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Help with planting in a drainage ditch. . .

March 19, 2019

Both sides and the rear of my property are drainage ditches that converge at 36" drains at both rear corners. I have a fence on my property line and all three ditches are a few feet inside of the fence line. I'd like to do some landscaping along the fence (somewhat for privacy, mostly just to improve aesthetics) but I am not sure what I should or can plant in the drainage ditch. Currently it is all grass and, in heavy rains, the water stream can be up to 30" wide. It disappears within an hour of the rain stopping but the ground will remain pretty soft for a few more days with no rain. Any suggestions??

Comments (9)

  • NHBabs z4b-5a NH

    Where are you in the world, nearest large city and state or country? What grows in NH doesn’t grow in FL.

    Also it is helpful if you add your hardiness zone if in the US. You can look it up on the map on this website.


    Do you have room on the outside of the ditch? You likely aren’t allowed to plant much in the ditch since it is there to move storm water, and plants might cause puddles and mosquitoes, but either on the inside or outside where it won’t interfere with any but the largest volume would work if there is room.

    Do you care if the ditch is visible from your yard and home?

  • PRO

    I can't say what you're ALLOWED to plant. There's probably going to be no one checking UNLESS THERE COMES A PROBLEM. Best to employ common sense. Don't regrade and don't plant things that will block water flow. If the ditch is wide enough, you might could get away with a small tree or a shrub near the "banks" of the ditch. Don't plant such things right in the stream path. If you want to create privacy, you probably need to plant most such things along the inside of the ditch and let the ditch run behind, unseen.

  • Nancy R
    What you need is called a Rain Garden. Do some Googling on that.
  • mjwe1223
    Thanks for the feedback!!

    I live in a suburb of Chicago. I have an HOA, so whether I can plant in the ditch or not is a good point...I’ll have to look into that.

    I’m not concerned about being able to see the ditch. I’m more concerned about losing about 6-7’ of yard all the way around if I planted in front of it. I don’t think there is enough room to plant between the ditch and the fence; the fence is basically in the middle of the outer half of the ditch on the sides of my property. I didn’t plan on planting in the back, just the sides.
  • raee_gw zone 5b-6a Ohio

    (If your development will allow it) look for moisture tolerant plants. Blue flag, lobelia, bluebells, most prairie natives (flowers and grasses), daylilies come to mind. Think of natives you have seen in ditches or bordering local creeks and rivers..

  • kitasei

    Ditch lilies of course!

  • NHBabs z4b-5a NH

    It isn’t a question only of what will grow there or what the HOA will allow. It is a question of what will grow there and still allow the drainage to function as required. It was likely carefully graded to allow good drainage, and any digging around or planting in there will cause issues. So if s/he plants blue flag iris or ditch lilies AKA Hemerocallis fulva, they will spread and likely reduce the flow of water and also create pockets of trapped water that are ideal mosquito breeding grounds. Or the ditch will be undersized due to the additional volume of plant matter and slowed drainage, and so water will overflow onto the lawn. The same would apply for winterberry holly AKA.Ilex verticillata which suckers in my garden, but is a lovely wetland plant.

    I honestly would plant nothing IN the ditch regardless of what can be grown here because I wouldn’t want those types of issues. Either plant moisture tolerant vines that will climb the fence from the narrow strip on the far side of the ditch, or put in a border on the house side of the ditch that has large sweeps of a few types of moisture tolerant plants. Or just live with it as it is now which will be the easiest to care for.

  • cecily 7A

    Another vote for grass only in the swales: grass can be easily mown or weedwhacked but perennials would need to be weeded.

  • Nancy R
    No, you don't want to do anything that would interfere with the intended function of the ditch. Maybe plant something on the edges of it, depending on the HOA rules. I just found out that the Chicago Botanic Garden website currently has a lead story about rain gardens. There are many perennials and small shrubs you can choose from and you might look into serviceberries, which are attractive small trees.

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