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Thursday - April 09, 2009

From: Philadelphia, PA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Erosion Control, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Water seepage problems in basement in Philadelphia
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I am interested in stopping/limiting water seepage into my basement by placing water absorbing ground plants along one or both sides. The grass we planted when home was new in July 2007 has taken on one side but not on smaller fenced/shaded walkway. Property is in Philadelphia, PA. I am looking for recommendations.


Your problem with water seepage is a little out of our line. We are going to refer you to some websites that will help you determine a possible cause for the problem. First,  Do It Yourself Tips on Basement Waterproofing is from an association of paint manufacturers, so their solution is obvious but one you may want to consider. This one from eHow website How to Troubleshoot a Wet Basement mentions repairing the grade of your soil so that it drains away from your foundation and checking to make sure gutters and downspouts are properly placed to drain water away. You really should have someone who is an expert on this kind of problem look at it and make sure there is not a more serious underlying problem and recommend an appropriate fix.

However, we can suggest plants with fibrous roots that will absorb water and hold the soil after you have corrected the drainage problem. To us, this means native grasses, which have long fibrous roots and are great at holding soil. It would be best to make whatever soil gradient or drainage corrections you have to make first, as the grasses alone will not solve the problem, and you would have to disturb or dig up those grasses later if you did not do the basic work first.

The grass you planted was probably a non-native turf grass that needs sun to flourish, but is not necessarily as good at holding soil. We can recommend grasses native to Pennsylvania both for the sunny and shady sides of your house which will be attractive and certainly help to keep the soil from shifting after you have made the necessary changes. In terms of which grasses to use where, we consider full sun to be 6 hours of sun or more a day, part shade 2 to 6 hours of sun, and shade less than 2 hours of sun a day. Before you make a selection, keep records for a few days of how long there is sun at each spot. Some of the grasses will tolerate full sun, part shade and shade, so we will mention what the light requirement for each is to help you find the right grass for the right spot. 

Native Pennsylvania Grasses for Water Absorption

Andropogon gerardii (big bluestem) - 4 to 8 ft. tall, sun, part shade

Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama) - 2 to 3 ft., sun

Bromus kalmii (arctic brome) -  2 to 3 ft., sun

Carex blanda (eastern woodland sedge) - 1 to 3 ft., sun, part shade, shade

Calamagrostis canadensis (bluejoint) - 3 to 5 ft. sun, part shade, shade

Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats) - 2 to 4 ft., part shade, shade

Elymus canadensis (Canada wildrye) - 2 to 4 ft., sun, part shade

Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem) - 18 to 14 inches, sun, part shade

Andropogon gerardii

Bouteloua curtipendula

Bromus kalmii

Carex blanda

Calamagrostis canadensis

Chasmanthium latifolium

Elymus canadensis

Schizachyrium scoparium



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