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Keep your foundation firm with good soil drainage

As Californians, we love this time of year. The warm weather is perfect for planting fresh herbs, vegetables (tomatoes and zucchini are our favorites) and an array of beautiful flowers. Rich, black soil properly prepared usually produces cantaloupe-sized tomatoes and herbs that can be “nose detected” from the other side of our back yard. We hope that your garden, too, is bountiful and that you will enjoy this planting season as much as we will. But don’t compromise your home’s structural integrity by being an overzealous green thumb. Proper drainage and soil configuration can save you some headaches. Here are some precautions to take: SOIL PREPARATION Soil preparation – including tilling – can be very important to the health of your vegetable garden or flower bed. Tilling helps to oxygenate the earth and enriches the planting bed by allowing a free flow of nutrients and water. However, tilling soil can raise the grade (height of the soil) and change the way surface water sheds or drains. Both conditions need to be carefully managed to ensure that neither one becomes problematic or an outright disaster. WATER DRAINAGE When preparing soil for planting – especially near the foundation of your home – it is extremely important to prevent trapping water. Water must flow freely away from the home without ponding. Although ponding is bad anywhere in the yard, puddles next to the foundation that can hydrate the soil and cause it to radically expand can be particularly damaging. The result can be that foundation and floor supports shift, causing several more noticeable problems including: • Cracks in exterior plaster and interior wallboard. • Windows and doors that grab and bind or that wont properly close. • Air leaks at exterior doors and windows. • Floor squeaks. • Uneven floors. Use this rule of thumb: To ensure and-or maintain proper water shed at the planting areas adjacent to your foundation, the soil height should drop at least 1/4-inch per foot of horizontal distance. It’s called the “1/4-inch per foot” rule. Wet soil can be a problem even when the surface has been properly graded. Overwatering can result in flooding and dampness that can cause rot and attract termites. And one thing you don’t want is termites. TERMITES Termites love wet soil. Even better, they love it when the soil surrounding the foundation comes into contact with any part of the wooden structure of your home. Wood, paper and other cellulose-based materials are premium fodder for feeding termites. The bad thing about piling soil up against the house is that the termite population can travel, undetected, into their favorite food source – your wood frame. Reduce the onslaught of termites by: • Grading soil so that surface water sheds away from your home. • Reducing watering so that water doesn’t pond or soak the soil. • Keeping soil at least 6 inches away from any of the wood parts of your home. You may not be able to see the wood that resides behind a plaster wall. So, to be sure, keep soil at least 6 inches away from the bottom edge of the plaster. If you aren’t sure, ask someone who knows – a termite contractor, a home inspector or a local building official. Use caution when working with the soil in your garden and not only will your plants love you, but your home will too.


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