Diggin’ In: Too much water unhealthy for plants and house

May 23, 2016

The word "drainage" is a word you either hate or love. Excessive water around a house and garden is bad for everything — plants and home.

Poor drainage around a house is often the contractor’s failure to properly grade the structure once construction is finished.

Your lot should be graded to drain surface water away from foundation walls, according to Jamison Brown of Home Inspections by Jamison & Co. in Poquoson, Va. —

A good grade slopes a minimum of six inches within the first 10 feet; when that’s not possible, drains or swales can be constructed to get the job done.

"Faulty or reverse lot grade allows roof water run-off to flow back toward the home where it can wash out the soil around the foundation and lead to foundation failure, over the long term," says Brown, who has been inspecting homes for 28 years.

"During the short term, water that gains access to the soil in the crawl space allows wood destroying fungi to form. A wet crawl space can lead to distorted framing and flooring, and creates an environment conducive to termite infestation."


Ground water is the main cause of moisture-related problems in the crawl space, according to Kimberly Houston, president of Colonial Exterminating — — in Newport News, Va.

"High moisture leads to fungal growth and damages," she says.

"It also invites many pests, including termites.

"Some good options to improve drainage around your home include: install gutters and downspouts, keep gutters and downspouts clean of debris and grade soil away from your home’s foundation."


In Virginia Beach, Va., Steve Nassan tackles yards that are too wet from expansive roofs dumping hundreds of gallons of water every time it rains. Unbelievably so, for every one inch of rain that falls on a 1,000-square-foot roof, expect 600 gallons of water to flow onto your yard’s surface, according to drainage experts.

To get that massive amount of rain water away from a home’s foundation, Nassan installs Speedy Basin Drain Systems with collection boxes located in the lowest areas of the yard. The collection boxes and PVC connectors on gutter downspouts feed the water into four-inch, no-hole flexible pipes that flow to strategically placed pop-up drains. The system is customized to meet the yard’s size and configuration.

"More than 80 percent of my business is drainage systems," says Nassan, who owns A-1 Lawn and Landscaping Services —

"Standing water around a house is bad for the foundation. It can cause the house to settle, compromising the foundation and possibly leading to cracks. Too much water around plants can cause roots to rot and kill plants.

The Sped Basin Drain System takes care of all that.

"French drains work in the beginning but dirt, grass clippings, etc., start to get into the gravel, causing the water to slow down going into the pipe."

In addition to downspouts, your AC drain line can also feed into the underground pipes. Central air-conditioning systems can easily collect 10, 15 or 20 gallons of water daily, depending on the size of the house and system cooling it. Consider directing that water away from your foundation, at least to a gardening area where moisture-loving plants can drink it up.


Water from gutter downspouts or an AC drain pipe can also be directed to planting areas called "rain gardens." Simply put, a rain garden is a special spot that collects water for plants to drink. Usually, any clay or bad soil is excavated to a depth of about 30 inches. A shallow layer, or about six inches, of gravel is placed in the bottom. Fill the area with good, porous soil, install your moisture-loving plants and mulch generously.

Rain gardens can also be used to collect water from low-lying hard surfaces like driveways and walkways.

Rain barrels attached to downspouts are the easiest and most effective ways for catching rainwater from your roof. Water collected in those barrels can be used to water plants, wash off garden tools or moisten your compost pile.

Barrels with spigots can be purchased at garden centers and hardware stores.

Build your own rain barrel with directions from, a public awareness of 17 Hampton Roads Virginia city and county governments and the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, at

Learn more about rain garden design and usage with at and the Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Virginia Beach at


These plants are ideal for rain gardens and low-lying, moisture-rich spots:

—Bee balm


—Cardinal flower

—Dwarf swamp sunflower

—Geranium Rozanne

—Joe-pye weed


—Swamp milkweed

—New England aster

—Virginia blue flag


—Encore azalea

—Scarlet swamp hibiscus



—Wax myrtle


—Eastern redbud

—Sweetbay magnolia

—White fringe tree

Even though all these plants are labeled as "moisture-lovers," they do not like to sit in standing water. Organic compost or finely shredded hardwood mulch worked into the planting soil around them will help the area drain better.


(Kathy Van Mullekom is the garden/home columnist for the Daily Press in Newport News, Va. Follow her on Facebook@Kathy Hogan Van Mullekom, on Twitter @diggindirt and at Pinterest@digginin. Her blog can be read at



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