How to Provide Drainage for Your Yard

Prevent water build-up in your yard by building an underground drain.

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Many yards have areas that collect water, a problem that a new patio or path can actually make worse. Water doesn't soak through the hard surface of a patio or path, so it runs into the yard. This runoff can create problems if you don't correct it before you start construction. Easy-to-install solutions can carry the water away.

A swale or French drain channels the water away from the site to a place where it won't cause problems. You can divert water only to another place on your own property, however, not to the neighbor's yard. If you can't divert the water to a good location, you'll have to run a French drain to a dry well.

A dry well collects water and lets it seep slowly into the surrounding soil. Look to local codes for the required dry-well size for your area. The size could be subject to conditions of your property or neighborhood. Even if your yard doesn't have runoff problems, you can avoid creating them by installing a gravel-lined trench around the patio.

Be sure to check the location of underground utility lines before you install any kind of drainage system.

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Where Does the Water Go?

A swale is a shallow trench dug along the low edge of a portion in the landscape that collects water. To dig a swale, first slice a foot-wide section of sod along its path. Then remove the sod in rolls and excavate a shallow trench in the soil (about 3-4 inches deep), throwing the soil in a wheelbarrow. Replace the sod and use the soil elsewhere.

A French drain is a swale lined with gravel and a drainpipe that carries the water to an inconspicuous location or a dry well.

Your drainage systems can daylight onto an out-of-the-way place in the lawn--but only on your own property. Check local codes for restrictions on any drainage system you build.

A dry well isn't dry at all. It is a hole in the ground, about 2-4 feet wide and 3 feet deep lined with landscape fabric and gravel. The gravel controls the drainage of water into the surrounding soil, preventing erosion.

What You Need

  • Round-nose shovel
  • Slope gauge
  • Spade
  • Scissors
  • Gravel
  • 4-inch perforated drainpipe
  • Couplings
  • Landscape fabric
  • Concrete patio block

Step 1: Dig and Line Trench

Using a spade, slice the sod along the path of the line, about 2 feet wide. Remove the sod, roll it up, and save it. Dig out the trench about 6 inches deep all along the line, using a slope gauge to slope it 1/4 inch per foot. At the low end of the trench, dig a dry well about 2-4 feet wide and 3 feet deep. Line the trench with landscape fabric and gravel. Then lay in 4-inch perforated drainpipe with the holes facing down. Continue running pipe a few inches into the dry well. Connect the pipe sections with fittings and without glue.

Step 2: Fill With Gravel

To keep the gravel from settling into the soil, line the well with landscape fabric, leaving about 2 feet of surplus fabric on each side. Cut a hole for the drainpipe. Then fill the trench and the well with gravel, leaving enough clearance over the well for a 2- to 3-inch-thick patio block cover.

Step 3: Cover Well

At the well, fold the surplus landscape fabric over the gravel and cover it with a patio block. Backfill the trench and the well, tamping the soil lightly.

Step 4: Replace Sod

Cover the patio block with at least 3 inches of soil, tamping it lightly with a garden rake. Then replace the sod.

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