Solutions to Drainage Problems
Every spring and fall my phone lights up from customers needing to stop either a flow or flood of rain water on their property. Often the complaint is that this has been a problem for years. Sometimes I see that the customer has had “something” done that has not stopped the problem. And the complaint I hate to hear the most is that the drainage problem has resulted in hundreds of dollars of interior damage to basement floors. Solutions to these drainage problems are often the most challenging and yet the most rewarding service I render. There are so many causes of drainage problems that they can’t all be described here. I will mention three cases I have successfully dealt with that were noteworthy because they saved the customer money.
In the first case the customer was the victim of the Cobb County water control plan. Water from the street went through a drain and out a culvert that emptied onto my customer’s property and ended up running into a low area outside her basement door, and ultimately into her basement. The county had no intention of fixing the problem despite repeated requests. The solution was relatively simple. A deepening of the trench from the culvert beyond her basement door, lined with stone to promote easy passage of rain water, solved the problem. The day after I finished the job, a big storm brought several inches of rain, but not a single drop of water entered her basement. My customer was ecstatic.
In the second case my customer was victimized by the original grading of the neighborhood. His neighbor up the hill had combined all his downspouts into one drain pipe which emptied along the edge of my customer’s property. Since the pipe was on the neighbor’s property there seemed little to do legally or for the neighbor to do since he was up hill anyway. Rainwater ran across my customer’s driveway into a mulched area and down into the sidewalk and street creating a river of mulch and mud running down the hill. This was costly to my customer and offensive to the HOA. The solution was to create a stone border around the mulch area to deflect the water and retain the garden dirt and mulch. Now the rainwater runs harmlessly down the driveway into the street.
The third case involves a woman who was given a bid of $5,000 to solve a water collection problem just outside her kitchen door. The bid was accurate using the highest priced materials and structures in the industry today. The strategy was to collect the water in an underground chamber and take it to the edge of her property to the street 100 feet from the problem area. My solution was to create a deep French drain filled with rock and have it drain through a pipe into a wilderness area fifty feet from her house. I also arranged with the uphill neighbor to combine his downspouts, a major source of the problem runoff water, and have them empty into the same wilderness area. Two problems solved for $600. She now has a garden area outside her kitchen.
These cases illustrate what I like to do for my customers. By using simple, commonsense solutions to drainage problems, I save them money and create a long-term – and many times permanent — fix.
Aerating or power raking?
This is the season for planting fescue grass seed, and, if my ringing phone is evidence, you know this, too. And I am noticing a pattern as well. The words “aerate” and “seed” have become a hyphenated word. But authoritative sources like the Georgia Gardener and the University of Georgia Agricultural Extension Service assert these to be two separate actions for two specific results.
Aerating is used to break up hard soil (which is abundant in East Cobb) and for creating holes in the ground to allow water and nutrients to easily penetrate to the root level. To break up the soil properly, the aerator should run first at cross angles, then left to right and finally from top to bottom, until there are at least ten holes per square foot. I have not always seen this done. Aerating every year could conceivably loosen the top soil layer to provide a good nesting place for grass seed. The hole and the plug are exposed soil after all.
But what about the seed that falls anywhere but those two places?
Taking the experts’ advice, I have had great success power raking the ground first, thus dethatching and lightly tilling the planting area. This way the grass seed will end up in loose soil wherever it lands. The soil will also, when lightly raked after spreading, make a “mud sandwich” and, with proper watering, surround the seed in moist earth which helps more seeds burst and root. Starter fertilizer will also dissolve more evenly and effectively feed the seed to give it a better start. Given that the idea is to “plant” the seed, and planting involves putting something in soil, power raking provides the best environment for new grass seed to germinate.
To mow or not to mow
Since this is the time to plant fescue grass seed I have a bit of a pique to share. I am often called by a customer to not come over to mow their grass as usual because they have just had their yard aerated and seeded and the technician told them not to mow the grass until the seed germinates and becomes established. I agree. New seed establishes in three weeks and in the first ten days of growth, it is too weak to tolerate mower wheels pressing on it.
But if the grass is not mowed either just before the seeding or very soon thereafter (while the seed is still lying on the ground) it creates a problem. The yard will not be cut for three more weeks. Existing grass will by then be completely out of control, while the new grass will still be fragile. Collecting the now very tall grass necessarily requires much more mowing, with mower tires going over the yard many times and unnecessary amounts of grass clippings being left on the ground, covering the tender new shoots of fescue.
These are all technical arguments against waiting to mow a yard until the new seed has developed. So let me put it positively. No, I am not angry or jealous that a service provider from another company snaked my customer’s seeding job from me! Gosh, that did sound angry. I am just saying that it is best to mow grass as short as is reasonable at the time of aerating to give the aerator’s core borers a better chance to dig deeply and so the existing grass will grow along with the new seed. There, I got it off my chest. Thanks — I feel better!
Weeding and Feeding
There are numerous aspects to correctly planting grass seed for a consistently green carpet lawn. Today’s topic is weed control and fertilization. Reading the label on weed control products helps to set a schedule for planting seed. Pre-emergents need to be spread in the early spring (last week in February or early March), to create a toxic soil base for the weeds to absorb poison and ideally never get above the ground. Once above ground, by definition they then become post-emergent weeds. Pre-emergent chemicals need to be applied at least three weeks before planting new seed because the chemical does not selectively kill weeds, it kills whatever is trying to root in the area, including fescue grass seed. This timing applies to herbicides like Ortho® Weed B Gon® (used to kill broadleaf weeds in spring) for the same reason. New shoots of grass cannot withstand being coated with herbicide.
This brings up a personal preference for the type of herbicide to use. One of the most popular products on the gardening store shelves is Scotts® Weed & Feed. The title implies a very efficient way to perform two chores in one Saturday afternoon. However, the contents are always granules and are manufactured to be spread by the same machine. Therefore they are roughly the same size. But they must do two separate jobs. The labeling on the bag very clearly warns that the leaves of the weed must be wet when applying the herbicide. This is because the chemical in the granule has to dissolve on the leaf to be absorbed into the plant. But think with me for a moment. When is the weed surface wet? In the morning dew, after a rain, or after watering the lawn. This really constricts the time frame for you to spread the granules. Second, if the granules land on a leaf, they have to stay on the leaves long enough to dissolve. If the morning dew dries with the rising sun the effect is severely lessened (that is assuming you want to wake up early enough to run your spreader over the lawn). Even watering the lawn with an irrigation system or spreading the granules after a rain means you have to time your day to accommodate that schedule. And the sun will still dry the weed leaf. None of this takes into consideration the granules that miss the weed leaves and land harmlessly on the ground.
My preference is for liquid herbicides that come in what is known as a hose-end sprayer. You simply hook it up to your hose and then water your lawn. If the chemical has to be wet and absorbed by the plant to be effective, this is the best way. One drawback, though, is that you need a long enough hose to contact all areas of your lawn. Costco sells 100-foot hoses for $20 in spring and summer. Most sprayers are designed to project twenty to thirty feet which helps with this problem. Hand-held or backpack sprayers can also be used to hit those hard to reach areas. Several effective formulas are available in hose end sprayers, some containing more of the active ingredient than others. So be sure to analyze the formula part of the labels to get the best value.
However, when it comes to feeding your lawn, fertilizer in granular form accomplishes this best because granules are designed to dissolve into the soil at a slow rate. Scott’s fertilizer, for example, has three chemical chains of fertilizer in each granule, some of which dissolve within two weeks to give a quick shot of nitrogen to the lawn while the other parts of the formulation dissolve during the next six weeks to feed the grass slowly and not burn it or overdose the roots.
I acknowledge that applying liquid weed control and granular fertilizers involves two operations. But this dual strategy does capture the advantages of each method and in the end, it achieves the best results in your lawn.
It’s Time to Plant the Seed
All right, I have covered all the preparation steps leading up to planting time. You have the results of the soil test from the extension service to plan your chemical treatment strategy. The pre-emergent has gone down early enough to not be a threat to the new seed. The application of weed spray has taken out the first budding winter weeds like henbit, chickweed, and clover. The ground has been aerated and power raked to loosen and expose the topsoil. So what is left?
One of my favorite phrases is, “Let nature tell you what to do.” All living things have their environmental parameters for survival and thriving. For grass it is a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight but preferably eight to ten hours. Bare spots or areas of weak growth are nature’s way of saying there is not enough sun for grass to be healthy here. If you have noticed (while out driving) a field or yard that has grass growing right up to the trunk of shady trees the grass is probably a result of nature selecting the survivors of years of planting or it is “field grass” which is not what is sold in stores.
These hybrid varieties normally sold are mixes of fescue seed catering to different light conditions. They are “shotgun” approaches with the idea that something will grow wherever it lands. Since fescue is the most shade tolerant variety and yet can live in full sun with constant irrigation, it is the most versatile. The bags will be titled “Shade Blend”, “Heat Tolerant”, and “Tall Fescue”, among other descriptions. Since we are in growing zone 7A, the best varieties are Kentucky Blue, tall fescue, and, for areas of more shade, Red Fescue. Each has variances for heat tolerance, drought tolerance, and pest susceptibility. Check your yard for where the sun shines and for how long. Commit to watering as needed. And include a pesticide treatment in your annual chemical program. Monitoring for these factors will give your spring seeding the best chance for success.
Steve Dobbs, author of “The Perfect Georgia Lawn,” coined the term “lawnscaping” to describe how to plan around your particular environment. Planting the right seed in the right conditions at the right time with a correct weed and feed chemical program supported with proper watering and mowing can give you a beautiful lawn. In all other areas, for example where drainage is an issue, or there is too much shade, or tree roots draw the nutrients out of the soil, the best strategy is to design gardens, walkways, terraced or raised gardens, or put down mulch to enhance the yard and reduce lawn maintenance. The result will be a beautiful balanced design that will put your yard in the running for Yard of the Month.
Jerry French Landscaping – serving Cobb County since 1994