Ask a Question forum: Swale or dry rock creek bed for small yard w big problem?

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southern Indiana (Zone 6a)
Apr 12, 2017 3:00 PM CST
Our house sits at the bottom of a hill. During heavy storms we get a lot of water flowing down and through a 50' long dry creek bed (sloped apprx 1.6%) with rock and decorative boulders crowded into our small yard. The rock bed is being silted over + weeds and grass are thriving in it. A small "karst feature" has developed at the side of the ditch, so the water must be redirected away from it. One option would be to remove the rock bed and create a grass swale.

Primary question:
All other things being equal, is there any evidence that a rock creek bed is superior to a swale for moving storm-water through a small yard?

Also, I have read many articles about dry creek beds and most opinions are raves, with only one tiny voice found grumbling about the difficulty of cleaning leaves out of these ditches. There is no follow-up or years-later articles even hinting that maintenance can be considerable.

Question 2: Can you point me to any articles that actually compare dry creek bed and swale maintenance issues? (Your opinions and experience would also be appreciated.)

Thanks in advance.
Name: greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
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Apr 12, 2017 4:10 PM CST
I had to look up the words 'karst feature'. Whew.
Can you please take a few moments to complete your profile page so we know what you location Thank You!
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Reno, Nv (Zone 6b)
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Apr 12, 2017 5:27 PM CST
And add some photos?
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Name: Sally
central Maryland
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Apr 13, 2017 5:34 AM CST
Great question. I can picture the problem.
I think a dry creek bed is considered a decorative feature. (unless/until it gets messed up)
A sodded swale that you can comfortably maintain, that drains well enough for the grass to be healthy, should be no problem.
If you decide to get rid of the rocks, and if these look like rocks that were bought and installed, I would post on Craigslist etc to see if someone would remove them for free, if they move them.
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[Last edited by sallyg - Apr 13, 2017 5:37 AM (+)]
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Name: Philip Becker
Fresno California (Zone 8a)
Apr 13, 2017 8:39 AM CST
Depending where water is coming from. It could be bringing in rich silt that you could use in vege garden.
Or polluted street water/manufacturing waste water.
That could only be used for ornamentals.

Silt will need to be removed periodically. To prevent flooding.
To top of ditch, garden, or ?
Sooo... It really comes down to what look you would like the best.

Anything i say, could be misrepresented, or wrong.
Name: Elena
NYC (Zone 7a)
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Apr 13, 2017 8:56 AM CST
I think I have your problem on a much smaller scale. My backyard is in the middle of a hill and I actually get a waterfall effect whenever it rains heavily. To solve the problem (incompletely) I've done both. At the very top where the waterfall is I made a tiny dry creek bed to direct the water to a certain part of the yard. Since it is so small it's very easy to maintain and I try and sprinkle forget me not seeds there to grow instead of weeds. Further downstream I have planted lots of perennial flowering plants to help catch and distribute the water. This actually has worked to some extent and each time I find a place with standing water after the rain I plant something else there.

I typically only have this problem in summer (thunderstorms) so I don't have to plant anything highly water tolerant. I didn't even think of grass because my yard is so small most species would take up far too much space. And since I live in NYC I typically don't have problems with silt, trash on the other hand...... Thumbs down

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