Q: I live in an old house and my basement gets a lot of water in it when we have a heavy rain. I was wondering if there are plants that I could plant along the foundation walls to stop so much water from running into the basement.

—Cynthia , Goffney, S.C.

A: Roger says: Well, I suppose a saguaro cactus or two might do the trick, since a mature specimen can soak up as much as 200 gallons of water after a rainstorm. But it takes at least 60 or 70 years for a saguaro to mature, and besides, it's not exactly a common plant for your climate. But there are some other, more effective things you can do. First, make sure your gutters work properly and that the soil near the foundation slopes away from the house. I also recommend putting 3-foot extensions on the end of all downspouts. But if your yard is sloped toward the house you might need a subsurface drainage system—commonly called a French drain—to intercept the water before it gets to the foundation. A French drain generally consists of a network of perforated plastic drainage pipes embedded in a trench filled with drainage stone. Water that reaches the trench filters down through the stone and is drained away by the pipes. You can locate the pipes either along the house foundation or out in the yard, if that's the main source of water. Let a landscape contractor advise you on whether or not this type of solution will fit your yard and budget. You could also install a drainage system in the basement and connect it to a sump pump. But it's better to catch water before it enters a basement, rather than after it's already in.
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