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Very wet soil problem in backyard!

Posted by Oneiric none (My Page) on
Wed, May 14, 14 at 21:18

Hey guys, I'm still new to these forums and I was hoping to get some help with this problem!

The lawn in question is the side lawns and back yard of my parent's home. When I was living there, I remembered that the side lawns were always very muddy and wet long after rains, and the back yard would also be very wet with water collecting on top of the concrete area in front of the sliding door to the basement. I think a couple of houses drain water to our yard, which is then supposed to drain the water into a smallish ditch. A small river forms after a rain that leads to the ditch/creek area in/near the woods, but the water would always pool up near and on top of the concrete and cause extremely muddy ground conditions.

Heavy rains didn't cause flooding in the basement, but after a heavy snow, the melting water would sometimes cause flooding. My father and I believe that this was because of a combination of the poor drainage in our yard plus an excess of melted snow water from our neighbor's house after she would shovel a path in the snow to allow water to flow off of her yard and then to ours. This would then usually prompt us to similarly shovel a trench from the concrete portion outside the basement down towards the aforementioned ditch.

In the past years, my parents were renting out the house, and the tenants have recently left the house, but the lawn is a total mess. Since we will already be doing considerable work on the house/yard (including possibly killing off the back yard, tilling the soil and adding sand/compost if needed, and reseeding with new grass seed) I wanted to attempt to fix this problem, while also trying to drain out our side and back yards better, reducing the muddy terrain.

I tried doing some research, and at first it looked like a french trench would be a suitable solution, but I just wanted to make sure by asking the pros here on this forum!

Unfortunately, I do not have any pictures on hand, but will be able to take plenty of pictures on saturday. Hopefully, though, my description will give a good enough idea of the problem that some people might be able to throw me some tips!

Thanks in advance for your help guys!

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Very wet soil problem in backyard!

I think the first thing I would do is to "survey" the yard. Until you know the contours, and the slopes of the yard, you really can not do anything. You may think you know where the slopes are, but over time, they may have changed because some one added a flower bed, the dogs had a favorite shady spot etc.

There are two ways to do this, the cheapest and more labor intensive is a 10' 1X2 and a level. Start on the concrete, lay the 1X2 on the edge of the concrete and level the 1X2. Place a stake so the 1x2 is level, and continue across the yard in both direction. The other more expensive way would be to but or rent a good laser level. and do the same thing with it.

Once you know the contours, I would make the yard drain to the back on the side of that your neighbor lives ie move the water back before it gets to the concrete pad, IF possible, IF not I would reinforce the natural drainage area, but make them with a definite positive slope.

Once you know the current contours, you can then look into the best auxiliary system ie French drains, I believe rota-tiling the lawn is not a recommended way of leveling the yard

RE: Very wet soil problem in backyard!


I planned on doing some surveying this weekend when I get a chance to get out there. I purchased some stakes and string with a string level to attempt that. Do you think it would work?

I'll also be taking some detailed pictures and one to try and get a good layout of the yard, or maybe just drawing up a diagram, though I'm pretty bad at drawing, haha.

Once I get that info, I'm sure it will be much easier to give advice on how/where I would need to put in these drainage trenches.


RE: Very wet soil problem in backyard!

The last few years I noticed that part of the side of my house stayed fairly soggy regardless of whether it just rained or if it hadn't rained in a week or so. I'm in the Raleigh, NC area so no way my yard should be wet in the summer if it hasn't rained in a week. Anyway, long story short (and it is a long story) I believe I have a natural spring under my house. luckily it was on the back side of my house and my back yard slopes away from the house. A friend of mine helped me install a french drain. We started from the back and dug towards the house. When we started digging around the foundation a ton of water started coming up. When we connected it to the trench we already dug, it was flowing like a small river. I have NEVER seen that much water come up from the ground. It was crazy. I really should've taken pictures and a video. After the french drain was installed, I haven't had a problem since. Unless you live in a cool climate location and that space receives nothing but shade, there is really no reason for it to be wet a week after a rain. You may want to dig and see if you notice anything suspicious. Maybe it's a spring and maybe it's not.

RE: Very wet soil problem in backyard!

Where are you located and what type of soil?

My first thought was 'french drain' but you already got that so here's a couple other thoughts.

1. You said water collects on the concrete near a basement door. Keep that in mind when it is nice and dry before you alter contours as you won't want to direct the water there!

2. How compacted is the soil generally? I am rehabilitating the yard at the house we moved into last year and noticed that some high traffic areas near gutter downspouts had water running over them 3 minutes into a rain when I knew the ground was very dry - Texas gumbo clay soil and major drought. I went out and did a quick and dirty aeration - heavy pitchfork I use for turning compost jammed in, wiggled a bit, repeat.... the water went in like a sponge and runoff stopped until 2 hours and nearly an inch of rain later so you might consider renting a core aerator for a day and swiss cheesing that back yard before spreading compost and sand so there is less initial runoff. That and a french drain ought to help quite a bit.

3. Redirect that rain to North Central Texas.

RE: Very wet soil problem in backyard!

Don't rototill. Any solution you come up with should not involve rototilling.

Generally you need to remove a considerable amount of soil so the water drains to the aforementioned ditch. Your idea to bring in sand and compost is exactly wrong. The tool to remove soil and put the proper grade is a tractor with a box blade. Any serious landscaper should have that equipment. If all he has is a skidsteer or a bobcat, move on to the next guy.

Proper drainage looks like this: a 6-inch drop measured 10 feet away from the house in all directions. If you don't have that, remove soil.

RE: Very wet soil problem in backyard!

Hey guys I'm back! I added a picture showing a fairly to-scale layout of my lawn. Sorry, but the directions are with West on top! I realized this at the end because I guess that's the way I mentally view my lawn. I tried doing a very ghetto surveying job, but I'm not sure how accurate the info was or how useful it is, haha. But anyhow, the lowest point is the northwest corner, with the highest point is in the southwest corner of my lawn which is 6 feet above that. The slopes meet a few feet in front of the deck going down to the front of the cement area, then draining back down to the northwest corner (pretty much on top of the underground drain). The water pools on top of the cement, and all areas adjacent to the building are very muddy.

This is a link to me dropbox folder with pictures (taken Saturday 5/17/14) of my lawn:

I tried naming the photos in useful ways, and any help identifying the Mystery Grass (MG#) photos would be appreciated! I particularly like the strain growing near my drain outlet (MG4), and am now thinking I might just try to overseed with whatever that is once I get my drainage problem fixed!

Update on progress: Since those photos have been taken, all I've done is remove the trees along the South fence, mow through part of the weeds growing along the treeline, sprayed some Roundup on areas where nothing but weeds were growing, and try to remove all the excess thatch that has been flattened into the soil in some areas.

I had forgotten about this drain I found in the Northwest corner of the yard. My father told me that it's a plastic PVC pipe that is connected to a storm gutter, as pictured in the layout.

There's a sewer drain along the north fence on the neighbors side, manhole being right along the middle of my "yard" area, which drains out into a ditch area behind my property line to the northwest. The pipe is not perforated and i'm guessing it goes to about 2 feet deep. It appears as if nothing is surrounding the pipe but the soil, but i'm not sure.

After coming back and cleaning up a bit, I realize my yard isn't in as bad a shape as I had remembered from the weekend before, but the drainage problem is still very bad. We had some heavy rains on Thursday, but the ground is still very muddy in the areas noted on the layout today (Sunday). The area along the south fence is now bare because of the removed trees, and everything along the tree line is bare.

Any ideas on what I should do? If you need more clarification on any of the pictures, please ask and I will try to clear it up.

Thanks guys!

This post was edited by Oneiric on Sun, May 18, 14 at 19:34

RE: Very wet soil problem in backyard!

Sorry, forgot to mention where I live:

Springfield, Virginia
The soil I think is mostly clay. I posted one picture of some dug up ground to help confirm or discredit that! lol
pH test was around 6.5

I only thought of rototilling because at first I was thinking of reseeding the entire lawn with new grass, and I've read that's what you need to do. At this point, I'm thinking I will probably just overseed with whatever grass type MG4 is and see where I can get from there. Obviously will need to get the weeds under control, but first things first: trying to fix the drainage problem!

Would aerating help? I tried doing research but I can't tell if my situation calls for it.

As far as how compacted my soil is, I don't really have anything to compare it to from past experiences, but if I had to guess, I would say its fairly compacted.

Thanks for all the help so far guys!

RE: Very wet soil problem in backyard!

Wow! Excellent work on the pictures and the drawing.

I believe this is a do-over. If you don't redo the yard, then the house will flood with every heavy snow. Here's a first draft of your new lawn profile.

The new elevations are in burgundy color. Generally you need to get the soil to slope away from every part of the house. I used the elevations at the house to be permanent. The rest is soil and can be removed or moved away.

At your concrete patio slab, I would remove soil down at least an inch below the level of the concrete. That will have to be done by hand no matter what type of other equipment you get back there to reshape the rest of the yard.

Here is a picture of how they build new houses nowadays.

You can see how the profile is set so that the uphill neighbor's drainage runs out to the curb and not onto the downhill neighbor. The hole you see in the curb drains water from the back yard of the lower house behind that fence.

Use a screwdriver to see how hard your soil is. If you can stick the screwdriver in a little, you are in better shape than many people. Compaction is different from hard. Compaction occurs when you run livestock or heavy equipment over the soil while the soil is saturated with water. That almost never happens in a neighborhood setting.

Rototilling is never what you do in preparation for new lawn. Stop reading that stuff!! The tool used by the professional landscapers is a tractor with a box blade. That is what should be used to fix your yard. You have plenty of slope to work with so you will not have to have new soil brought in or old soil hauled away. That would be the landscaper's choice. Your only problem is the slope now runs toward the house instead of away. It was probably never graded properly to begin with. The standards for that have likely changed, and the professionalism of the builders may have changed, too.

RE: Very wet soil problem in backyard!

Hmmm, so if I don't have the equipment myself, I'm assuming my best bet is to have someone come out here and do it? What would something like that cost me?

I imagine that will probably run me over my budget, so are there any next best options out there for me? I can't remember if I mentioned it before, but my parents will only be living there for 2 years before they end up selling it to avoid capital gains tax. If they were staying for a whole, I would probably go ahead and redo the grading, but not with our current situation.

Any suggestions??


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