Building Dry Creek Beds

Building Dry Creek Beds

Dry creek beds add a great deal of aesthetic interest and can help cover areas in the landscape that have drainage problems.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Susan Patterson adds, "Making a dry creek bed is a physical project, be sure that you are in good condition before you begin."

Step 1 – Plan and Mark the Course

Plan where your dry creek bed will “flow” down your slope. Mark the location for the creek bed with landscape paint. Always make sure the runoff does not disturb a neighbor’s property or flood a street in front of or behind your home.

TIP: Susan advises, "Always locate utility lines before you dig."

Step 2 – Set the Creek Bed Dimensions

Select a depth and a width for your dry creek bed. Creek beds that appear in nature, are wider than they are deep. A good guide is to create one that has a 2:1 ratio, with the width being 2 times the depth. For instance, you could construct a dry bed creek that is 4 inches wide by 2 inches deep.

Step 3 – Hide the Origin

In the event there is not a drainage reason for the slope’s existence, consider hiding the “creek's” origin by placing a plant or boulder at the head of the bed before building the creek bed.

Step 4 – Dig

Using a garden shovel with a pointed tip, dig out the 2-inch depth and place the excavated dirt along the bed's edges where you will tamp it down, contouring the creek bed. Remove any large sticks, rock or other debris as you dig.

TIP: Susan adds, "Choose a day when rain is not expected to complete the project."

Step 5 – Build a Pond

If you cannot direct the water to a drainage system or to a location off your property, consider building a small pond that is fed by the creek bed when it rains. Or, direct water runoff to an area of your yard that is sandy where it will sink into the ground.

Step 6 – Lay Fabric

Once you’ve created a trench, place landscape fabric in the trench. Make sure it covers the earth mounds made from the excavated earth on both sides of the bed. Secure the fabric in place with landscape fabric pins. Make sure the fabric is secure before proceeding with the next step.

Step 7 – Form the Bed

If the creek bed is for the purpose of helping to improve your lawn's drainage, all of the rocks used for the bed need to be connected to form a solid base to carry water away. You need to mortar the rocks together by first applying a 2-inch layer of mortar to the fabric. Work in small sections to lay rocks on top of the layer of mortar. Repeat the process for each section, working from the top of the slope down.

After building the dry creek bed, enhance it by placing small plants along the edges.

TIP: Susan suggests, "Landscape around your dry river creek with larger rocks for continuity."