Water is essential to plant growth, and both lack and excess of water are of great concern to the grower. While the requirements of individual species vary tremendously, and for many plants are detailed in the species database, general principles follow.
While plants often recover readily from some degree of drought, overwatering is very frequently the death of a prized plant. The gardener may not be at fault: poor soil conditions, bad weather, and/or a high water table can create environments that will not support most species.
An excess of water deprives a plant's roots of oxygen. As such, even most water-loving plants will prefer loose, well-drained soil, where ideally both moisture and oxygen are readily available. This principle is key to hydroponic gardening, but useful also in problem-solving ordinary gardens.
Waterlogged soil is also cold, and inhibits growth in spring; fungal disease does better in cold, damp soil. Well-draining soil is not created instantly, though well within reach of the determined.
Compost, manure, straw, peat, as well as coarse sand, will all improve poor-draining soils. These should be dug or tilled in, as deep as is possible. Gently mounding the surface of this area helps shed water, and tends to keep people off, and thus prevent soil compaction. Especially if developing a new area of soil: do it right the first time.
Raised Beds can locally vastly improve drainage, even in areas of heavy clay; see the separate section on this topic. Alternatively, the technique of double digging, while working in large amounts of nice, light compost, can create very well-drained areas within your garden.
If spring melts and local run-off contribute to waterlogging, then gently sloping the land in desired directions may be helpful. Open ditches are most effective at carrying away surplus water, but may be cosmetically unacceptable. However, any form of gravel-filled drainage ditch will work well. The drainage tile or pipe is surrounded by coarse gravel, and both ditch and tile should angle downward.
One such form, the French drain, consists of a layer of coarse sand over the actual drainage ditch, upside down sod layered over this, and covered with topsoil, and works almost as well as an open ditch.
Drainage ditches must be laid judiciously to be effective, to not create new problems elsewhere. If in doubt about where and how to install a drainage system, contact a local landscaper for advice.
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