Dealing With Clay Soil? How Can You Improve Drainage?

If your lawn tends to remain marshy for days after even a light rain, or if you struggle to grow more than weeds in your garden, you may be dealing with poorly-draining clay soil. This soil can be challenging for homeowners and gardeners alike, as its thick composition prevents moisture from making its way from the ground's surface to the water table beneath the roots of your grass. Many clay lawns require the installation of some additional drainage ditches in order to prevent pooling water from eroding the soil beneath and leading to visible low spots. Standing water can also essentially "drown" plants, including grasses, by depriving the roots of the oxygen they need to grow; while standing water located near the foundation of your house could lead to basement flooding or cause damage to your stone or concrete foundation. Read on to learn more about improving the quality of your clay soil and the drainage of your lawn.

Is there anything you can do to improve the drainage of your clay soil without installing a drainage ditch?

A long-term solution to clay soil -- particularly for those who want to use their lawns to grow flowers, fruits, or vegetables -- is to heavily fertilize it with silt-based material, including compost. The more organic matter you add to your soil, the more clay will be displaced, and after a few growing seasons you'll notice that your soil is much easier to dig (without caking) and doesn't retain as much water as it once did. As your soil becomes healthier and better able to support plant life, these plants add additional organic matter to the soil when they die, continuing to reduce its clay content. 

What else can you do to prevent standing water in your yard?

If efforts to improve the quality of your soil haven't been overly successful, or if you need more immediate drainage, installing a French drain is often the best solution. While the name may sound exotic, a French drain is very simple -- essentially just a deep graveled trench on one side of your lawn with a PVC pipe inside to direct surface water away from your home's foundation. This trench will need to be between 8 and 12 inches wide and 8 to 12 inches deep for maximum drainage, with the pipe placed at the halfway point. With a small excavator (or a crew of shovel-happy friends and family members) you should be able to install and complete this drain within a single weekend.