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Ask Dr. Hort: Try French drain for drainage problem before planting

Soggy yard? Try drainage, and some suitable plants

Q: We have a corner portion of our yard that is not graded properly. When it rains heavily it floods to the point of standing water. In addition to the grading problem, the neighbor behind me built berms behind the fence that only increase the collection of water. We would like to do something with this corner but cannot seem to find the kind of plants that can thrive in a very rainy summer and also do well during the dry winter. We do have a crape myrtle that is thriving in the midst of this 10- by 12-foot area. And weeds. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Gene Kornbluh, Lutz

A: You may first want to consider tackling the drainage problem. A French drain-type system would route the water away. Typically, a trench 10 to 12 inches deep is dug, then lined with gravel, and laid over that is perforated pipe or geotextile tube. Then more gravel is used to cover and backfilled with soil. The DIY Network has a short video demonstration at

To answer your question about what plants will tolerate soggy conditions, here are some suggestions:

Wax myrtle, Myrica cerifera, and Walter viburnum, Viburnum obovatum, are good choices for shrubs, from 3 to 10 feet, with some pruning.

Wild coffee, Psychotria nervosa, which produces small white flowers followed by reddish-purple berries that cardinals, catbirds and mockingbirds adore, can be maintained at 3 to 4 feet in height.

For a striking accent, try scarlet hibiscus, Hibiscus coccineus. It grows to about 5 to 8 feet, and dies to the ground each winter, but from spring through fall it bursts with gorgeous scarlet flowers, one of Florida's prize natives.

All suggested plants are native, and therefore used to wet — and dry — conditions.


More about Southeast plants

Forest Plants of the Southeast and Their Wildlife Uses by James H. Miller and Karl V. Miller (University of Georgia Press, Athens) includes more than 650 color photographs. The book is available online for purchase. Additionally, there's a wealth of free, downloadable publications about invasive species and more, provided by the USDA Forest Service, at

Need help? Dr. Hort (Greg Charles) answers questions about garden problems. E-mail him at or mail questions to HomeLink, Features Department, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Describe problem in full, and include your name, city of residence and contact information. If possible, include a good-quality photo. Fuzzy ones won't do. Photos cannot be returned.

Ask Dr. Hort: Try French drain for drainage problem before planting 07/09/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 9, 2011 4:31am]
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