Reducing the Runoff: Understanding the Science Behind Lawn and Yard Drainage

Reducing the Runoff: Understanding the Science Behind Lawn and Yard Drainage
  • Opening Intro -

    Proper drainage is the key to keeping your home free from damage and your lawn free of mosquitoes and other pests.

    Improper drainage can result in a flooded basement, mold and mildew issues, and insect infestations.


Here are a few tips for helping you understand the science behind your drainage so that you can ensure that rainwater, snow melt, and other sources of precipitation flow away from your home properly.

Why Drainage Is Important

Keeping your home dry and your yard free of insects are but two of the reasons that drainage is critical. Just as important is the fact that poor lawn drainage can damage everything from grass to trees. Turf grass is not suited sitting in water for long periods of time. If you want to have nice turf, you need to have a yard that drains well. Poor drainage tends to tip the balance of your lawn toward the growth of moss and other water-loving plants. Most trees and shrubs are also not adapted to growing in saturated soils. Too much water can deprive these plants of oxygen and lead to root rot. There are several species, however, that are well-suited to wet conditions and may actually help to improve drainage in your yard.

With improper drainage, your yard may be so sloppy that you can’t even walk in it, let alone play in it or have backyard barbecues. In the most extreme circumstances, it can take days for a lawn to dry out to the point of being usable after heavy rain. To make matters worse, walking on a wet lawn can cause soil compaction, which is bad for your turf and can make drainage even worse.

Identifying Drainage Problems

If you find that you have standing water in your yard or the basement is flooding, the first step to fixing the problem is identifying it. In general, there are three basic categories of drainage that need to be investigated in order to determine the source of your problem. For starters, look at your house itself. Investigate your gutters, downspouts, and the ways that water is diverted from your roof and driveway into your yard. Ensure that water is flowing the right way, toward the street or drains, and not into your house or the middle of your yard.

The second category of drainage that needs to be investigated is the yard itself. In particular, you need to look at the slope of the ground, identify high and low spots, and determine if your yard has an existing network of drains. In many cases, older homes have existing drains that once functioned but have become clogged or damaged with time.

The final category of drainage that needs to be investigated includes the plants in your yard. Dense plant roots can create a barrier to water penetration and greatly reduce soil permeability. Plant roots can also penetrate basement walls and drainage pipes to increase water penetration and reduce water runoff. Some plants are more problematic than others, so identify the types of plants in your yard and investigate to determine if they may be interfering with underground structures or preventing water from penetrating soil.

Improving Your Yard

Once you’ve identified the source of your drainage problems, the next step is to address them. Addressing drainage can be a costly endeavor, but important for long-term health and happiness. Here are a few tips for addressing specific drainage issues.

Topography and Slope

If the shape of your yard does not drive water away from your house and property naturally, you will have to regrade your lawn in order to achieve appropriate runoff. Rainwater should naturally flow away from your house and into the street or approved drainage locations. Before changing the slope of your yard, it is important to investigate local regulations regarding runoff. While changing the slope of your yard can be labor-intensive, the good news is that is a relatively affordable way to fix drainage issues. While regrading, is a good idea to improve the quality of your soil by adding things like gypsum, limestone, organic matter, and other soil amenders.

Backyard Drainage Solutions – This Old House

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Installing Drains

In some cases, it is necessary to install drains specifically designed to move water from one area of your yard to another. Installing drains can be difficult, however, and is best handled by professionals. To learn more about landscape drains, head over to to look at available options.

Address Plants

If you have problematic plants in your yard, you may have to remove them entirely. In most cases, problematic plants can be dealt with by reducing their size, thinning their numbers, or by moving them to more favorable locations. You may also benefit from adding wet plants to your yard. Wet plants provide an eco-friendly solution to drainage and don’t require you to turn your whole yard upside down. At the same time, plants are not an immediate solution because they take time to grow.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to drainage issues, you are better off addressing the problem sooner rather than later. Standing water or water that drains in the wrong direction can wreak havoc on your home, your yard, and your health. If you have drainage issues, consult a professional to see what can be done to turn your yard into a place where you enjoy spending time.

Kiera Miles is a landscaper and gardener. She loves sharing her joy of growing things by posting on the web. You can read her articles mostly on DIY and gardening sites.

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