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Assessing your soil’s drainage

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Bergenia 'Eden's Dark Margin' adapts well to poor drainage conditions
Photo: Jardin botanique de Montréal (Gilles Murray)
Bergenia 'Eden's Dark Margin'

Soil structure refers to the way in which the sand, silt and clay particles are arranged relative to each other.

Here is a simple drainage test:

  • dig a hole 30 to 60 cm deep, fill it with water and allow it drain;
  • refill it with water, then time how long it takes to drain completely;
  • if the hole takes 3 to 4 hours to drain, you have good drainage. If it takes 5 to 12 hours to drain, you have moderate drainage. If there is any water left in the hole after 12 hours, you have poor drainage.

Solutions to drainage problems

  • Choose plants suited to your growing conditions. Examples:
    • Trees and shrubs: European black alder (Alnus glutinosa), swamp oak (Quercus palustris), redtwig dogwood (Cornus alba), false indigo (Amorpha fruticosa), hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), weeping willow (Salix alba 'Tristis'), creeping willow (Salix repens), etc.
    • Perennials: bergenia (Bergenia sp.), goatsbeard (Aruncus sp.), turtlehead (Chelone sp.), darmera (Darmera peltata), Siberian iris (Iris sibirica), ligularia (Ligularia sp.), butterbur (Petasites sp.), rodgersia (Rodgersia sp.), globeflower (Trollius sp.), etc.
  • Improve the soil structure.
  • Build raised beds.

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