How to Correct Lawn Drainage Problems


Poor lawn drainage can kill grass. It can also encourage fungus and viral diseases that can ruin a lawn or garden, flood a basement or breed a generation of mosquitoes within the space of a few heavy spring storms. Correct lawn drainage problems before having to resort to the expense of calling in a professional to completely regrade and reseed or sod a lawn. Take a few simple steps that will take some time and effort but may save you aggravation---and expense---in the long run.

Step 1

Diagnose problems after a heavy rain. Or water heavily, wait half an hour and water again at least an inch of water. Look around the foundations of buildings for standing water and for depressions. Mark areas where water stands.

Step 2

Fill in depressions and reseed or build raised beds. Protect basements by digging channels around foundations and filling with 4 to 6 inches inches of crushed rock to aid drainage. Top the gravel with least 4 inches of topsoil so the ground slopes away from the foundation wall at a rate of 6 inches for every 10 feet.

Step 3

Add extensions to downspouts to carry roof runoff away from buildings and spreaders to spread the flow as it pours into the yard. To capitalize on all that runoff, put a rain barrel under a downspout to collect water for the garden. If the building is large, dig a dry sink to aid drainage; dig straight down a few feet under the end of the downspout; then fill most of the hole with gravel and add topsoil.

Step 4

Check your overall grade to guarantee that your yard drains the same way as the rest of the neighborhood--toward a swale or retention pond that has been engineered into the neighborhood or subdivision plan. Add topsoil in low areas so that the grade is gentle enough to keep water in your yard for your lawn and garden but steep enough to drain excess efficiently--no more than 2 percent or 1 to 2 feet for every 100 feet.

Step 5

Check for underlying problems like decaying tree stumps, grown-over fieldstone walks or patios, compacted or heavy clay soil. Tree stumps and stone can be removed with a shovel or post hole digger but compaction and clay will require some serious work. Correct compaction by aerating soil in successive springs to admit light, water and fertilizer to grass roots and break up the soil. Heavy clay requires top dressing with up to 4 inches of compost, humus or well-rotted manure, deep cultivation with a rotary tiller and reseeding.

Tips and Warnings

  • Check with your local building inspector for information on the slope, or grade required in residential yards. Many communities require approval before changing the grade on a property so that the actions of one property owner do not adversely affect others. Some problems, like sinkholes, natural springs and wetland problems, are best addressed by professionals. Consult a hydrologist or your state university extension community development agent for help.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovels
  • Garden rakes
  • Crushed rock
  • Compost, manure and top soil
  • Landscape ties or cement blocks (raised beds or terraces)
  • Post hole digger (dry sinks and tree stumps)
  • Core aerator
  • Rotary Tiller


  • All About Drainage Systems: How to Solve Your Yard Landscape Drainage Problem
  • Landscape Design Advice: Landscape Grading and Landscape Drainage

Who Can Help

  • Oregon State University Extension: Solution to Landscape Drainage Problems
  • USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service: Terracing
  • University of Missouri Extension: Raised Beds
Keywords: lawn drainage, drainage problems, correct problems

About this Author

Chicago native Laura Reynolds has been writing for 40 years. She attended American University (D.C.), Northern Illinois University and University of Illinois Chicago and has a B.S. in communications (theater). Originally a secondary school communications and history teacher, she's written one book and edited several others. She has 30 years of experience as a local official, including service as a municipal judge.