How to Improve Drainage in the Garden

How to Improve Drainage in the Garden

The British climate can throw a variety of types of weather at us from the Atlantic, sometimes bringing large amounts of rainfall.

Many gardens in the UK suffer from poor drainage, so if your garden is one of them, rest assured, you are not alone.

During the winter months things can be particularly bad. The past few years have seen milder winters here in the UK, but also an increase in rainfall.

In recent times, there has been a sharp increase in the number of homeowners converting gardens into paved areas for driveways and patios. It is believed that this is also a contributing factor to the increasing likelihood of flooding.

Waterlogged, boggy conditions are far from ideal when trying to maintain a lush, green lawn.

Sticky, glue-like layers of boggy soil make for a lawn that’s squelchy underfoot, and that can easily turn yellow and die off.

There are many different factors that can contribute to poor drainage in the garden, which have left many gardens struggling to cope with excessive water.

But poor draining gardens come with many other disadvantages than just a boggy lawn.

Good drainage is crucial for growing many forms of garden plants, so if you’re a keen gardener, improving your drainage should be high on your list of priorities.

In this latest article we are going to be looking at various methods of improving drainage within your garden.



Install Land Drains


Land drain

This first option is generally only recommended if your lawn is particularly bad.

Installing a land drain involves digging a trench (or a series of trenches) in your lawn, installing a perforated land drain encased in pea shingle, and then making good the damage the digging did to the turf.

Water will then drain through your lawn and into the perforated land drain pipe, which will channel it away from that area to whatever other part of your garden you choose.

Local by-laws usually prohibit you from channelling the water into public storm drains or sewer systems, and so finding a suitable area to direct the water to can be an issue. You’ll need to be able to channel the water to a suitable area of the garden; for example, an area where waterlogging won’t be a concern. Ideally, the water would be run to a ditch or stream, but as an alternative you may have to dig a soakaway.

If you are considering installing land drainage, it is advisable to carry out this procedure at the end of the summer or during autumn, when the ground is at its driest. It can be a very difficult task to install land drains in wet conditions.

In summary, then: installing land drains is generally only necessary in particularly bad conditions as it involves a lot of work and expense. If your lawn is very poor draining and is frequently waterlogged, installing land drains may be an option for you, especially if you have a convenient area to channel the excess water to.



Grow More Plants


One of the best ways to improve drainage in your garden is to grow more plants.

It can be relatively inexpensive and it’s sure to make your garden a nicer place to be.

Plant choice is the key to success here as you’ll need to choose something that will survive wet conditions.

Unfortunately, many plants dislike too much water and cannot tolerate waterlogged conditions.

However, there are some water-loving trees and plants to choose from, such as maples, willows, astilbe, ferns, filipendula, Cornus alba, bee balm, mint, Zantedeschia aethiopica, various varieties of irises, and hostas.

These trees and plants thrive in wet or boggy conditions and will help to suck excess moisture out of the ground .



Improve Soil Drainage


If the drainage issue within your garden isn’t too severe, simply improving the permeability of the soil in your beds many alleviate the problem.

To improve the drainage of your soil, you’ll need to dig in lots of organic matter. Soil with a high organic-matter content allows excess water to drain through, while absorbing needed moisture.

It relatively easy to obtain a continuous supply of organic matter to apply to your beds and every garden should have a compost heap.

A compost heap is considered the most valuable means of improving the soil as it is an ideal independent creator of humus. The word ‘humus’ refers to any organic matter that has reached a point of stability, where it will not break down any further. Humus significantly improves the structure of soil and contributes to moisture and nutrient retention.

If you don’t have a compost heap, it’s a relatively straightforward process to make one.

There are many waste products that be used to create compost, including lawn clippings, annual weeds, dead flower heads, eggshells, wood ash, tea leaves, and fruit and vegetable waste. Having a compost heap is a great way to recycle waste products and help the environment.

If your soil is sticky and clay-like, it’s advisable to add coarse grit sand to aid drainage.



Manage Surface Water Run-Off Effectively


Managing surface water run-off effectively and efficiently is a great way to improve drainage.

This can be simply achieved by incorporating sloping surfaces within your garden, so that the surface water is directed to an area where it can be efficiently disposed of (e.g. a surface drain or plant bed containing moisture-loving plants).

The only downside is that it may be a costly option. Depending on the circumstances, you may need to hire a mini excavator to sculpt the contours of your garden.

Seeking the advice of an expert is a good path to go down and speaking to a local landscaper before attempting anything may be your best option here.



Use Bark Chippings

Adding bark chippings to plant beds is a great way of dealing with poor draining soils.

The bark will absorb moisture from the bed, thereby improving drainage.

The great thing about bark chippings is that they can perform a multitude of tasks. Not only are they great at retaining moisture, but they also prevent weed growth, help insulate the beds during cold periods, and improve the aesthetics of virtually any plant bed they are added to.

Bark chippings are reasonably inexpensive and can easily be added to boggy, waterlogged plant beds without too much effort.

If poor drainage in plant beds is the biggest issue in your garden, adding bark mulch is typically the best place to start.



Build Raised Beds

Another alternative to dealing with poor draining soils is to build raised beds.

Building a raised bed means that you can fill it with good quality, free-draining topsoil that gets your plants up out of the boggy earth below.

Raised beds can be constructed out of timber railway sleepers or brickwork. They will not only help you grow plants and shrubs that require drier conditions, but also create interesting features within a garden.

Get creative with raised beds and you may find that your drainage issues will be a thing of the past.



Spike Your Lawn


If your lawn is poor draining, you may need to consider spiking or pricking it.

There are certain tools that will make the job of spiking your lawn easier, but it can be done with a simple garden fork.

The purpose of spiking is to create small holes, ideally 4–5 inches deep.

These holes can then be filled with a lawn dressing or horticultural sand. The idea behind this is to channel excess water to the deeper, less compacted areas beneath your lawn.

If your lawn is prone to waterlogging, it is recommended that you spike your lawn every couple of years. Do it during the autumn time, before your lawn becomes too boggy due to winter rains.

It’s also advisable to treat wet soil and dead patches with moss killer. Boggy, waterlogged lawns provide ideal conditions for moss to grow and it can be difficult to control if it gets a hold; it’s much better to tackle the issue before it becomes a problem.

You may wish to consider using a fertiliser in the springtime to help your lawn recover from winter damage. An extensive root system under your lawn will certainly help suck up some of the excess moisture in the soil.

In autumn, try applying a phosphorus-rich lawn feed to further promote good root growth.



Install Artificial Grass

NeoGrass Aberdeen Fake Grass

Another method of improving drainage in your garden is to consider having a fake lawn installed.

Artificial grass is capable of handling large amounts of rainfall.

In fact, 52 litres of water can filter through the perforated backing of artificial grass per square metre, per minute.

But the key to a successful, drainage-improving artificial lawn is to ensure that a permeable sub-base is installed beneath the turf.

We generally recommend avoiding the standard sub-base installation of MOT Type 1 – it’s not considered to be permeable as only very small volumes of water will pass through it.

Instead, we recommend using 12mm granite chippings (or similar, depending on what is locally available; limestone chippings will work just as well) installed at a depth of 50mm.

In particularly bad cases, for instance, if you regularly get large puddles sitting on the surface of your existing lawn, you may want to consider a slightly deeper sub-base, maybe somewhere between 75-100mm.

The major advantage of using granite or limestone chippings is that they do not contain any ‘fines’ or dust that prevent water from soaking through the sub-base.

It is the fines contained within Type 1 that prevent it from being a permeable sub-base.

However, with granite chippings there aren’t any fines and, once compacted with a vibrating plate compactor, tiny holes remain in the aggregate.

These tiny holes allow water to drain through your artificial lawn to the soil below, where it will find its way back into the local water table.

In effect, what you have built here is a form of soakaway.

This ‘soakaway’ should be able to store a large enough volume of rainfall to prevent standing water on the surface of your synthetic lawn.

A local artificial grass installer will be able to advise you on the best installation procedures for your individual circumstances.

And there are many other benefits of artificial grass, besides improved drainage.

The ever-advancing technologies now being used in fake grass, such as Instant Recovery, Feelgood and Natural Look, are rapidly improving the aesthetics and performance of artificial grass.

Having a fake lawn installed will mean that your once boggy lawn that was a no-go during the winter months can now be enjoyed by all the family, all year round.

If you are a dog owner you’ll be glad to able to say goodbye to muddy paws prints once and for all.

If you’re considering having an artificial lawn installed in your garden then feel free to take a look at our range of fake grass suitable for gardens and lawns.

You can also request free samples here.



If All Else Fails, Create a Bog or Water Garden


This option doesn’t really solve the issue; it’s more a case of managing the situation and turning it to your advantage.

Rather than trying to fight nature, why not embrace the natural qualities of your garden’s soil by creating a bog or water garden?

Building a bog garden may involve some of the same steps it takes to build a garden pond. You might need to remove some earth and install a pond liner.

For this option it may be best to speak with a local, reputable landscaper to get their advice as you may need to carefully sculpt the area to ensure a continuous supply of water to the bog garden.

Your bog garden can be filled with water-loving plants and trees, with the added advantage of encouraging more wildlife to your garden.





If your garden suffers from poor drainage, don’t worry, you are not alone.

And the good news is that there are many options open to you, to help improve the drainage in your garden.

Obviously, some options require more effort (and cost more) than others, but hopefully this article has given you some ideas and inspiration to try out a few things.

If you have any other tips or advice on how to improve drainage in the garden, please leave us a comment below, as we would love to hear from you.




2 Responses to “How to Improve Drainage in the Garden”

  1. Morag Stuart

    the council-owned square reserved for dogs and dog walkers across the road from my house is a perpetual sea of mud, probably caused by poor drainage, as a vaulted mainline railway track runs beneath it. The top of the vault is about 2 metres below the ground surface. what do you suggest might be one to get rid of the waterlogging and mud?

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