, it's pretty clear.

When I first moved in, there were strange saplings growing out of the lawn, and the back of the lawn was a muddy mess. I realized it was due to the fact that the back 2 feet of lawn had close to zero sunlight all day. Crap! So, I had no idea what to do and let the entire lawn dry out and start over.

Fast forward to now:
The grass completely died out as I wanted it to, I hired some guys to pull it all, re-till, plant new sod, install a new sprinkler system. I asked them to leave an area of bare dirt on the left side of the lawn so I could plant a vegetable garden. Everything looks great, the grass is thriving.

One week later, I decided it's about time for me to work on the garden, I walk over there and sink into the dirt about 2 inches. I dig a 12" hole in the middle of it and watch in horror as it fills with water from the surrounding dirt. I double check all my sprinkler systems and there is no leak - it's just water that is stuck in the mud seeping into the hole. I dig around some more and it looks like the water that's under the grass, on the right of it, is flowing into the garden dirt. The composition seems to be pretty good soil, not very clay-y. i.e. when it's dry and I take a fist full and compress, it falls apart nicely.

I googled online about drainage and swampy gardens, and it seems like everyone says to either 1. add more topsoil or 2. install a french drain.

I like #1 because it's easy to do (and cheap), but I'm worried that if I do that, I'll just have a layer of nice topsoil, then a super wet super marshy layer underneath it, which will rot all my roots once they reach it.

#2 seems like an okay idea too, but it would carve away almost 25% of my garden space.

Maybe there's a #3 that is able to keep the grass water from entering the garden?

I've attached pictures here for you all to see.

Please help! I really would like to have a garden for vegetables and herbs.

The pictures are taken at 10AM. The swampland gets first sun at 11:45AM until about 5:00PM when the sun moves behind the back house

nap 09-15-2010 02:25 PM

If there is too much water in the garden, there is too much water in the rest of the yard as well. Water doesn't settle to one side or the other. It establishes a level level. This will foster short root growth which means the grass will not tolerate dryer conditions well (if you ever end up with "dryer"). You may end up with fungus problems as well due to the extreme wetness.

a couple questions;

where are you located? Lots of rain, little rain? What is the makeup of your soil?

and idea what is below the soil we see?

any idea what the water table depth is?

are you positive about the sprinkler not leaking?

and what kind of septic system do you have and is it anywhere around where you have all of the water?

A drainage system shouldn't take up much space as it can exist below the topsoil. The only observable section would be if you have to use a pumping system.

Speaking of; where would you drain the water to if you did install a drain?

Scuba_Dave 09-15-2010 02:30 PM

and how often do you water the lawn ?
If you have that much water under there you shouldn't need to water

Frozinite 09-15-2010 02:46 PM

Thanks for the replies.

I'm located in Northern California, there's not too much rain during most of the year, but from December - February, there're times of heavy rainfall, when my lawn never dries out. I'm not too sure about the mixture of the soil, it seems pretty loose to me (when it's dry), there isn't much clay in here.

If I dig down past a foot and a half, I hit an extremely hard compacted layer, probably clay. It doesn't yield easily to me stomping on a shovel.

I'm pretty sure I'm above the water table here - I'm on a slight grade, hill to my right, valley to my left. The landscaped areas around my house all seem fine.

I'm not super positive about the sprinklers leaking - but I've looked and looked, and I haven't found anything to indicate any especially wet areas around the pipes.

The septic system runs through the front of the house, so it's not anywhere near the backyard.

There is a drain on the side of the house, on top of a concrete area, I would have to run the drainage pipe through the shrubs on the left to the drain.

For the first two weeks of new sod, I watered once a day (at 4am), for 10 minutes. I've reduced it down to 5 minutes for the last 4 days to try to see how it goes. I'm considering reducing it even more. (I'm on week 3 of new sod now).

nap 09-15-2010 03:00 PM

the clay level is a barrier to stop the water from draining anywhere. Work with lessening the sprinkling and watch the water level in the swimming hole in the garden. You may simply be over watering.

downunder 09-15-2010 03:45 PM

I presume that you are on a public utility water system. If so, your meter should have a leak indicator. Make sure everything is turned off and check at the meter. That will tell you if you have a leak. If you do, the fun part starts now in trying to locate it but this is a quick and easy way to rule that out.

Sounds very much like you have a hard pan under there. You probably have no idea what was there before your neighborhood (or at least your house) was built. Sounds exactly like a flower bed I worked in one time that had been built over an old business parking lot. New soil was brought in, but one by one the plants were dying. I pulled one shrub out and water literally ran into the hole from the side. And there was no irrigation, just water from a recent rain.

The plan there was to take an auger and drill down through the hardpan and install a vertical drain with slotted pipe filled with rock. It was never followed through on but that could be an option for you. If you do have a hardpan situation, you just need to break through that so that the water can penetrate.

Frozinite 09-15-2010 04:43 PM

Thanks for the tips! I reduced the watering to 5 minutes every other day now. I'll see how that goes. I'll also look into confirming I have a full hard pan, then renting an auger to cut it up. I'll report back with any updates.

The leak meter wasn't moving so I think I'm good about the sprinklers. I did test it on an outdoor faucet so I know I'm not looking at the neighbors' meter.

nap 09-15-2010 05:15 PM


Originally Posted by Frozinite (Post 501701)
Thanks for the tips! I reduced the watering to 5 minutes every other day now. I'll see how that goes. I'll also look into confirming I have a full hard pan, then renting an auger to cut it up. I'll report back with any updates.

The leak meter wasn't moving so I think I'm good about the sprinklers. I did test it on an outdoor faucet so I know I'm not looking at the neighbors' meter.

speaking of neighbors;

does he have any similar problems? Is his sprinkler system leaking?

Frozinite 09-15-2010 07:23 PM

None of the neighbors are attempting in-ground gardens. All of them have raised beds or potted plants. Guess I should've known they had a reason :-P

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