Rainwater creates two problems when your yard doesn’t drain correctly: Erosion and compaction. Both are serious problems – erosion washes away top soil, and compaction destroys soil structure and keeps grass from growing properly.
This is a series of 4 parts on how I solved drainage problems in my yard.
Late winter and early spring surely bring their share of rain. If water is pooling on your lawn where you don’t specifically want it to, then you either have a yard unable to filter the rain or grading issues with your landscaping. Both can be fixed if you’re willing to get your hands dirty and burn some calories.
When I first moved into my current property I had significant problems with rainwater: Two downspouts were issuing such intense runoff that they were eroding my yard and a number of areas were pooling, compacting the soil beneath it. Over 4 seasons, I tried various methods to solve the problems, and each required a different solution.
- Factoid: One inch of rainfall on a 2000 square foot roof generates 1,250 gallons of water
Before I get into specifics, first ask yourself the question I did: What’s the condition of the soil underneath my lawn? This makes a big difference in how much rain your yard will absorb. You can get a good idea of the condition by digging up a one square foot block of the problem area lawn, flipping it over and taking a look at it. Note the following:
- What color is the soil? (dark and crumbly=good; light brown or brick red and hard=not so good)
- How tough is it to dig your finger into the soil? If it’s extremely hard, water can’t filter through it.
- What condition are the grass roots in? They should be at least as long as the grass above the surface.
Most likely your answers are going to be: light brown, hard as a rock, short.
Many water problems on lawns are the result of soil compaction – a high traffic area is walked on or played on constantly and this has packed the soil tightly, creating a barrier through which rain has difficulty filtering. Depleted soil could also be the problem, the result of overuse of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides which have rendered the soil lifeless and compacted it. The grass is being kept alive and green only by doses of synthetic nitrogen.
In either case, the first thing you’ll need to do is to stop using chemicals to treat your lawn. The second thing is to aerate your entire lawn. If you have a small lawn or a teenager looking for work, use a manual core aerator which you can buy at nearly any garden nursery. You walk it across your lawn and as you do so, it removes plugs which you leave on top of the lawn to decompose, thus feeding the soil and lawn. Rainwater, air, soil and other elements make their way into the holes, feeding your lawn and putting it back on the road to good health. If you have a large yard, rent a mechanical aerator from a nursery or equipment rental company, hitch it to your riding mower and get the job done that way. Or you can hire a landscaper to do this for you.
After you aerate, add compost to feed your lawn’s soil and create minute air spaces through which the water can filter and the grass roots can be fed. What you add depends on the condition of your soil, its pH and the soil’s health. As a rule of thumb, bagged composted manure (available at garden centers) is excellent for this purpose, since no matter where on the scale your pH is, the manure will help to bring it to the center and will get your soil food web working. I’ve also had success with finely ground peat moss, which creates air pockets, separates the molecules of clay, and helps to keep the soil from easily compacting again. But peat moss is on the acid side of pH, so if your soil’d pH is also on the acid side, don’t use it. My soil was about as far from acid as soil can get.
After you aerate, the next time it rains heavily watch the flow of water across your property to see where the problem is originating, where exactly the water is flowing and just how much water is being lost to runoff.
Go to part 2: You can’t fight gravity, but you sure can fool it