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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.