How to Improve Drainage in Your Yard
So, your yard isn’t draining properly. It happens to homeowners across the country more often than you’d think, and it usually starts with small puddles and wet spots appearing in your grass. Maybe you’re starting to see muddy patches and swamp-like areas in your yard. These are classic symptoms of poor yard drainage, meaning the soil in your yard is retaining too much water. But why?
Common Causes of Yard Drainage Issues
There are several factors that can lead to a yard failing to vacate excess water properly. Different causes of yard drainage problems can call for different solutions and DIY approaches. The following are some of the most common reasons your yard may be draining poorly.
- Yard slope or pitch: In many cases, water pools in a yard because the soil’s flat plane doesn’t divert enough water away from the house.
- A too-short downspout: If your gutter’s downspout points directly into a flower bed or other landscaped area, excess water can collect in the mulch and soil beneath.
- Impacted soil: This can be a result of construction projects, such as in-ground pools, around the house. Hardpan clay is especially problematic when impacted, as it can retain moisture for far longer than other types of soil.
- Front walkways: If a sidewalk or concrete path sits in front of your house, it could be blocking off water, preventing it from running through your yard and into the storm drain.
- Runoff erosion: If the runoff from your downspout has stripped away some of the topsoil in your yard, this can lead to heavy collection beneath the eroded area.
5 Yard Drainage Solutions You Can Do Yourself
Once you’ve identified your issue and the most likely cause, it’s time to set out a game plan for how to improve drainage in your yard. There are multiple options you can turn to, but be sure to research each carefully and have the tools necessary before committing to one.
1. Reduce Your Watering Schedule
Before launching into a costly and extensive DIY drainage project, consider the possibility that you could be overwatering your yard and/or garden. Try cutting down on your watering and watch the trouble spots to see if they drain or not. If they do, the soil could be draining properly but simply can’t keep up with your watering schedule. If not, it may be time to get your hands dirty.
Tools you’ll need: Most sprinkler systems can be set to operate at fewer or shorter intervals. If you water your yard manually, simply do so less often. Keep an eye on your wet zones over the next week or two to determine if your yard is indeed not draining.
2. Extend Your Downspout
If you find that the runoff causing your yard drainage problems is coming from your gutter system, the fix you’re looking for could be as easy as extending the downspout away from the house so that it doesn’t form a basin in your landscaped areas. However, if you’re diverting the runoff away from your house, make sure you’re sending it into a storm drain or other safe drainage source and not a neighboring property.
While you’re at it, you may want to make sure that the gutters themselves are working properly. Blocked or faulty gutters can cause water to overflow into your yard. If your roof turns into a waterfall every time it rains, it may be time to tackle a few gutter repairs.
Tools you’ll need: Additional drain spout material, power drill, pliers, screws, washers and bolts.
3. Dig a Creek Bed or Swale
If you have a soggy spot in your yard that a downspout extension can’t fix, you may need an artificial creek or drainage swale to draw water away from low spots. These projects usually involve digging the soil into a long, shallow trench and filling it with gravel and decorative rocks. Assuming your yard has the right downward slope, this installation will essentially act as a slide for runoff to escape through.
An added bonus to this project is that even when it’s not in use, a dry man-made creek can be an attractive addition to your landscaping.
Tools you’ll need: Trench-digging tools such as shovels and spades, gravel, rocks and a method for disposing of excess dirt.
4. Construct a Rain Garden
If there is a low spot on your property that collects water, and there isn’t enough slope to drain it with a creek bed, you could consider making that soggy patch work for you by turning it into a rain garden. Rain gardens are designed to catch rainfall and are usually filled with water-loving plants like hostas, ferns and ornamental mosses that can dry out saturated areas. They don’t necessarily solve the yard drainage issue, but they definitely are more attractive than a muddy hole full of soaking grass.
A completed rain garden will ideally drain water within 24 hours. This metric, as well as the level of porousness of the soil you’re building in, can help you determine how deep to dig the garden. Your rain garden can also be the ending point of a downspout or creek bed.
Tools you’ll need: Level, shovel, wheelbarrow, river rock, decorative stones, gravel, landscape fabric, PVC pipe and water-friendly plants.
5. Install a French Drain and/or Dry Well
When your soil has drainage issues that can’t be addressed by surface-level adjustments, it may be time to go deeper. Both French drains and dry wells are installed below the topsoil to disperse and redirect excess water, but there are key differences in their application and construction.
French Drain Versus Dry Well: What’s the Difference?
A French drain normally consists of a long trench filled with gravel or other substrate materials and a drainage pipe running from the house down the length of the drain. The pipe is then covered up with filter and either soil or river stone at the grade level. French drains are versatile and can be installed almost anywhere. They differ from a creek bed or drainage swale in that a French drain consists of buried piping underneath the soil, as opposed to a shallow trench that redirects runoff on the graded surface.
A dry well is usually installed at the endpoint of a creek, swale or French drain and is used to collect and disperse water into the surrounding soil instead of redirecting water away from the house. This is typically done using either a weighted sleeve of drainage fabric or a large metal or concrete basin with holes in its sides through which the collected water can drain out into the porous soil nearby. Larger dry well sections can be purchased at many home improvement stores.
For heavy-duty yard drainage improvement, a French drain connected to a downspout leading away from the house and ending in a dry well is a popular and effective solution. Be sure to check the soil conditions at your intended dry well installation site. If the soil there isn’t porous and doesn’t drain well, a dry well won’t do you any good there. This can be done by digging a small hole with a post digger, pouring water inside and observing how long it takes to drain.
Tools you’ll need: Waterproof plastic pipe, shovel, post digger, drainage cloth and/or metal or concrete dry well sections, topsoil, rocks and/or gravel.
Check Your Yard Often to Prevent Future Yard Drainage Issues
Even after you’ve tackled your chosen DIY yard drainage project and your property is back on track, it’s important to take care of your soil and keep watch for unwanted standing water in the future. If you’re concerned that your soil isn’t aerating enough, a round of rototilling can loosen the earth and help it drain more quickly.
Decorative rocks in the yard, if not placed properly, can also create barriers to runoff, causing water to pool in the grass. Consider relocating or removing some rocks from the yard to ensure rainwater has a clear path out of your yard.
When your yard isn’t draining the way it should be, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the task of fixing it. But with the right preparation and the right tools, you can take on a variety of DIY yard drainage ideas in a weekend or two to get your property back on track.