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Landscape Drainage: Improve Yard Drainage Problems with Sustainable Landscape Designs | Golden State Gardens

Stormwater runoff can cause major issues for landscapes and homes. Golden State Gardens uses regenerative and sustainable landscape design principles to improve yard drainage and protect residences in the greater San Jose, California area.


Winter rains and atmospheric rivers are drenching the San Francisco Bay Area, and thankfully San Jose, California is seeing much needed precipitation. However, have you evaluated how the rains are draining around your property? Drainage is the flow of surface or sub-surface water. Sometimes homeowners can see the direction water flows above the surface, but in other instances the owners are unable to see the water until they wake up one morning to an unintended pool on their property. Ensuring proper drainage away from foundations is key to maximizing the longevity of residences.

Golden State Gardens is well versed in designing improved yard drainage systems, which are beautifully and seamlessly incorporated into the sustainable landscape design. By keeping rainwater on-site, these drainage systems treat the property as a watershed. This allows plants to benefit from the extra accumulation of water, opposed to sending the water into the sewer system. Below are several different types of drainage options that move water away from foundations, while still looking attractive in the landscape:


1. Rain Garden

A landscape that directs rain water away from the house with a rain garden to help California native plants thrive.
Rain garden landscaped from downspout.

A rain garden diverts water away from the house’s foundation, and funnels it through the landscape. It works with the landscape to provide plants with the deep winter water, which they love. Rain gardens are a great option for California native plants, which have deep root systems to pull water from far below the soil line. Since California typically only sees rain during the winter months, the plants selected in the rain garden can withstand dry, hot California summers followed by cool, rain intensive winters. Rain gardens blend into the landscape to appear as a dry riverbed in the summer months and a babbling creek during the winter months.


Water funneled into rain gardens is typically diverted from roof downspouts or places around the foundation that receive an excess amount of above ground water.


Pictured below, is a rain garden designed by Golden State Gardens. This rain garden uses water overflowing from the roof, which did not have an attached gutter. Instead of allowing the water to puddle next to the foundation, the slope was graded away from the foundation, and plants were selected that love the intensive winter rain.


A landscape that directs rain water away from the house with a rain garden to help California native plants thrive.
Rain garden landscaped from roof rainwater runoff.


2. Dry Well

A dry well is an underground pit that gathers storm runoff water and slowly disperses it into the soil below. These structures are typically 3’x3’x3’ and installed 1’ below soil grade. The extra foot of planting space above the structure allows plants to grow above and fill in the landscape. Dry wells are enclosed with drain rock, which slows the movement of water and allows it to gradually percolate into the soil. Dry wells also raise the underground water table. This means that plants will have an underground water source to receive water during the dry summers. Ultimately, you will be able to water less during the summers or during droughts because plants are able to receive water from an underground aquifer.


When designing dry wells, Golden State Gardens prefers for installation to occur near trees or large shrubs that will benefit from underground aquifer.


Pictured below is a 3’x3’x3’ dry well installed 1’ below the lawn surface. Golden State Gardens designed this structure to be strategically placed between two water loving trees, a Willow and Chinese Pistache. Both trees benefit from the additional water and raised underground water table. Lawn is grown above the dry well to disguise the structure. It is important to note that plant roots will not grow in the dry well, due to the presence of drain rock, so be mindful that you do not plant trees or shrubs over the structure. Lawn has a shallow root system, and is an excellent option to install over the unit.


Three downspouts connecting to underground dry well to help trees on the property thrive.
Three downspouts connecting to one underground dry well.


Dry well from three downspouts is hidden under the lawn.
Lawn landscaped to conceal underground dry well.


4. Pop-Up Drain

Pop-up drains capture stormwater, and move it away from the residence. The pop-up drain emitter remains closed, but opens with low pressure, which allows water to escape. The opening and closing function of the emitter keeps debris and animals out of the systems.


Depending on the design, project budget, and existing hardscape structures, Golden State Gardens uses pop-up emitters alone or in a combination with other drainage tactics.


Below is pictured a rain garden designed by Golden State Gardens that encompasses two different drainage systems. The first photo uses a pop-up area drain that runs under the new walkway and emits the water in the rain garden. The bottom photo directs rain water from the downspout, down the river bed, and through the garden. Both systems work together in one cohesive design to provide fresh water to this habitat garden landscaped with California native plants.


Pop-up drain emitter is exposed in rain garden, populated with California native plants.
Downspout extension installed under walkway to a pop-up drain emitter located in the rain garden.

Rain garden is filled with water gathered from downspout and pop-up drain emitter..
Pop-up emitter connects to a rain garden gathering water from the other downspout.



Close up view of Pop-up drain emitter.
NDS pop-up drain emitter used in landscape.

Photo taken by Drain Exchange.



4. Rain Barrel or Cisterns

Rain catchment systems, such as rain barrels or cisterns, direct roof water into a storage basin. Rainwater stored in the containers are then used during the dry summer months to water plants, and are a great option to water edible gardens. The barrels are either stored above or below ground, are sealed to prevent the infestation of mosquitos or other insects, and are an opaque color to prevent algae build up.


Golden State Gardens has designed several residences with rainwater barrels, both large and small scale.


Pictured below is a detached garage behind the main residence. Because of the garage’s location, large cisterns can be stored along the back exterior wall, so they remain out-of-sight and out of the sun. The garage downspouts will gather water from two locations that cover approximately 240sf of roof. This will capture about 150 gallons of water in a good size storm that deposits 1” of rain. San Jose receives an average annual rainfall of 16”, so it is recommended to install a Cistern that can hold more than 150 gallons (if space is available). For this landscape design, Golden State Gardens is recommending a 500 gallon water tank be used to gather rainwater. This size will hold water from multiple rains, while still allowing the space to be utilized to store garden equipment.


Large cistern used in gathering rain water.
Garage roof will gather rain water runoff and store in cisterns.

Large cistern used to gather and store rain water in water conservation.
500 gallon cistern from Snyder Industries.

Size of cistern is 74" long x 31" wide x 70" tall; photo from Tank Depot.


Golden State Gardens regularly uses rain gardens, dry wells, pop-up drain emitters, and rain barrels/cisterns to seamlessly incorporate a functional drainage system into a beautiful landscape design. When considering your next landscaping project, invest in a drainage system to protect your residence and add beauty to your yard.


Contact Golden State Gardens for a free discovery call to learn how we can help optimize your drainage systems while creating a sustainable landscape design that you love.




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