How To Create Well-Drained Soil

Lavender prefers well-drained soilLavender prefers well-drained soil
Lavender, such as Lavandula angustifolia Wee One, requires well-drained soil

The Importance Of Soil Drainage In Your Garden

Soil drainage is a very important factor to consider when planting Salvia, Agastache, Lavender, Penstemon and other perennials that like "well-drained" soil. The essential element in well-drained soil is oxygen, which is just as important as water in growing healthy plants. Soil that is water-logged does not drain well and is anaerobic (oxygen deficient) resulting in drowned and rotted roots.

In addition to enabling more oxygen to get to plant roots, there is another great benefit to improving drainage: it takes more heat to warm up water than it does to warm up soil, so you can count on an earlier start to your planting season if your soil isn't water-logged.

Identifying Native Soil Types

How you create "well-draining soil" is dependent upon the makeup of the soil currently in your garden.

Sandy soils will drain easily—perhaps too easily. In addition, sandy soils are notoriously bad at holding nutrients, requiring more fertilization. Amending the soil with organic matter will help on both counts.

Clay soils often hold too much moisture, squeezing out the oxygen between soil particles and producing a dense texture that is difficult for roots to penetrate. Compounding that problem, clay soils can crack at the surface when dry, creating fissures which expose roots to sun and arid heat. And as it dries, clay uses reverse osmosis to pull water OUT of the roots of plants in order to maintain its moisture level. Sticky and heavy when wet, hard as a rock when dry—if you have clay soil and wish to preserve your tools and sanity, amendments or raised beds are a must.

Caliche is a combination of calcium carbonate and clay. This combination forms a layer of very poorly draining white chalky alkaline clay. A caliche layer will typically occur from 6 to 12 inches below the surface soil layer. Dealing with it isn't easy—often requiring a pickax and a ferocious battle of wills. When planting deeply rooted trees and shrubs be sure to "punch through" the caliche layer to the soil below. This will greatly facilitate drainage through the hardpan.

Enriching & Improving Native Soils

To improve the fertility and water holding capacity of sandy soils dig in compost. Compost can also be added to improve air penetration and drainage in clay soil. Include Yum Yum Mix fertilizer, Soil Mender Mineral Boost trace minerals and phosphate at recommended rates and dig the compost into the native soil.

Note: Avoid too much compost; use amendments in a 1/3 compost to 2/3 garden soil ratio. Also, keep in mind that even bagged "topsoil" should be mixed into the existing soil and not used by itself.

Creating "Well Drained" Soil In Clay

The essential element in well-drained soil is oxygen. When planting perennial plants that like well-drained soils in clay, the best thing to do is to create a raised bed or berm (mounded pile of soil). Mix the native clay half and half with coarse sand or crusher fines. (DON'T use fine sand; this will create concrete.)

If planting hardy garden perennials you should add compost and Yum Yum Mix to the soil (1/3 to 2/3 ratio) before mixing the soil with the sand. Mix the sand and enriched soil as you are filling the raised bed or piling the berm.

For plantings that include Penstemon, Salvia and other xeric native plants, mix only sand and clay leaving out the compost. Compost and Yum Yum Mix are mixed by the handful into the individual planting holes to avoid an overly enriched soil mix.

Shop Drought Resistant Plants

  1. Summer Showstopper Pre-Planned Garden

    Our Summer Showstopper Pre-Planned Garden features boldly colorful, long-blooming perennials that can stand up to harsh summer heat. Designed for hellstrips, sidewalks, and tough, ho...

    Learn More
    Summer Showstopper Pre-Planned Garden Summer Showstopper Pre-Planned Garden
    Sale Price I Save 10%
    $205.99 Sale $185.39
    Per Garden of 17 Plants
    Our Summer Showstopper Pre-Planned Garden features boldly colorful, long-blooming perennials that can stand up to harsh summer heat. Designed for hellstrips, sidewalks, and tough, hot, dry garden sites that call for curb appeal, this low-maintenance garden blooms to attract pollinators all season. Easy-to-grow plants are great for beginning gardeners. Garden of 17 plants covers 48 sq ft. This Pre-Planned Garden comes with a garden layout map to make planting easy.
  2. Lavandula angustifolia Mitcham Gray Lavender

    ‚Mitcham Gray‚ is a rarely offered cultivar of English Lavender similar to ‚Hidcote Superior‚ with a compact growth habit, dark lavender-blue flower spikes, a...

    Learn More
    Mitcham Gray English Lavender Mitcham Gray English Lavender Lavandula angustifolia 'Mitcham Gray'
    As low as $13.99 Sale $11.19
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    'Mitcham Gray' is a rarely offered cultivar of English Lavender similar to 'Hidcote Superior' with a compact growth habit, dark lavender-blue flower spikes, and gray-green foliage. But it is a faster grower than the slow-to-mature 'Hidcote Superior'.
  3. Old Man's Bones Stonecrop, Sedum globosum 'Old Man Bones',  Image courtesy of Conservation Garden Park

    Sedum globosum ‚Old Man‚s Bones‚ (Stonecrop) is an outstanding low-growing sedum with uniquely rounded, chubby leaves held on short spreading stems. Evergreen succ...

    Learn More
    Old Man's Bones Sedum Old Man's Bones Sedum Sedum globosum 'Old Man's Bones'
    As low as $11.99 Sale $9.59
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Sedum globosum 'Old Man's Bones' (Stonecrop) is an outstanding low-growing sedum with uniquely rounded, chubby leaves held on short spreading stems. Evergreen succulent foliage often develops a bronze tint in summer and flushes shades of purple, pink, red, and bronze over the winter. Perfect for groundcover, rock gardens, edging pathways, and spilling over the edges of raised beds or containers. It blooms in summer with clusters of small, bright yellow, star-shaped flowers.
  4. Yellow Eriogonum umbellatum v. aureum Kanah Creek, Eriogonum umbellatum v. aureum, Kannah Creek Sulphur Buckwheat

    Eriogonum umbellatum v. aureum ‚Kannah Creek‚ (Buckwheat) hails from western Colorado. With a showy display of yellow flowers in late spring, the flowers age to shades of...

    Learn More
    Kannah Creek Sulphur Buckwheat Kannah Creek Sulphur Buckwheat Eriogonum umbellatum v. aureum 'Kannah Creek'
    As low as $13.99 Sale $11.19
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Eriogonum umbellatum v. aureum 'Kannah Creek' (Buckwheat) hails from western Colorado. With a showy display of yellow flowers in late spring, the flowers age to shades of orange and rust by late summer, providing months of low care color. A 2007 Plant Select winner. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).

© All articles are copyrighted by High Country Gardens. Republishing an entire High Country Gardens blog post or article is prohibited without permission. Please feel free to share a short excerpt with a link back to the article on social media websites, such as Facebook and Pinterest.