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Mid-Atlantic Gardening: Build a Dry Creek

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

If you have rainwater runoff that runs through your yard or garden, it's easy to build a pebble-filled dry creek to channel the water.

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The street I live on dumps water onto my property. From roadside to backyard, the ground drops 8 feet, so when water hits my front yard, it begins a steady movement downhill. After watching water trickle a path through the cottage garden, I decided to build a dry creek (above) to catch and move runoff.

Before construction: Standing down-slope looking toward the street, you can see the path water followed. (Just follow the numbers below.)

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Typically a dry creek bed should be at least twice as wide as it is deep. Using a hand pick, I dug a trench 4 inches deep by 8 inches wide. This is about the smallest size that will work effectively. I couldn't create a wider and deeper trench because I was working around established plantings.

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Line the trench with landscape fabric, anchoring fabric edges with landscape pins.

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Here's the lined creek bed, before adding pebbles. It really meanders like a stream!

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Small stones move water best. Lay a bag of pebbles in the trench, cut the bottom, and lift to dump stones.

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Now the creek is really starting to take shape.

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Note that you want turns wide and gentle so water won't spill out of the creek.

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For a finishing touch line creek edges with larger stones. Tuck smaller stones around larger ones to create a natural look. You'll need more large, flat stones to line a bigger creek.

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My dry creek runs 20 feet, ending where the slope starts a steep drop. The stream finishes with pebbles spilling into mulch.

If you have problems with water entering your basement, don't construct a dry creek near your foundation unless you add underground drainage first. Last year, as part of a foundation repair, I installed a French drain system to move water away from the house. Runoff from the dry creek enters that system. If you're dealing with runoff on an existing slope, consider a dry creek. It's an effective, low-cost solution. I spent roughly $50 on materials, and it took me about a day to build.

See more Mid-Atlantic Gardening Articles.