Yard drainage issue

Asked April 5, 2019, 11:41 AM EDT

My neighbor's downspout empties directly into the yard between our houses, which over time has worn away the yard in between. When there is substantial rain the water creates a small pool and noticeable stream that travels and settles into some of my garden areas (hydrangeas, hostas, ferns -- many were all but rotted last year). There has been a lot of rain these past years and I don't expect it to change. The yard between the 2 houses is approximately 12 feet. Even if my neighbor installs something to redirect the water coming off his roof, it will be redirected away from his foundation into the depressed area between our houses and then further into my back yard. Need to find something natural and easy to do since it will more than likely be me doing the work. I am a 67 year female, still working full time, and have two capable sons who can do some of the heavy stuff. I thought of bringing in more dirt/sand, landscape bricks, drilling holes in the ground, and putting in plants that would do well in a very wet shaded areas. Anything short of installing an underground pipe and diverting it way out into the backyard where there are no garden areas. Can send a photo of the problem area for your consideration. Ruth in Kalamazoo, MI

Kalamazoo County Michigan

5 Responses

Thank you for submitting a question through Ask an Expert! You mention that you could send a photo. If you can attach one that would be great and I will forward to one of our experts.


Here are 3 pics...I apologize for taking this long to respond. It was important to send photos when it was raining. Just yesterday, the puddle in between the houses was nearing my house foundation. I dug a trench to drain toward the back and I flooded another small flowerbed. Your suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Hello Ruth,

Thank you for the photos, those are helpful.

I am glad you have help, since any solution is likely to involve some digging, moving of materials, etc. I think a berm and swale on your property, or a rain garden, would be good solutions.

Here are a few options-

Redirect Runoff

Intercepting and redirecting runoff provides an opportunity to safely discharge the volume to a place beyond the problem area. This can be done using swales, French drains, catch basins or downspout and sump pump extensions. These methods of rerouting can be combined together with capture and storage practices (see below).

Whenever you are redirecting runoff, you must send it to a suitable outlet. Discharging runoff to an unsuitable area will just move the problems downhill. Be aware that redirecting runoff without soaking it into the soil can negatively impact neighboring properties.

1. Swale

A swale is a wide, shallow ditch in which water can flow to a suitable outlet. The channel should be protected with grass or other vegetation. It also can be lined with appropriately sized stone to prevent erosion within the swale.

Stone is preferable in swales in which grass does not grow well due to shade or that are too steep or long for grass to prevent erosion. A swale lined with stone is sometimes called a dry creek bed. Stones used can be of varying sizes, with larger ones acting as stabilizers and smaller ones as fillers. Generally, the heavier the flows the larger the stones should be. Tightly woven landscape fabric should be placed below the stone lining.

2. French Drain

A French drain is an underground drainage device. It consists of a perforated pipe surrounded by gravel and lined with sturdy landscape fabric. A French drain conveys runoff underground to a suitable outlet. Downspout pipes and sump pump pipes can be connected to it, and a catch basin can be combined with it to help remove standing water. Deeper French drains can also be used to drain groundwater.

Tips for building a French drain. Pre-assembled French drain options (such as EZ-Drain) can save time and effort in installation.

  1. Dig out a ditch where your French drain will go. A standard French drain ditch is about 1.5 feet deep and 10-12 inches wide, varying based on the size of the pipe chosen (usually 4-6 inches) and the desired depth.
  2. Line the ditch on all sides with landscape fabric to prevent soil erosion.
  3. Place a layer of gravel at the bottom of the ditch.
  4. A perforated plastic pipe is laid on top of the gravel and surrounded by gravel on the sides and top.
  5. If topsoil and sod will be used to cover the French drain, the landscape fabric should be pulled over the top of the gravel before adding the topsoil.
  6. If the gravel will be left exposed at the ground surface, the landscape fabric does not need to be pulled over the top of the gravel, but the edges should be protected to prevent sediment from entering the French drain.

3. Catch Basin

A catch basin is a collection box with a slotted drain at the top and a drainage outlet at the bottom. Surface runoff enters the inlet, passes through the collection box and exits through the outlet into a buried drainpipe. The catch basin should be placed at a low spot on the property so that water naturally runs to it (a grassy swale can be built to direct runoff to the basin). The buried drainpipe should discharge to a suitable outlet.

4. Rain garden: see links below.

I am including some links on drainage issues that may be helpful-




The links below are for rain gardens and their plants-





Before installing any plants, it is best to soil test so you know your soil type, pH, and nutrient levels- https://homesoiltest.msu.edu/get-started

This is a lot of information, and I hope you can find a solution that fits your site and your preference. You can ask more questions here, or call our Garden Hotline during business hours at 888-678-3464. Thanks for using our service.

Thank you for your prompt response. I am going to temporarily put up flooding barriers until I have time to thoroughly research your suggestions. I do not remember if I gave permission to make our posts public, but it may help others and you have provided excellent resources.
In appreciation, Ruth Buckmaster

You are welcome. If you would like to make this private I can do that for you, just let me know.