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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Monday - November 18, 2013

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Rain Gardens, Herbs/Forbs, Shrubs
Title: Managing a wet area in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I suspect that my backyard lies at the very top of a creek watershed. However, all of the water flowing through it gets blocked by a solid stone wall. Whenever we get a significant rain event, part of my yard gets filled with about of one to at least two feet of water, which is mixed with the all the dead leaves (of my MANY trees) and the rich organic soil underneath. Most of the plants end up getting coated in mud and many get knocked down by the current. The deepest section of this area has hardly any plants growing. On, the periphery is beauty-berry, Turks-cap, hackberries and a pecan tree. I was wondering what herbaceous to shrub sized plants you think could tolerate these conditions (sun to part shade) and if you have any tips to help mitigate some of the negative effects of the flooding and poor drainage.

ANSWER:

Without being able to see the site, and with the view that our recent rains and flooding are possibly abnormal, about all we can do is make some general suggestions. First of all, much we hate to admit it, native plants cannot solve all problems.

So, you may want to consider improving drainage mechanically; that is, to bypass or maybe underpass the obstructing wall. Here is an article with a You-Tube presentation from Advanced Drainage Systems. Now, we freely admit this is an advertising site, but it does have some good suggestions.

From Better Homes and Gardens, here is an article on Improving Bad Drainage with several suggestions both on mechanical drainage and plant selection. From Garden Guides, an article on How to Fix Drainage in a Low Area in Your Yard. This article basically recommends raising the whole area with good soil to a better depth to both trap and use runoff water and to utilize plants. This sounds like the best solution to us, but only you can judge what will work on your property.

Now, to turn to the selection of plants to fix this situation. This is what we call a "rain garden," which can house plants that tolerate more water on their feet at some times, but be retained by some watering in dry times. From our How-To Articles, here is an article on Water Gardening. From the City of Austin "grow green" program, here is an Earth-Wise Guide to Rain Gardens. This article also has a list of suggested plants for Central Texas Rain Gardens. At a quick glance most, if not all, of these plants are native to Central Texas, which is what we recommend. To check on growing conditions, water needs and pictures of these plants, go to our Native Plant Database, type the name of the plant into the "scientific or common names" box and click on GO. This should take you to our webpage on that plant, where you can get information.

 

 

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