The Sensible Gardener

The Right Plant in the Right Place with the Right Conditions

Lawn Drainage Problems

Poor lawn drainage

Poor Lawn Drainage

Does water sit on your yard for hours, if not days, after a rainfall? Poor lawn drainage is a problem that can be fixed.

Problems Often Associated With Poor Lawn Drainage

  • A common landscaping problem associated with poor lawn drainage is that most plants are not adapted to water clogged soils.
    • Turf grass suffers from root rot, if sitting in water too long. Moss, on the other hand, never gets too much water. So poor lawn drainage tends to tip the balance in favor of moss over grass. For information on low-growing plants well adapted to wet soils, see Wet groundcovers.
    • Most trees and shrubs are also not adapted to growing in water saturated soils. They also suffer from root rot and lack of oxygen. Some trees, such as bald cypresses and red maples, are better adapted to such conditions. For more information on plants that do better in locations with poor lawn drainage, see either Wet sun plants or Wet shade plants.
  • Another big annoyance that comes with bad lawn drainage is that you can’t enjoy your yard, let alone walk on it, until the water has completely dried out, which can take days. Walking on a wet lawn can cause soil compaction, which is also bad for your plants.
  • Sitting water close to your house’s foundations can be a big problem, since it may slowly sip into walls, possibly cause cracks, mold, and other problems.
  • Mosquitos may also be an issue. If the water stays on your lawn for two days or more, that is long enough for mosquito eggs to hatch.

Identifying the Source of Your Lawn Drainage Problem

The first step to fixing your problem is to understand it. Start by observing how water gets on your yard, and how it flows or sits. Then, you need to think about what you want to do with your landscaping and to consider possible options.

Let’s start at the beginning:

  • Drainage is never instantaneous. In other words, rain water is never completely absorbed immediately by the soil. On lawns especially, roots can create a thick barrier that can greatly reduce soil permeability. Soil compaction may also be an issue. For more information on soil compaction and lawn aeration, visit our page on Lawn aerators.
  • Water always follows gravity and therefore ends up in the lowest point. When water falls on the ground, if it can’t penetrate the soil, it runs down to wherever gravity may pull it. And then it may get trapped if the place to which it runs happens to drain poorly.

So the two most important issues pertaining to lawn drainage are soil permeability and yard topography. Consider where the water is coming from and how it travels on your yard.

  • If a fair percentage of the water actually trickles down from elsewhere (your roof, your driveway, for instance) and ends up on your yard, then you need to find a way to divert the excess water, possibly using drains.
  • If the rain falls directly on your yard and just sits there, then there are a few options.
    • You could work on the nature of your soil and the topography of your yard, as explained below.
    • You could also consider installing drains.
    • If the problem is not too major, you could simply get wet plants or create a rain garden.

All these solutions are explained in more detail below.

Soil Permeability 101

Soil permeability must always be considered when dealing with a lawn drainage problem. Roots, be they grass roots, tree or shrub roots, can form a thick carpet that reduces water penetration. Add compaction, in locations where there is more traffic, and the soil becomes almost impenetrable. These factors not only create a lawn drainage problem, they also cut the flow of the air needed to sustain the living soil below.

You can test for roots and soil compaction simply by driving a spade into the soil. If it is really hard, then chances are that your soil is quite compacted. Also have a look at the layer of roots that may be blocking the water.  Aerating your lawn will let both water and air get below the surface.

Working on the Nature of Your Soil

Another frequent lawn drainage problem comes from the soil itself. The presence of organic matter and sand in soil promotes lawn drainage. The presence of clay, on the other hand, makes soil much less permeable. To know the composition of your soil, you need to have it tested. Many nurseries offer this service. Call in advance and ask what they need to run the test. The test should basically tell you how much clay there is in your soil, but it may also tell you if your soil is lacking specific nutrients.

If in fact, you do have a lot of clay in your soil, then you have two options.

  • You can grow plants that like soils rich in clay. These plants will eventually change the nature of your soil, but this is a long term process.
  • You can add things that will change the nature of your soil, and make it richer and more permeable. There are two ways to do this:
    • The chemical method: Gypsum and limestone are known to break up clay. Neither of these products are really efficient if you merely spread them over the soil. You need to mix them up with the soil. A layer of soil of a least six inches is usually recommended. And don’t expect results in the same month. It can take years for results to be really apparent.
    • The natural approach. Organic matter mixed in with the soil will not only break up the clay, but it will make the soil richer and more alive, as well as help plants grow. It will also attract worms that will make the soil even more permeable to water and air. You can use a mix of compost, dead leaves, wood chips and tree bark. Adding roughly 15% horticultural sand will make the mix lighter and more permeable. Six inches of organic matter mixed in with your own soil should go a long way toward fixing your problem. Add a few landscaping trees or shrubs and you may be on your way to a perfect lawn. Using green fertilizers may also help change the composition of your soil.

Yard Topography

The general shape of your yard should drive water away from your house and yard naturally. A lawn must have a small slope going from the house to the street. This way, rain water naturally flows away from the house and into the street. If it is apparent that the shape of your yard plays an important role in your lawn drainage problem, then some reshaping may be in order. The slope can be small, but the shape needs to be regular. If there is a depression somewhere, water may accumulate there.

Diverting Excess Water

Any yard can have a hard time absorbing excessive quantities of water. In cities and suburbs, most of the space is covered by buildings and materials that are not permeable to water, so rain trickles down to wherever it can.

If your lawn is surrounded by large roofs and driveways that all spill their rain water in the same direction, and if all that water ends up on your yard, it’s no wonder that lawn drainage is an issue. Diverting excess water away from your yard may fix most, if not all of your problem.

There are many ways to divert rain water. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Roof gutters can divert water very efficiently. Just make sure that the water doesn’t end up where it will create new problems for you or your neighbors. If the problem comes from your neighbors, getting them to fix the problem may be a big problem in itself.
  • If you also have problems with water seeping into your foundations and damaging your house, you should probably install a French drain around the house. French drains are very efficient if well installed and connected to the sewer system. Most of the water falling from your roof would simply be evacuated by the drain.
  • For asphalt covered driveways, a sump connected to the sewer system is the most efficient solution. Gutters and draining pipes driving the water away can also be efficient. Stone covered driveways are more permeable and can therefore also be a solution.

French Drains and Yard Drains

French drains swallow up the water accumulating around the foundations of your house, while yard drains can drain water from anywhere on your yard.

  • In a setup where you have a French drain and yard drains, the yard drains may be connected to the French drain and the whole thing connected to the sewer system.
  • If you only have yard drains, then they may be connected to a dry well. Granted that this is possible, you could also let the water escape to a stream.

In both cases, a good layer of gravel on top of the drains will help the water reach the tubes. And do ensure that the tubes are sloped so as to let the water flow towards the escape route, and not the other way around.

Installing drains is a big job that will in most cases require that you dig out many plants while the work is being done. Ensure that you leave enough roots on your plants, that you then protect both the plants and their roots from the sun and from overheating or freezing, and that you don’t let the roots dry out. A good natural fertilizer will help your plants grow roots faster when you put them back in the ground. Note that spring and fall are the best seasons for such undertakings. Doing this when the weather is likely to reach extremes is not a good idea, as many plants may simply not make it through.

Finally, be sure to check what local regulations say on drains and excavation works.

For videos explaining how to install lawn draining equipment, you may visit Youtube.

Getting Wet Plants

One way to help with lawn drainage is simply to use plants that thrive in water and that drink up a lot of it. If your yard is sunny, go for wet sun plants, if its shady, go for wet shade plants.

The pros:

  • This is the most natural solution. No chemicals are needed.
  • This is an easy solution. You won’t have to turn your whole yard upside down.
  • With time, these plants will actually improve the quality of your soil and make it more permeable.

The cons:

  • This is not a fast solution. Things will only get better as the plants grow.
  • If you like a grass lawn, planting bushes everywhere may not be for you.

Adding a Rain Garden to Your Landscaping

A rain garden may be the solution to your problem. Note that if your whole yard is made up of clay soil, a simple rain garden is not the answer to your problems.

For more information on how to fix problems, see our page on Lawn problems.

60 Comments

  1. I am looking for the proper method to put down sand, then top soil, in an area of my lawn that holds water all the time. I was told just to pour sand in those areas, put top soil over that, then just mix it up a bit. Is that really all there is to it???? Need reply immediately please.
    Thank you

    • I’m sorry, but I disagree. You need to provide an escape route for this water. If you just add sand under your top soil, the water will simply sit there, in the sand. With the top soil over it, it won’t evaporate. See my page for other ideas on how to cope with excess lawn water.
      Regards

      • How can I find an escape route I’m on a well, with no other creeks or streams around?

        • Is there no way that you can install a yard drain connected to a sewer, or better yet, to a storm sewer? Your local authorities may very well have information about this. Enquire at all levels (town or city, state or province, federal). Get in touch with your local representatives. It’s worth a try.

  2. Hi-My daughter and her fiancé just bought a house that has a 1/2 acre yard. The backyard has a large low area in the middle of it, the previous owners said it is typical in early spring after snow melt and during rainy periods. They are less than a mile from a lake and the area is low to begin with. The neighbors yard is obviously more level and in full sun, he has no problem (except for parched grass!) My daughters yard has nice, healthy looking grass, and it would not be much of an issue otherwise, but the mosquitos are particularly awful. It seems to me a solution (though not an easy one) would be to remove the grass in that area, in strips as in sod, fortify the soil and lay the “sod” back down. If so, is where limestone and/or gypsum come in? Have you any thoughts on rectifying this problem without ripping the whole area up? Thanks in advance!

    • Why not add water loving plants in the center of that spot? Depending on the conditions there, you can choose wet sun plants or wet shade plants. Or you could create a rain garden there. Choose plants that absorb a lot of water, so the soil doesn’t stay damp as long, and the mosquito eggs don’t have time to hatch (they take about two days to hatch).
      Choose tall growing plants, as opposed to shrubs that stay close to the ground. Leaves close to the ground can trap moisture and attract adult mosquitos.
      Good luck 🙂
      Nicolas

  3. Hello,

    We have a drainage problem in our basement. It is a walkout basement. By the door that goes outside, there is a 3 inch drain, that runs underground to the front of our home to divert water away. There are a few other pipes (from our downspout) that also do the same (running to the front of the home and dispersing in the front yard). The issue we have is currently this main drain outside the basement door (during heavy rains) gets debris clogged causes the water to drain slow. This causes the water to pool, and enter the basement since the door is right there. We have considered having a larger drain there (12 inch box drain) but my concern is the same problem, debris build up. Instead, I am considering simply putting a channel drain right near the basement door, sloping towards the downspout, and connecting it with a T fitting to the down spout piping, the pipe that is underground draining the downspout. My major question is this. Will the downspout (which currently drains to its own pipe, no other pipes running into it) back up to the channel drain, if i have the channel drain connect to that downspout fitting with a T fitting. This way, if the 3 inch drain gets debris to cause it to drain slowly, and it does pool, the water will have an escape route, the channel drain. I am concerned though, during heavy rain, the downspout could have so much water to drain, that it backs up the channel drain, causing more flooding int he basement.
    Any thoughts? Is the channel drain run to a T fitting (with downspout coming into it) and then both draining the front an appropriate solution?

    Thanks,

    • Hi Dan,
      Debris is often a problem with drains. One simple thing you could do is use what they call an atrium grate. If you have a flat grate, it may get completely covered up by debris in no time, but it takes an awful lot of debris to completely cover up an atrium grate. Maybe you could try this first and see if it helps before you start to get involved with more serious work.
      By the way, if you have a flat roof, it may be a good idea to check your roof drain too, once in a while. Although you may not see it, there may be a lot of water pooling up there too.
      Hope it helps,
      The Sensible Gardener

  4. Your post gives detailed explanation on lawn drainage system and gives useful tips to identify causes and how to resolve the drainage problem. Thanks for sharing useful information.

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  6. Hi,

    I live in a city located at sea-level and with significant rainfall all year round (this time of year is particularly bad–so dreary!). My yard slopes toward a drain in the middle, but every time it rains the ground (covered with some grass and a lot of moss) becomes very spongy with water that drains very slowly. I’ve ignored it for a couple of years, but now that I have a dog that I need to take out regularly it’s become an issue. How can I get the water to go into the drain? I’ve thought about tearing up the grass (it’s in terrible shape anyway) and using some combination of gravel and sand underneath the topsoil to increase the drainage. If I decided to do this and replant all the grass, what time of year would be best?(I’m also in a strata complex, so I’d somehow need to get the strata mowers and leaf-blowers to stay out… no idea how I’d do that!) What do you think? I honestly don’t have the patience for something that will take over a year to work. I would really appreciate your input.

    • Our motto is ‘The right plant in the right place with the right conditions’. If grass is not well adapted to your conditions, replacing it with plants that are right for your yard is the best solution.
      Your idea of using sand and gravel a few inches below your lawn could get no notable results, but it could also make things worse. If you are not opposed to the idea of removing the lawn and bringing in new plants, than that could possibly be the simplest and safest solution. We have many pages on water, sun and shade loving plants. See our Gardening Tips page first.
      Also make sure, before you do anything, that you have the right to go ahead with your plan (see Landscaping your Front Yard).

  7. My front yard is muddy after a rain storm. The mud is thick and is killing the grass and worms appear on the sidewalk in front and back garage area. the worms sometimes appear during normal watering days from the sprinklers. This begin during the Texas rainstorms in May.

    • Don’t worry about the worms. Worms get lots of energy when the soil is wet, because they can breathe and move easier. So they get on the move and end up on sidewalks and in drains. They don’t do this because they’re drowning, they do it to look for mates.
      By the way, worms are very good for irrigation. First, because they bore holes in the soil, but also because they change the nature of the soil and make it more permeable to water and air. Two things roots need to make plants thrive.
      Regards 😉

  8. I have drain tile that was put in years ago. 4Inch perforated pipe that is now submerged under water and is not draining fast enough. A week to drain off most areas. They pour out into a pond and I can’t lower the level of the pond anymore, any ideas on how to allow those lines to drain quicker?

    • Hi,
      That’s a hard one. Water follows gravity, so if your pipe is submerged under water, of course it won’t drain your yard water. With so little information, I can’t make suggestions. Have your neighbours found ways to fix this problem? Water loving plants thrive in wet areas and they can drink up a lot of water. Maybe the drain and the plants working together to absorb the excess water can do the job. Have you seen our pages on wet sun plants and wet shade plants? Good luck.

  9. My husband and I have been having a lot of issues with our lawn flooding. We always come out to a lake in our backyard after a storm and it sometimes gets into our basement. We are looking into a drainage system that will help the water drain when it needs to and so that we can keep our home safe. I think the French drain that you mentioned would work the best for us, thanks for sharing!

  10. Hi. Very useful article, thanks! The street we live on was poorly constructed, meaning all the yards and storm water drains are lower than the council drains they are supposed to empty into. We can’t change that unfortunately. There is a holding ‘tank’ in the ground at the point where our rain water exits our property and that takes care of most of the water in light rain. However, in heavy or sustained rain, that tank will fill beyond the exit drain level, leading to water ponding in our front lawn which takes some time to drain away. We are planning to dig up the front lawn to lay some french drains but unsure of where to locate them and how deep is best. Can you help with some guidance? Thanks for any advice you can offer.

    • French drains are typically laid out around house foundations so they can protect the house from excessive water and humidity. But gravity is the number one player here. Water will always accumulate in the lowest point and if it gets stuck there, it won’t move unless a sump pump is installed to force it away. I would call in a couple of professionals and ask for detailed quotes. They will give you precious information and it will help you decide what the course of action should be. Remember that quotes are typically free of charge and involve no specific obligation on your part. You may choose any of the firms involved or none at all.

  11. My wife and I are looking into buying our first home. The one we have seen which we like the most, both neighbors backyards had pools of water in them, however the house we saw was very damp but no pools. There is however a willow in the backyard, I’m guessing this is helping. I’m concerned about the dampness as there are other trees blocking the sun in spots, there is a grat deck and pool, and i would hate for the large yard to be ruined with a damp and mosquito filled environment . Any suggestions

    Thank you!

    • Sorry for the delay. Somehow, I never saw your comment. Maybe you have already bought your new home. At any rate, my advice would be to ask around as much as possible before buying. Ask the people selling, preferably with an estate agent present. Ask neighbors. Some may be reluctant to answer, but some will probably tell you honestly what they know. A yard is an important part of a property. Make sure you know what you are buying. There are ways to deal with lawn drainage problems, but a soggy lawn will never be a perfectly well-drained lawn. You have to work with nature to find ways to mitigate these problems. A rain garden is an option. I wish you good luck.

  12. I just bought a new home, and noticed grass and driveway always being wet. Water accumulates where the driveway and sidewalk meets. I moved in over a month ago, and it’s always wet. I thought it was a leak, and called the warranty dept, and the plumber came to check the leak and found no leak. After reading your article, I’m thinking it may be a drainage issue. It looks like water is trapped and accumulating because the side walk and driveway is thick concrete. Is the builder supposed to have a drain installed underneath the sidewalk? What would be my options here because neighbor is built by another builder and my builder is just blaming neighbor. Thanks.

    • Sorry for the delay. Somehow, I never saw your comment. Not knowing very much about your exact situation, it’s hard for me to give you a detailed advice. A lawn drain could perhaps be the solution. Simply adding water loving plants could also fix your problem.
      Contractors and builders often try blaming someone else for problems their clients have. For many of them, it’s just an easy and cheap way to get rid of problems. If you bought the property through an estate agent, consider asking them about this. You could also ask your insurance agent.

  13. Our back yard slopes down from the patio to the back fence. The yard is not deep, and over the past few years we have noticed that there is more and more standing water along the fence after rains that often takes several days to dry out-often the water will disappear, but the soil will remain very wet. We have noticed that our neighbor that lives on the other side of our back yard fence puts all of their grass clippings in the corner of their back yard and along their back fence (this is wooden privacy fence that we share), which we believe it causing the drainage problem in our yard. We spoke to them about the problem but they continue to pile the clippings along their side of the fence line. We have planted a bald cypress tree as well as Louisiana Iris to try and soak up the excess water, but it is still a big problem. Is there another relatively easy way we can get rid of this standing water? Thanks so much for the help!

    • Hi,
      You probably have no way of forcing your neighbor to get rid of the grass clippings, which may indeed trap humidity in the soil (although I can’t say for sure—the problem may come from somewhere else). You could perhaps install a yard drain and drive the water to your house drain, but that would be an important undertaking and it would probably not get rid of all the dampness. Replacing your lawn in that spot with a rain garden may help, so it’s an option you should consider.

  14. We had our house built last year and have noticed a problem in the back yard with standing water. Our neighbors back yard has a slight hill were the water drains right into our back yard. It seems like the water is suppose to run between both property lines but during a heavy rain it just sit on the side yard. In the back yard the water sits there right near our fence. Every time it rains heavy we have a small pool on the side of the backyard and side side front yard. Should we plante wet plants in the section of the backyard or install drains?

  15. Any advice to cope with a lawn on sandy soil that dries out in summer and is a bog in winter?

  16. Hi
    I have water drain from the yard behind my house . Which is higher on the hill. It has ruin my make yard and now it is going into my retaining wall and destroying it. I have a drain but it is full of dirt from their yard. Everytime I clean it fills back up with dirt and .my yard nfloods. How can this be fixed

    • Hi,
      Your situation seems to be a complicated one. If you already have a lawn drain, you should probably try to find ways to help your drain deal with all the water and dirt. A dome drain strainer won’t get clogged down as much as a regular drain strainer. You could also install a chain link fence around the drain, so as to stop the dirt from accumulating over the strainer.
      Good luck to you.

  17. Hello,
    My backyard shows similar issues as found in your article. There is an area where rain will sit for a few days and can become 1 – 2 inches of ice if it is cold enough outside. The yard slopes towards this area, our soil is mostly clay, it is a high traffic area since it’s near the only entrance/exit from the front yard to the backyard, and to top it off our neighbor has a swamp maple nearby whose roots make the area uneven and make water unable to flow out of the backyard. We planted a rain garden along to take care of some of the water before it reached the area, but I don’t think planting another in the middle of the yard is the answer. I am also iffy of the usage of drains/pipe because of the presence of the tree roots? What would you suggest? I have pictures that I could email.

    • Hi,
      Clay soils typically tend to prevent water from draining away, but adding clay soil plants may have two major advantages: first, the plants will drink up some of the water present in the clay, second, the plants’ roots will eventually make the soil more permeable and help some of the water drain away. Have a look at our Clay soil plants page. Be aware that this will not happen overnight though.
      Good luck 🙂

  18. i have an interesting problem that i don’t want to get in trouble while solving. i have a yard that is on a lake with neighbors above me on the hill. their yard runs off into mine and causes a lot of bogginess and mosquitoes. can a french drain run towards the lake? or some kind of curtain drain around the yard?

    • An interesting problem, indeed. And probably one that will not be easy to solve. I don’t think a French drain can be installed around a lake. One thing is for certain. You will have to work with gravity. Your solution will need to take into consideration the fact that water travels through the soil to the lowest point. If you can’t guide the water to the lake, maybe you can find ways to store it below the ground, so you won’t see it and so the mosquitoes won’t be able to lay their eggs in it. A rain garden could be the solution you need.

  19. We live in a area with no sewers, no sidewalks just streets. We also happen to be the last house on the street across from a man made lake. Because of the constant 100 year rains, when we get heavy, long, steady or quick rain, our street floods and we end up with water half way up a 50ft uphill driveway. I had my lawn filled in twice and am getting to sell my home and have to have this issue taken care of before putting it on the market. When we purchased the home, there was a sump installed in the front lawn, but when the gully fills, the sump was only pushing the water back onto the street, and back onto the lawn. The village is not going to assist with my issue so I am looking for suggestions for creating swails or hills to stop the water from pooling on the lawn. We have lost 2 large old willows from the excessive water along with 2 maples and 1 birch tree. I can forward pictures is that would help. I am open to suggestions. I also have to be aware of pooling the water onto the neighbors property. I am also on a corner so I get the water from two sides. And my inside sump runs constantly but again is just pushing the water back onto the lawn.

    • Water somehow always finds its way to the lowest point, so if you create a hill, it will probably find its way around it or through it. So locating the spot where the water will cause the least damage, away from your house, and concentrating the water there, so it can sit and slowly sip into the ground, would probably be an interesting solution. Adding vegetation well adapted to swampy areas would also help. Have a look at our rain garden page for more information on this.

      • I just took out my lawn with a sod cutter as it was filled with moss and weeds. We also have standing water issue in the winter at the lowest point.
        I am thinking about putting down a layer of sand and gravel to raise the height of the backyard and finally top soil with turf (rolled real grass). I would suspect the gravel goes down first followed by the sand?

        • Hi David,
          You are right about the gravel before the sand. Coarser materials go under finer ones. But, this may not completely fix your problem. If the water gets trapped in the gravel layer, has nowhere to go and can’t evaporate either, results may not be as expected above ground. Consider adding water loving plants (see Water sun plants and Water shade plants). A weeping willow, for instance, can drink up a lot of water. Just make sure you pick plants that are right for your conditions (size, sun exposure, etc.).

  20. The area where our backyard meets our (behind us) neighbor’s yard almost always has standing water. That line down the entire street in the back used to be a natural drainage area, but over the years it seems that everyone else has planted bushes, put up fences, and built other things that has dammed up what used to be a natural flow for the water to empty. Ours seems to be the only yard left with this problem because we never did anything there. Not only do we have the water that gathers there naturally, but we get everyone else’s runoff on top of that. Without seeing it in person, I’m not sure what help you can give, but any advice would be appreciated. I can post pictures if that’s an option.

    • Hi Sandy,
      It seems like everyone else has dumped their problem on you, whether intentionally or not. Have you considered all the options mentioned on our page? If so, then consider reaching out to your local authorities. They may be able to provide concrete suggestions on how to fix your specific problem. Enquire at all levels (town or city, state or province, federal). Get in touch with your local representatives. Maybe, if you explain to whoever is willing to listen that you got stuck with everybody else’s problem, they’ll be more inclined to help. Good luck.

  21. I have a neighbor that has a very large portion of her back and side lawn after it rains that stays sopping wet. To the point that you can’t push a lawn mower over it for days-weeks at a time. My neighbor is just thinking of bringing in more dirt to fill over the lawn but I have a feeling that it will only stay wet and soft. I’m not sure what to do to help her. Any suggestions? Pictures can be made available.

    • Hello Earl,
      The page you posted a reply to is full of suggestions for such problems. Why so much information, you may ask. The reason is simple. Fixing a lawn drainage problem is rarely simple. If there were one easy answer that would work in all cases, it would be much easier, but there isn’t. One thing is simple though: just covering up the problem won’t make it go away. You could say that there are three main avenues: you live with the water (creating a rain garden, for instance), you find ways to let the water drain away, or you use plants that can suck up the excess water. So take the time to read the page and consider all the available options.

  22. We are dealing with a soggy back yard that can hold a lot of water. It has been this was for awhile but we have recently decided to make this an outdoor sitting area with canopy, furniture and shed. The area that is wet the most is right below our deck. We have french drains on all our gutters that run the water way away from our house so we know it’s not that. We also have a sump pump in the back corner of the basement that is almost directly under the deck area and close to where the water builds up after a rain. I have wondered if maybe the sump pump from the basement is draining to this area but I can’t find any pipe when we have dug around the ground where the dark ends. We have also capped off the sprinkler heads in this area because we don’t want any extra water to deal with plus it would hit the new furniture under the canopy. 🙂 We have buried about 50 plus stepping stones in the wet grassy area and know we have some serious clay soil mixed with lots of pea gravel and rock that the previous owner had laid all under the deck. Obviously some of this rock has worked its way down into the backyard area over the years so when we dig we see a bunch of it mixed with the red clay.
    We laid the sod in this area where we are dealing with the abundance of water about 15 years ago. We hired a landscaping crew to build up our back yard which was on a 5-6 foot slope going down toward a golf course. They brought in over 15 dump truck loads to build up our back yard. I am thinking one of our water problems is that over time this “cheap fill dirt- clay” has just been compacted so much that it won’t drain. There really isn’t a specific area where the water in seen to be coming into the back yard but even as the yard still slopes down, the water does not run down it basically just sits right around the ground where the deck ends.
    In the past I have looked into pumps, different drains, or just planting water loving plants in this area. The kids would always come in with muddy feet, just never got to dealing with the issue completely. Now it must be dealt with and asap because we are spending a lot of outdoor time in this area and getting the ground dry and keeping it dry is top priority before we add anymore fun things to our little outdoor room. I started digging a 8-10 inch deep trench that is starting at the deck line and will run about 20 feet downwards. Originally i had planned to put a large grated drain that had tube connected to it, in order for the water to hopefully move and not settle right below the deck. Just not sure I am going to be fixing the problem, so I stopped and started searching online. Thats when I found your blog!! Digging this much is a lot of work to do if I am not actually helping the solution.
    I have tried to give you enough info since you can see the yard or how we have it set up now. Please advise us on how to go forth and fix our water logged back yard so we can enjoy another beautiful Alabama Summer.

    • Hi,
      Your problem seems to be quite a complex one (sorry for stating the obvious). Problems like yours are hard to fix at all, and sometimes they simply can’t be fixed to perfection. It is possible that you will not be able to turn your soggy soil into perfectly well-drained soil. Such complicated problems must be fixed by experts who can analyze the situation (the soil itself, the yard configuration, etc.) and offer different solutions. It may be that the whatever the landscaping crew put in many years ago is part of your problem. Most landscaping companies offer limited expertise. The bulk of their business is creating simple landscapes with basic plants that do well in average conditions. If you really want to find a solution suited to your problem, I suggest that you find a seasoned expert who will be able to offer a solid “diagnosis.”
      I hope you enjoy your Alabama summer days as much as possible.
      Regards,
      Nicolas

  23. Great advice, shared on our Twitter

  24. Two weeks ago we had a replacement tree planted in our backyard. The first tree, a Mountain Ash drowned. We have clay soil and an apparent low/wet area where both the first and replacement trees are planted. The nursery we dealt with took great measures the second time around to provide adequate drainage, although we have a lot of mulch around it. Unfortunately, the second tree is showing the same signs of stress as the first. The nursery will only provide a warranty on the first tree, not the second. They are aware of what is occurring. What can we do to help with additional drainage? If it helps to know, we are in a new subdivision and new house. Backyard is tiny.

    • Hi,
      Mountain ashes grow well in locations where the soil is moist, but can also deal with drier soils. Soggy, wet soils, on the other hand, will probably rot their roots and kill them. You should have a look at our pages on Wet Sun Plants or Wet Shade Plants. You should find trees or shrubs that correspond to your taste and needs and that grow well in wet soils. Button bushes, for example, can grow well in streams, so they don’t suffer root rot. Note that they grow well in soils rich in humus. The right plant will always grow better in the right location. The wrong plant will simply wither away or die right off.
      Cheers,
      Nicolas

  25. Hi Nicolas-

    I have a standing water issue after hard rains on one side of my back yard (from my extended downspout that comes off about 8ft off my house. The other side tends to be very saturated and sometimes has a little standing water from my drain hose (30 ft of 3″ tubing above ground) from my sump pump coming off the side off my house. My soil is all wonderful clay so it can take a few days to fully dry out. I have a nice lawn and it is heavily used by my boys and the neighborhood kids so the open space is important keep. The yard slopes slightly downhill to my neighbors, what would you suggest to help the water drain and where could I drain it in the back, no lake, pond, or ditch back there. Any suggestions would be great, thanks!

    • Hello Dan,
      That’s a tough one. If you can’t get the water to drain away below ground, then I guess your only other option is for the water to be drained up above ground. And the only way for this to happen is to use plants that will drink up the water. The hard part is to find plants that will grow well in clay soil that can get water logged. The selection is rather limited. Have a look at our pages on Clay Soil Plants and either Wet Sun Plants or Wet Shade Plants. You could probably consider Japanese maples. As different varieties don’t enjoy the same conditions, make sure the one you select is suited for your conditions. And give your plants a fighting chance by preparing the soil as much as possible before you introduce them in your backyard.
      Good luck,
      Nicolas

  26. Hi,

    I’m not sure what I should do with my drainage issue. My house is raised, but seems to be built on the lowest part of the lot. When it storms, the rain fills under my house from the back yard and water is decently high around the foundation piers. There are two cement driveways on the sides of the house, so I’m not sure if drains to the main line are possible. If it is, I’m sure it would be one expensive task. Do you have any suggestions?

    • Hi,
      You seem to have a big problem on your hands. Do you know that in many towns and cities, it is forbidden to connect lawn drainage pipes to your house main sewer pipe? Before you start anything, be sure to get all the necessary information. If your problem is as big as you say, the only thing I can suggest is to get expert advice. Get a few specialists to come and see what can be done. They can give you some written estimates, so you’ll have a better idea of what avenues are open to you.
      Good luck,
      Nicolas

  27. Hello
    I live on the east coast and last couple of years it seems like the drainage problem in my front yard is getting worst. We water for 10 mins in morning and still by 4 pm it is hard to walk Everything is sticky and a lot of water. Last couple of days temperature has been in 90s.and we still have this problem. I can’t understand why this is happening.

    • Hi,
      Sorry, but I don’t have enough information. If your whole area is having this problem, I would suggest getting in touch with local authorities. If a number of people are having to deal with this, they must have heard about the problem and may have asked specialists how to deal with the issue. I would say that would be an easy first step.
      Good luck,
      Nicolas

  28. Hi,
    I have a very, very large lawn (more like a field) and I think the reason it’s constantly wet is because the soil has a lot of clay in it. I saw your solution of mixing the soil with organic matter, but how am I supposed to do that? Do i have to dig it all up, and mix it?
    Sincerely,
    Reagan

    • HI,
      I can assume it would be a humungous task, if your yard is as big as you say, and I wouldn’t want to push you into it, but to mix soil in with clay, you need to “do the mixing.” You can’t simply put the two together and let nature do the rest. Organic matter as such is one ingredient of living soil. You can’t grow plants in pure compost. Good soil composition requires multiple elements.

      • First, I would recommend getting your soil tested. You think your problem may be clay in the soil, but you have to be sure.
      • If your soil is good but indeed too rich in clay, there are a few possible options. Physically mixing organic matter with the clay is one. Adding plants that will help change the nature of the soil is another (see Clay soil plants). Using what is commonly known as clay breakers could also be of some help (be sure to have a look at this page on the subject).
        Cheers,
        Nicolas
  29. My back lawn is a swampy nightmare. The lawn section is less than 2,000 sq ft. The entire thing has water sitting on it during our rainy season (about Nov.-Mar.). We have large worms (night crawlers?) churning the dirt up, causing a muddy, wet surface that our five dogs track into the house. The grass is thin, probably due to both standing water and the churning worms. Underpinning the whole lawn, starting about 6″ down, is another 4-6″ of solid clay. We had lawn drains put in around the entire perimeter, but they have had minimal effect. Is there anything I can do short of digging ALL the clay out? I don’t have years to correct this. We’ll not be able to hold on to our sanity!

    • Hi,
      Lawn drainage problems vary greatly. Some can be fixed easily, others not so much. Our page on lawn drainage problems can help people deal somewhat easily and fast with minor to medium problems. For major problems, though, it’s another story.
      There are two approaches to such a problem.
      The expensive, fast and brutal solution. Pay top dollar to have a crew turn up with machinery to dig out what’s there, install drains and replace the soil you have with a more permeable mix of materials, such as gravel, sand and soil. It may work, but there’s no absolute guaranty. And before you do anything like this, check with your local authorities. You may need a permit and there may be rules and limitations regarding such work.
      The only other alternative requires that you be ready to make concessions and that you arm yourself with patience. You can pick and choose from the various solutions described on our page, but bear in mind the following from the start:

    • A major problem cannot be fixed with a minor solution. Adding a few inches of pebbles on your lawn won’t fix anything.
    • You may not get the lawn you are dreaming of. You may not like water gardens, but if that your only solution…
    • You will have to wait some years for your remodeled lawn to start looking its best.
    • Good luck to you 😉

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