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Landscaping Drainage Swales

Landscaping Drainage Swales

What Are Drainage Swales?

When you think of the landscaping around your Lemont, Illinois home or business (or your home of business in neighboring Romeoville, Palisades, or Bolingbrook) you’re likely to think first of trees, flowerbeds, and similar features. But drainage swales can be an equally important or even more important part of your landscaping.

Landscaping drainage swales

Drainage swales are low-lying sections of ground—shallow ditches, in essence—that serve to move water from one place to another by exploiting the force of gravity. You can find them next to parking lots and roads, along driveways that slant downhill, alongside curbs, and even on golf courses. It’s fairly common for them to follow the contour lines of a hillside and for a berm to run along the downhill side of the drainage swale.

Who Needs Drainage Swales?

The importance of drainage swales is fairly obvious in areas that get a lot of precipitation. Sometimes a homeowner or owner is fortunate in that Nature was provided a swale. If not, swale landscaping is in order. Either way, swales divert water that might otherwise flood your yard or even get into your home or commercial structure.

You might suspect that a person living in a dry climate could do without drainage swales, but that’s not necessarily so. Even there, it’s likely to rain sometime, at which point swale landscaping will be required for flood control. Moreover, in a climate where water is a premium, a person may want to turn rainwater to a useful purpose as opposed to just letting it run off for wherever. Drainage swales can funnel rainwater into gardens and irrigation systems.

Options for Landscaping Drainage Swales

When you’re contemplating adding a drainage swale to your yard at home or your commercial property in Lemont, Romeoville, Palisades, or Bolingbrook, you have a number of potential options, and most if not all of them can be made far more appealing to the eye than you might suppose when you think of the words “drainage ditch.”

Landscaping Drainage Swales: The Grass Swale

When the intent is for the drainage swale to run through your lawn, there’s generally no reason it shouldn’t be a grass swale and thus pretty much indistinguishable from the higher areas of grass around it. Seeding or laying sod will take care of this, or, if you want artificial grass, that’s usually fine, too. Because it resists erosion so well, artificial grass can do a superior job on the slanting sides of a grass swale.

There’s only one thing to be careful of with a grass swale. Precisely because it does blend in with the surrounding lawn so perfectly, it’s easy to miss the fact that the ground is in fact not level. You’ll want to take appropriate steps to ensure that pets, kids, and even adults don’t take a fall because they didn’t realize the grass swale was there.

Landscaping Drainage Swales: The Gravel Swale

Lots of people choose gravel for swale landscaping. It’s the least expensive option, works almost anywhere, and does a good job of slowing water flow, controlling runoff, maximizing the efficiency with which rainwater enters the ground, and fighting erosion.

The drawback is that it can be the least attractive option.

Landscaping Drainage Swales: Turfstone Pavers and Walkways

This particular kind of paving stone is permeable and stabilizes drainage swales.

There are open spaces between the turfstone pavers. You can fill the spaces with gravel or plant grass or other ground cover. You’ll combat erosion and water as well as filtering water as it soaks down into the ground.

Many people find turfstone pavers to be an attractive choice because they like the look of the plants but also want to prevent the sides of the drainage swale from eroding and possibly want to use it for other purposes, typically, as a walkway.

If a drainage swale is shallow, or even if it’s deeper but broad at the bottom, it can function well as a walkway during dry weather, and thus swale landscaping is often aimed at serving this purpose. Sometimes the drainage swale is first lined with gravel and then has stepping stones set along its length. Or, it’s often possible to fit a shallow drainage swale with a continuous walkway.

There are two things to be careful of here. One is that in the course of creating the walkway you mustn’t do anything that will keep the swale from performing its primary function and moving water where you want it to go. You also shouldn’t use bark, wood chips, mulch, or similar materials to create your walkway since they can easily wash away and might even clog a storm drain.

Landscaping Drainage Swales: The Dry Creek Bed

You can use river rocks of differing sizes to make the drainage swale look like a natural dry creek bed and not something engineered by human hands. This is an especially popular choice in Southern California, where many people opt for drought-tolerant landscaping using indigenous plants, stones, and gravel.

Landscaping Drainage Swales: The Rain Garden

If you have a small drainage swale, perhaps one that directs water from house gutters to dry wells or drains, it can do double duty as a rain garden. A rain garden is a garden intended to hold rainwater long enough to nourish the plants but not so long that it becomes a pond.

Indigenous plants can make a drainage swale rain garden practical even in areas with comparatively little rainfall.

Landscaping Drainage Swales: The Garden Along the Edge

The berm of a drainage swale is an excellent place for trees or a vegetable or flower garden. Your plants will benefit from the moisture that’s present in he ground whenever the swale is doing its job. You won’t have to water the garden as often, although in a dry climate, you may still have to water it some.

Landscaping Drainage Swales: Caveats

Useful as drainage swales are, there are some things to be careful about when deal with a drainage swale on your Lemont, Romeoville, Palisades, or Bolingbrook property.

  • Don’t fill in an existing drainage swale to make it level with the surrounding ground.Or at least don’t do it without careful consideration and consultation with a professional. If the drainage swale is natural, it formed because water “needed” to drain. If somebody dug it, the same is true. If you truly hate it, you might find it’s become unnecessary because the property’s drainage plan has changed. Then you can fill it in. Maybe you’d find a French drain (a drain with a pipe running down on it) to be less of an eyesore, or perhaps it’s possible to dig a new drainage swale in a less conspicuous location. Again, don’t do anything until you consult a knowledgeable professional, and bear in mind that the drainage swale may exist to drain not your property but somebody else’s
  • Only dig a drainage swale in consultation with an expert.It’s probably going to be acceptable to create a swale to bring more water onto your property, but here again, you need to work with a professional like a contractor with expertise in groundwork and grading, an engineer, or a landscape architect. The expert will make sure the new drainage swale is in accordance with local ordinances and sends water where you actually want it to go as opposed to damaging buildings, outdoor living areas, and other landscaping either on your property or the one next door. The expert will also make sure you have all necessary permits and may find existing low areas that are ideal for incorporating a drainage swale.
  • Never incorporate anything into a drainage swale that will interfere with the flow of water.Remember, with any drainage swale, directing water is its primary function. For example, don’t plant trees in the swale proper although they’re probably fine on berms or below swales. Don’t plant other plants that would alter the grade.

If you need help with a drainage swale, we invite you to contact us here at Country Landscape & Supply. We’ll be happy to help you.