Rebuild Yard/Regain Drainage/Grading

Asked March 23, 2014, 12:36 AM EDT

Dear Experts, I recently bought a foreclosure and have a huge muddy pit of a yard without proper drainage or grading. As a result, water is pooling. There are weeds, patches of dead grass and shrubs. The ground has sunk in to where the bottom half of my leg could easily disappear in some areas, or it may be left over holes from where contractors just pulled out massive weeds, but did not do anything to stabilize the soil. Needless to say, the yard never received any proper care in the past. I plan on keeping existing trees, shrubs along the fence, mostly use rock, mulch, raised flower beds, and plant native plants. Basically want to xeriscape. No grass! Should I install french drains, dig up the soil so it can dry? It is like a wet sponge. Do I have to amend the soil if I cover the majority with rocks and mulch? And with what? Will fill dirt suffice? North and South sides are almost solid clay, the rest looks like a landslide took place; river rocks, pebbles, decayed mulch, regular dirt, some clay, dead plant debris, edging is partially visible or completely burried. Attached pictures are from last year. Since then it has gotten worse due to all the snow. It is so sad, and I need fix it. What is the best way to even out the yard, create proper grading and drainage? I have no idea where to even start...Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks a bunch! Bea

Adams County Colorado

4 Responses

Bea,Without examining the site to see what the exact cause of your drainage issue it’s hard to give a precise answer. I do have a few thoughts though. One thing you certainly can do is amend the soil with an organic material such as manure or plant based compost. We recommend applying 1 inch of manure or 2-3 inches of plant based compost and tilling it in as deeply as possible (8 inches or more preferably). Over time as the organic matter in such amendments breaks down. They improve the structure of the soil and should help with drainage. Always call to have the yard checked for buried utility lines before digging or tilling the yard. This would also be a good time to deal with the grading of the yard.

The big thing to keep in mind with the grade of the yard is it should be slightly sloped away from the house. Also keep in mind that changing the grade of a lot can void some home warranties. I would highly recommend getting an expert involved.
If your yard is in a low spot or for some other reason is accumulating water installing some type of subsurface drain may be the only real solution. Again without seeing the whole site it’s hard to say whether or not this is necessary.

Below is more information on amendments and drainage. I also wanted to pass along some information in water wise landscaping.



Water wise landscapes:

Hope this helps please feel free to let me know if you have any further questions.

Hi Eric, Thank you so much for your response. I realize it is hard to make a proper assessment without seeing the property, but I appreciate your suggestions and resources you sent. I don't have any history on the house because it is a foreclosure. All I know from neighbors is that the yard was never maintained, and the house was uninhabited for over 7 months. During this time 6 ft. tall weeds took over the entire yard that were just ripped out but nothing else was done to maintain grading or stabilize the soil. I have started with a basic clean up by raking all the debris, and digging up the wet ground ground. Through this I was able to loosen and dry some soil, which I then raked into places where it was missing. I was also able to fill some of the deep holes in the ground. My sump pit and basement are bone dry, so maybe it is the grading that will solve a big part of the issues, plus installing french drains, if I don't already have them. I will check with my neighbors to find out what type of drainage system originally came with the houses. I plan on using mostly pavers with low growing grass in between, build paths and squares for planters, mulch and rocks, possibly some areas with rock garden type features.To stabilize the ground and for natural weed control I found some great ground cover plants. Would I even need to cover the entire yard with landscaping fabric? Thanks for your time and consideration. Have a great weekend. Bea

For most situations we don’t recommend landscape fabric. In your situation for weed control and water conservation 3 inches of wood chip or bark mulch will be more effective (you will have to periodically add more mulch). Here is some more detailed information oh why:

Hi Eric,

This is great information! Thank you so much. I don't particularly care for the landscaping fabric anyway. There is a ton all ripped up in my front yard. Mulch it is!
Have a great day!