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Clay soil, poor drainage and trees

mbaxter12345mbaxter12345 Posts: 2
edited January 2020 in Problem solving

I was wondering if somebody could offer some expert advice or recommendations please? I have to hold my hands up and admit that I am a complete novice when it comes to gardening and so my knowledge is close to zero.

Our garden drains poorly as there is a high water table and the soil is clay like. We live in a new build house and when the garden grass was laid a few years ago it was clearly on top of a very shallow spread of top soil. The grass is thinning and in winter we are getting lots of boggy areas. The water takes a very long time to drain away properly.

I was hoping to maybe dig out some borders and plant some trees that really absorb water but dont grow at a rapid rate. Just something that could grow in the poor soil really soak up the water from lawn. The approx area is about 10m x 6m

Many thanks in advance.


  • Many thanks in advance.
  • purplerallimpurplerallim Posts: 5,260
    Maybe raised beds to plant in, I have clay soil too. With trees you have to make sure they are far enough away from foundations, so maybe something on a dwarf root stock even apples or pears. Helpful and productive. 😁
  • NollieNollie Posts: 7,512
    Even trees and shrubs tolerant of wet, boggy soil generally need some drainage so digging in lots of grit and organic material will help, some information here:

    I have heavy, compacted clay and garden in raised beds, mainly, with tonnes of aforementioned grit and compost dug in. 

    Is there any way you could dig drainage channels or slope the garden towards the back (where you could plant trees and shrubs that will grow in wet conditions) to help water run off your lawn? Trees that suck up lots of water sound vaguely alarming, as in fast-growing, invasive etc., makes me think of eucalyptus, goat willow etc., but hopefully someone will be along soon with some sensible suggestions.

    Mountainous Northern Catalunya, Spain. Hot summers, cold winters.
  • Lizzie27Lizzie27 Posts: 12,408
    That sounds rather like a tall order @mbaxter12345. Small trees that soak up lots of water don't usually want to stay small. You could try cornus which is a biggish shrub that likes moisture. It is easily pruned if it gets out of hand and if you choose one of the red stemmed varieties, it can be pruned hard every other year which enables brighter red stems the following year.

    Otherwise flowering cherries might suit or I believe there's a dwarf willow around.
    North East Somerset - Clay soil over limestone
  • PosyPosy Posts: 3,601
    The difficulty is that deciduous trees don't take up much water in winter, when the soil is most wet. There are lots of trees and shrubs which tolerate very wet conditions but do little to change them. You may have better luck with slightly raised beds for your plants and reducing the grass area so that you can keep off it in winter. You can improve poor drainage but a high water table is another matter and only raising the soil level can help, as far as I know.
  • GreenbirdGreenbird Posts: 237
    Same situation. I've had a previous new build house with compacted clay soil. 

    This time, i'm lifting the lawn, reducing it's size and improving the soil before I lay new.

  • Greg4Greg4 Posts: 91
    I had the same problem in a new build house, persevered for five years, put loads of compost, top soil, grit. Nothing really helped completely. I gave up and moved house, now I have a lovely free drawing garden.

    You need to choose moisture loving plants.
  • PosyPosy Posts: 3,601
    It is really difficult. There are three related issues. First is where the water is coming from: if the water table is high the land cannot drain, no matter what you do to the soil. Second, the water has to have somewhere to go to. Water only runs down, so you have to provide some sort of drop. Finally, heavy clay holds water and can be improved with grit and organic matter. To be effective, you have to dig it all in, breaking up the clay.
    So basically, it's worth working out the cause of the problem  in order to know how to tackle it.
  • polbpolb Posts: 198
    We have areas with a lot of water and also have very clay soil. We've done a mixture of things. In some areas, we have just gone with the water and planted water loving plants (bog plants). I did lots of research and so far this area is doing really well. It was nice to work with the conditions instead of feeling like the water and clay were bad!

    Where I wanted to grow veg, I had someone in to build some raised beds. They added in good soil and and so this is working as well.

    We have a big patch of boggy grass which seems to thrive. This was like this when we moved in a few years ago, so I'm not sure why the grass still does well. We just avoid walking on it too much and don't mow that area when it's soggy.

    You could have a section where you really focus on the drainage. This wouldn't need to be really big. Adding in grit, perhaps having it on a slope. This would enable you to grow some plants that do need good drainage whilst not being too daunting and costly.

    If it was me I would do a plan/design, break up the garden into about three sections (raised beds, boggy and well drained). Breaking things up can make things easier to manage both psychologically and practically..

    Good luck :)

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