Testing for drainage

Knowing how well your soil drains helps you determine what to plant, or if you need to take steps to improve drainage. Sometimes, drainage conditions are obvious. Puddles in your lawn a day or two after heavy rains indicate poor drainage, for example. But a layer of clay may lurk underneath a loamy or sandy soil, causing water to linger in otherwise well-drained soil. So before you plant, especially trees and shrubs, dig a hole to see what lies beneath the surface.

Here's how to check for percolation, or soil drainage:

  1. Dig a hole 1 foot in diameter and 1 foot deep.
  2. Fill the hole with water.
  3. Time how long it takes for the water to drain.

If the water drains out within 10 minutes or less, your soil drains too fast and probably dries too quickly. In well-drained soils, the water drains within 10 to 30 minutes. If it drains within four hours, the drainage is okay for most plants. If it takes more than four hours, the soil is poorly drained.

Use this information to choose the most appropriate plants for your soil. Keep in mind that adding organic matter, such as compost, to the soil can improve the drainage of both sandy and clayey soils (see "Adding Organic Matter: The Soul of the Soil," later in this chapter).

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