How to Remove Standing Water From Your Yard

Solving Lawn Drainage Issues

A French drain with gravel
French drains give you some control over where water runoff ends up. David Beaulieu

Many homeowners have to deal with standing water in their yards. If you are one of them, you may not know either:

  • Why the water is pooling up rather than draining away (and what you can do about it)
  • What potential problems can result from such a drainage issue

The potential problems that can result if the issue is not addressed include the following:

  • Effective mosquito control requires the elimination of puddling where mosquitoes can breed.
  • Having soggy areas on the lawn means that dogs and people are more likely to be tracking mud into the house.
  • It is unattractive.
  • Standing water around the house, itself can pose danger to the foundation.
  • Grass will not grow properly in lawn areas covered in standing water. Moss often out-competes grass for dominance in such spots.

Now that you know why the problem should be addressed, let's consider the reasons that pooling occurs and how you can solve the problem.

Clay Makes the Ground Impervious

Soil type effects drainage. Loamy soils and sandy soils drain better than those heavy with clay. Clay traps water, whereas loam and, especially, sand are known for their sieve-like qualities.

Solution: Amend the soil with organic matter. This will break up those problematic clay barriers in the soil. Most commonly, this is done using compost, but there are also other ways to amend the soil in garden areas. For example, organic mulches break down over time; as they do, they improve drainage in the ground under them. Bark is one example of an organic mulch.

Lawn areas are trickier: With the grass is in the way, it is hard to gain access to that clayey soil that you desperately need to break up. In extreme cases, you may need to remove your current lawn and start over again.

Other Causes in the Ground: Thatch, Compaction

Clay isn't the only thing in the soil that keeps water from percolating downward, causing it to pool on the surface. Lawn thatch and compaction are also enemies of good drainage because they form barriers that trap water.

Depending on how severe your lawn-thatch issue is, there are two solutions to it:

Compaction occurs most often as a result of heavy foot traffic. Core aeration is one way to solve the problem, but a more permanent solution may be building an attractive walkway to handle all that foot traffic.

Low Spots

There is a good chance that you have (or will have) standing water in your yard if:

  • Your property lies at the foot of a hill.
  • And your region gets a lot of rain.

You can also suffer from having low spots in particular areas of the yard (even if you don't live at the foot of a hill) where the terrain slopes down. Most importantly, always be sure that the grading around your house foundation is correct.

To deal effectively with water coming off a hillside and pooling up in your yard, you need to learn not only about drains but also where can you safely channel what you catch in a drainage system. There are different types of drainage systems; two common kinds are:

Make sure the runoff diverted by a dry creek or French drain does not end up on a neighbor's property: At best, the result would be ill will; at worst, you could be sued.

If storm sewers run along your street, you may be tempted to channel the runoff in their direction. But doing so may land you in trouble with the authorities. Get permission first from your local Department of Public Works.

Unless you live in a rural area (where there are no sidewalks), even directing runoff towards (but not into) the street is problematic. Channeling runoff onto a sidewalk can get you into trouble with the authorities because:

  • It makes the sidewalk slippery for pedestrians in winter (in cold climates) once the water ices up.
  • In summer, you may also make the sidewalk slick, but, this time, due to the formation of algae, that slippery, green coating.

A better way to terminate a drain is to dig a rock pit to hold the runoff. Simply dig a large hole in the ground and back-fill it with rocks. Channel water from your drain into this underground rock pit, where it will harmlessly percolate down into the groundwater.

For dimensions, err on the side of bigger rather than smaller, although you can always re-dig a rock pit later if you conclude that it's too small. Greater volume of runoff calls for a bigger rock pit, but volume is unpredictable because you never now how much rain you will receive in a given year. Four feet wide and deep is an average size for such rock pits.