DIY lawn and garden drainage guide

Drainage services  Aerating Lawn Working with Clay  Garden drainage Systems  Drainage shop  Sumps and pumps

Can I fix a waterlogged garden problem myself?

  • Yes you can drain and dry out a muddy, soggy waterlogged garden by installing the french drain system described here. 
  • So if your fed up with the mud follow the tips on this page or the guide featured below and you really can do it yourself. 

Or ask Mike about our

Drainage services

Follow the tips to dry-out your boggy garden
Follow the tips to dry-out your boggy garden

Where have all the butterflies gone. 


Mikes easy to follow Garden and lawn drainage D.I.Y. guide

Drawing on years of experience this easy to follow guide shows how to Install French drains.

  • Marking out and digging trenches
  • Finding lowest spot for positioning the Soak away.
  • Materials and Quantities (how much gravel) to form the drains.
  • 5 mins free Telephone back-up 
  • Simple easy to follow steps
  • Terms 

PDF normally Emailed within the hour or 8 hours if i'm out of the office 


£10.00. Converted to $ and € or local currency outside the U.K     

Happy user

Just completed the drainage on my lawn using your diy guide, must say it was simple to follow still hard work, but what a difference, my boys can play on the lawn again, and I did save a lot of money. I found the gravel calculator really useful, ended up with a bit left over but probably my calculation.

Thanks again and for the chat on the phone (well worth a tenner)

Jason. Leeds 

name and address supplied


How to improve garden drainage even on clay soil.

Tips explaining how to install water drainage channels and French drains yourself. 

There's also an easy to follow Garden and lawn drainage D.I.Y. guide available to purchase and further down the page you will recommended tools to make digging easier and the correct materials to ensure the drainage works . 

Not into D.I.Y. or digging trenches in clay see our   garden drainage services 

  • How to install garden drainage.
  • Materials you will need.
  • DIY advice and Information sheet.
  • Testing a waterlogged garden.
  • What are the main reasons for waterlogged garden problems?
  • How can I drain water away and fix a waterlogged garden and soggy lawn problem myself ?
  • Tools needed to install garden drainage and dig the trenches.
  • Using prefabricated soakaway drainage baskets and crates.

How to install DIY garden drainage.

Testing for a waterlogged garden.
The soggy problem will probably be obvious, puddling, squelch when walking, reed like plants growing in the lawn, moss and muddy kids.
If not carry out this simple diy test
Dig a hole 24 inches deep x 12 inch square and half fill it with water. Leave it for a day. It should empty on well-drained soil, if it doesn't or if it fills and it hasn't rained, you have a drainage problem.

Heavy rain water can cause under ground springs to change direction. All sorts of things can contribute to a waterlogged, soggy garden.
Even in well drained soil, water will not soak away fast enough during periods of heavy rain and will run across the top of the lawn to the lowest point, a process that is known as puddling.
But don't worry if it soaks away within an hour or two. If it doesn't soak away, you have got a drainage problem or a waterlogged clay.
What causes garden drainage problems? 

1 One of the reasons for soggy lawns and a waterlogged garden
is compacted soil combined with the mixing of sub-soil and topsoil when the house was built.

2 Most drainage problems however cannot be blamed on the builder, its more likely the house and garden have been built on clay (the surface cracks up when its dry)

3 The garden is lower than neighbouring gardens or at the bottom of a hill.

4 Structures like swimming pools, extensions, you or neighbours have added can all cause gardens to flood. Anything with deep footings can divert water.

5 On clay and other water retentive soils, the flow of water through the soil is very slow, this can be made worse by dips in the surface allowing water to puddle and during heavy rain the, garden to flood.

6 Is it the Water Table some water table information here.

A lot of time and money can be spent trying to trace the water source, leading to disputes with neighbours, the surveyor and builder who built the extension, the landscape gardener who installed your paving and retaining wall without installing drainage.
 For most waterlogged garden problems the only solution is to drain the water away.
My  D.I.Y garden drainage guide, featured below, when used with tips on this page and my other linked pages, will help you to install a simple and low cost gravel drainage system that will drain your garden.
Lower down this page I have also included a couple of common diy mistakes that won't dry out your garden and lawn.
What DIY garden drainage system will work to dry out a waterlogged garden and lawn?
A gravel drain trench system installed below the surface, solves most garden drainage problems. Ever since the Romans used them to solve drainage problems, not much has changed, perforated plastic pipes (holes at the top or bottom, depends who you ask !) came and went, French drains still work.
Why are they are called French drains? Although stone drains go back the Ark, they are actually named after an American, Henry French a 19th-century judge,gardener and farmer.
 Can I fix a waterlogged garden and soggy lawn problem myself ?
Yes with the right tools, including a trench spade, trench shovel, spirit level and a trench hoe that are preferably made for trenching and sturdy enough to lift clay. (I have featured the tools I use, further down this page) 
You will need to enlist the help of a few fit friends and neighbours and if you have access, hire a digger or set aside few weekends digging trenches in clay soil, lugging a few tons of gravel into your garden and getting rid of an equal amount of clay, what goes into French drains must come out first.
Installing French drain style garden drainage is not rocket science, It's mostly common sense, water will only flow downhill, and hard labour, digging trenches and moving about tons of clay out and the same amount of gravel in.
I have included some and lawn drainage tips to help here.
 Garden and lawn drainage systems and solutions Depending on how your garden slopes the different DIY methods described here will help prevent your lawn and garden water logging.
Herringbone drainage
 For lawns and gardens that are waterlogged over the whole area.
  • Mark out the main trench from the highest part of the lawn, to the lowest.
  • Mark the side trenches to connect to the main drain, forming a herringbone pattern. The side drains join the main drain at a 45 degree angle.
  • Space side drains at 10 ft intervals for clay soil and 25 ft intervals for loamy soil
  • Dig out the trenches, saving about 6" off the best topsoil to backfill. 
  • Line the trench with landscape fabric to keep earth out of the gravel to allow water to percolate through easily.
  • Shovel coarse gravel onto the landscape fabric and fold the fabric over the top of the gravel.
  • Shovel or rake the topsoil you have saved back into the trench, slightly over filling to allow for settling.
  • At the lowest end of the main trench dig out a soak away at least 4 ft deep and link the main drain to the center of the soak away. Bear in mind if you hit clay when digging out the soak away it's not going to work and you will need to look at either connecting into the surface water drain system, installing a sump and pump or possibly a ditch or stream running through or around your property.

 Single French drain.

Used to drain water away from a wet, soggy or waterlogged part of your garden to a soakaway or drain.

Slope the French drain to carry the water down to its destination. Dig a horizontal trench across the length of the slope heading in the direction of the soak away. This type of drain need only be about 6" wide and 12" deep. Before filling with gravel, line the trench with landscape fabric to keep earth out of the gravel to allow water to percolate through easily. Shovel coarse gravel onto the landscape fabric. Wrapping the fabric over the top of the gravel and top up with soil.,

Soakaway drainage trench
For lawns that are level and water lays on the surface, a soak away trench could work. Dig a trench about 2ft deep and 2ft wide along the length of the lawn. Line the trench and partly fill the trench with about 12in of clean brick rubble, then 8 ins of gravel and top up with soil.
For any type of drainage system that is installed below the surface of a lawn or garden to work to full capacity, the surface needs to be kept aerated.
Aerating the lawn,  helps drain away surface water. Aerating Tips and tools
Bog area & water feature. You could try making the most of waterlogged areas in gardens and lawns by installing a bog garden area filled with colourful bog plants,I have listed few here garden ponds. 

Tools and materials to dig and make drainage trenches.

Tools you will need to dig drainage trenches.

 Digging drainage trenches is a lot easier if you use the correct tools. 

Strong rake,    Drain spade,   Trenching shovel,    Digging Hoe. 

Rake 1500 mm 

Over the years I have broken more ordinary garden rakes raking clay than I care to remember. I have used this Heavy duty all steel rake for years and it is still being used by my team.  

It is strong enough and suitable for raking and breaking up heavy clay soil. 

Forged Trench Shovel, 970 mm 

Heavy duty forged steel head Tubular steel shaft and MYD handle  Heat treated for durability  For digging and bottoming trenches  Blade L x W: 270 x 165 mm 

 Forged Drain Spade, 1150 mm 

Heavy duty forged steel head with extended shoulders for safer foot-grip. For digging drain and pipe channels, trenches and fence post holes.

Materials for  garden drainage.

Woven Polyproylene fabric with 40 securing pegs usefull for holding the fabric in place when shoveling in the gravel. Lets rainwater through and is essencial in keeping the soil out of the gravel. 


20mm Gravel/Shingle (Bulk Bag) with  free delivery in UK

This is the type and size of gravel you will need to fill the drainage channels. 

As an alternative to using gravel consider the prefabricated crates below.



Pre fabricated soakaway and trench baskets

The pre-fabricated soakaway system offers an alternative to gravel  when installing a French drain garden drainage system.  Crates measures 69cm long x 41cm wide x 45cm high and hold 125 litre of water. ............

Sump pump information on my Sumps and Pumps page

Pre fabricated soakaway and trench baskets

.........The crates are wrapped in a special geotextile fabric which allows water to soak through into the crates, but keeps soil out. They can be used in exactly the same way as traditional gravel filled soakaways and trenches. 

Dig out the hole or trench to the required length, width and depth, then place the wrapped crates into the soakaway hole or drainage channel. Connect any pipe work and back-fill with soil.

What won't work to dry out a waterlogged garden
Removing the top six inches of clay topsoil and replacing it with new loamy soil doesn't solve the underlying water logging and soggy lawn. It just hides the problem for a while, before turning into a big spongy, waterlogged mess the next time it rains, or at best, shifts the problem to another part of your garden.
Replacing the topsoil can work, if the new soil is separated from the water. More information can be found on my raising flooded garden page.
Soakaways on clay don't work, The hole will fill up and flood, consider alternative ways of getting rid of the water. Sump and Pump
Planting trees or shrubs in a soggy area of your garden wont work, unless you are planting bog plants because the roots need to breath,they will eventually die. Willows grow on the bank not in the stream. 
Adding topsoil without a proper hardcore or gravel base doesn't work, you will end up creating one big sponge or just shift the problem to another area of your garden or to a neighbour. 
Raising the whole area by adding raised beds or a substantial bed of rocks or gravel topped up with topsoil can work, but because the water is still there, the danger again is shifting the saturated soil problem to another area.
Soakaways and alternative ways of water dispersal.
In gardens that slope away from the house it may not be possible to connect the gravel drains directly into the surface water drainage system and the rain water may need to be drained into a sump and pumped.
I have included some basic information on the drainage sump and pumps page. also some other drainage systems you may want to consider.
Do not connect into the Foul drainage system: this is the drainage system that removes the waste from the toilet, bath, sinks, washing machines, dishwashers and showers and you will need permission from the local council. 

You can connect into the surface water drainage: this is the drainage system that deals with rainfall from your gutters etc.