How to Fix a Yard That Holds Water

A too-wet lawn can lead to a slew of issues.

The first thing you should do about a wet lawn is rule out a few possible causes. Common reasons for soggy grass and muddy divots include everything from concentrated gutter downspout outflow to a poorly managed irrigation system. Once you've figured out why your yard seems to hold water, you can begin to address the issue.

Drainage issues can start when your home is built.

Typically, a homeowner's lot receives grading before seeding or sod placement, says George Bernardon, the vice president of Grounds Management for SSC Services for Education. "Inspectors only ensure that the grade around the structure allows water to move away from the structure and the correct compaction rate is present," he explains. Unfortunately, improper grading can lead to both minor or major dips, depending on size of yard, says Bernardon, which can cause improper water retention down the road.

Tightly-packed grass could also be to blame.

Another cause for standing water on your lawn might be invisible: According to Bernardon, a compacted sub-surface, or a "fragi-pan," could be to blame. "When grading occurs with heavy equipment and the soil is wet, it severely compacts and seals the soil, not allowing water to move down through the profile, thus puddling on the surface," he says. Additionally, poor drainage can be caused by a combination of the soil and a thick thatch layer: "Thatch greater than three-quarters of an inch becomes impervious to water, and won't allow it to move into the soil profile."

Start by fixing the grade.

If the grade of your lawn is the problem, Hank Bruno, a horticulturist for the SSC Services for Education at Belmont Abbey College, says you may notice a depression that prevents storm water runoff. "Drainage can be improved by cutting a gentle swale to lower elevations; adding soil (if there are no trees nearby) to raise the low spot; or installing a French drain of four-inch perforated pipe with a sock, gravel, and sand." Depending on the severity of the issue, you may need to call in a professional for help with these solutions.

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Check your soil profile.

Bruno says some homeowners may find success digging a straight sided hole and studying the soil profile for evidence of a layer of compacted clay—something farmers call a hardpan—which prevents water percolation. "If it is near the surface and not too thick, it can be corrected with deep tine aeration and the addition of coarse material to fill the holes," he explains. "This may also require professional help. Unfortunately, minute clay particles will migrate with water into these drain holes, so it will need to be repeated every year or so."

Create a rain garden.

If you can't beat it, Bruno says the trick might actually be to embrace the wet spots by planting a rain garden. "There are many plants adapted to wet sites, and they do not require weekly mowing," he says. "There are trees (bald cypress, river birch, black gum, sweetbay magnolia); shrubs (Virginia sweet spire, buttonbush, alder, summer sweet); and perennials (Joe Pye weed, flag iris, mallow cinnamon fern, cardinal flower) that thrive in wet soil." Creative homeowners shouldn't think of these wet spots in the lawn as a problem, but instead treat them as a wonderful opportunity to try something new, he adds.

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