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Incorporating Natural Creek Beds for Drainage

Incorporating Natural Creek Beds for Drainage

Do you have a slope on your property down which excess water flows, causing erosion on the slope and/or a landscape drainage problem below? Homeowners often get rid of such puddling by building dry creek beds. Besides the practical aspect of improving landscape drainage, dry creek beds can also be attractive. In fact, some folks with absolutely no landscape drainage problems build dry creek beds just because they like the look of them!

A great place to start is to plan the course that the dry creek bed will take down the slope. Identify and define the 2 edges of that course with landscaper’s paint. A meandering course always looks more natural than a straight course. How high up the slope should you start? In some cases, there’s little choice. For instance, if a landscape drainage pipe that’s already in place is dumping all that excess water onto your property, your decision is clear-cut: begin the dry creek bed right under that pipe.

However, in cases where you have more leeway, attempt to disguise the “headwaters” of the dry creek bed by making it bend out from behind a large boulder or perhaps some type of plant material. When the source of a stream is basically hidden, onlookers must use their imagination…and what we construct with our hands is rarely as pleasing as what we construct with our minds!

We’ve discussed how high up the slope should start. But what about where to finish down below? Some homeowners redirect excess water toward the street. But it’s best to contemplate a worst-case scenario when dealing with public property, because that means dealing with the city and codes — which can be a real stickler when it comes to issues like redirecting excess water. So, check with Town of Prosper first! If their response is positive, it might be best to get something in writing that says so. Your HOA may request you to have approval as well.

What if you’re not allowed to redirect the water to the street? Unless you already have a landscape drainage system in place, you have 2 main options. You could channel the water to a location on your property where it’s less troublesome and where, if the soil is sandy enough, it can percolate harmlessly down into the ground. A second option is to build a small pond and funnel the water into it. You will find this to be a more standard end of creek bed collection or dispersing location.

So much for the course of a dry creek bed. What about its depth and width? These dimensions don’t have to conform to any rule exactly. Look at dry creek beds in nature: they’re obviously not all of the same depth and width. But there’s a general rule you can follow…dry creek beds tend to be wider than they are deep, which is good news for you — less digging! A 2:1 ratio is about right, meaning you could make the dry creek bed 4 feet wide x 2 feet deep, for example.

With the planning done, now it’s time for the first real work in the project: the digging. It’s easy to build dry creek beds for landscape drainage, provided that the soil you’ll be excavating isn’t strewn with roots and rocks. Those with difficult soil to excavate can take solace in the fact that excavating the dry creek bed will be the most labor-intensive part of the endeavor!

Take the soil that you’re excavating and mound it up along the sides of your dry creek bed, as you go. This will reduce the amount of digging that you have to do, since you’ll be lowering the base and raising the sides in one motion. Tamp down this excavated soil with a tamping tool.

After the trench for the dry creek bed has been excavated, lay down landscape fabric along its whole length. You want the fabric to cover the mounds of earth on both sides, as well as the trench. Hold the fabric in place using fabric pins or garden staples. Now for the part of the project that will be visible to viewers: the rock itself!

For projects intended to improve landscape drainage, all rocks need to be either be large enough or smaller but mortared into place to form a solid channel that will carry water away (for ornamental dry creek beds, this is optional — and probably undesirable). Apply mortar only to short sections of the fabric at a time, since mortar dries quickly. Use at least 2″ of mortar. Lay the rocks in the mortar, and then repeat the process with the next short section. It’s easier to work from the top of the slope, down.

You can use rock of various shapes and sizes, but many homeowners prefer to select more round rocks (“river rocks”) than flat ones. Round rocks conjure up an image of the water that has been gushing over them, knocking them about and causing them to become round over time. A tumbled Aggregate is always more aesthetically pleasing.

Place Small River rocks in the center of the trench; the water will flow over these. Place your larger rocks on the sides of the dry creek bed, where they’ll help channel the water and where they’ll always have the most visual impact. Save any boulders for the biggest bends in your stream’s course and to disguise the “headwaters” of the dry creek bed.


After you build dry creek beds, you can dress them up a bit. Plants will always soften the edges, for instance. If you’re more ambitious, you can install a landscape bridge over the dry creek bed and perhaps plant tall ornamental grasses to serve as “bookends” at both entrances to the landscape bridge. Adorn the landscape bridge with hanging container gardens to create a knockout focal point for your yard. And of course, if you love the idea of doing this but it seems a bit overwhelming you can always give me a call to help you make it happen!

Question: Jimmie, I want to plant a shade tree near my small patio. I don’t want anything that will dominate my entire backyard. I was thinking of a Bradford Pear tree. Do you think that’s a good choice? If not, why and I would love some other suggestions. Thank You for your time!  Julie F. in Prosper.

Answer: Hi Julie, Bradford Pears typically have bad branch angles. If you look closely at them, you’ll see that many trunks develop within the cluster of the canopy and they all head almost vertical skyward. As they begin to mature in 5 or 6 years, they pinch a great deal of moisture and debris between the branches. The wood doesn’t join properly, and the branches begin to break out of the tree at 8-10 years of age. Better types of ornamental Pears like the Aristocrat variety have a much stronger branch structure and will live much longer. Also, when you mention “small patio” I tend to immediately consider more ornamental choices for you to consider like Oklahoma Redbud, Mexican Plum, Tree form Crape Myrtles, Vitex tree and best of them all Little Gem or Teddy Bear Magnolias!  Until next time…Happy Gardening!!


Send your landscaping and gardening questions to Jimmie Gibson Jr. at or

Jimmie is a Prosper resident and the owner of Absolutely Bushed Landscaping Company, an award winning, family and veteran owned and operated business created in 1980 to provide the highest quality custom Outdoor Renovation available to homeowners in the Dallas Ft. Worth area.

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