In last week’s column, I explained the history of drainage in Ohio and promised a follow up article explaining why drainage is so important.
Knowing what kind of soil is present in any given location opens up valuable information about permeability, depth to bedrock, corrosiveness, suitability for growing trees, holding water for a pond, or growing 200 bushel corn. The Soil Survey of Delaware County is chock full of maps and charts, and one of the key pieces of information is the soils drainage classification. We have many clayey soils which fall into the somewhat poorly drained and very poorly drained classes. Just because a soil is in a lower drainage class doesn’t mean it cannot be used or developed, but it does mean that the landuser will need to invest more time, energy, and money to do so. This is where drainage improvements have the ability to turn an ugly duckling into a swan.
Agricultural producers in Delaware County have long depended on drainage improvements to grow quality crops, pasture and hay. Most plants do not tolerate having their roots submerged for prolonged periods. If you noticed, during 2018, there were plenty of farm fields in which mini ponds formed due to repeated excessive rains. Some even had ducks paddling around. In most of these areas, the crops died and weeds took over if the area eventually dried out. Research by The Ohio State University shows that a combination of surface (swales and ditches) and subsurface (tile) drainage increases crop yields, allows for earlier planting, and increases the number of days suitable for field work. Many of the benefits that an agricultural producer sees from drainage improvements also accrue to a rural homeowner such as:
• Better aeration of the soil allows the plants to develop a better root system so they can extract nutrients and water from a larger volume of soil.
• Well drained soil means plants are less stressed and therefore less susceptible to disease. This applies to commodity crops like corn and soybeans as well as lawns, flower beds, and vegetable gardens.
• Soil is teeming with desirable microorganisms which need oxygen to convert soil organic matter and fertilizers into available food for plants. It is estimated that a teaspoon of healthy soil holds more soil microorganisms than there are people on earth!
• It may seem counterintuitive, but drainage improvements are important during a drought year because such improvements only remove excess water, not the amount of plant available water.
• Drainage improvements remove excess water resulting in less runoff and less soil erosion. This leads to cleaner streams, rivers, and lakes.
• Land with drainage improvements sells for much higher prices. For homeowners, drainage problems such as wet basements resulting in mold growth, stagnant water in yards breeding undesirable insects, saturated soils interfering with home treatment sewage systems, and foundations cracking from soil shrinking and swelling all detract from a home’s selling price.
If you are interested in learning more about soils in general and about those on your property, visit https://websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov/app/HomePage.htm. If you have concerns about a drainage problem, call us at 740-368-1921. We can provide technical assistance and would be happy to schedule an appointment with you.
Our website has information about our community programs for 2019 along with our tree and shrub seedling order form. Please visit www.delawareswcd.org. Check What is it Wednesday on our Facebook page.
Bonnie Dailey is deputy director of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to www.delawareswcd.org.