Drainage and soggy lawns – what you should do now before the rains come.

October 10, 2019

Ah, fall in the Pacific Northwest – the days are mild, the nights are crisp, the colors of nature are on full display and our lawns and gardens are giving one last hurrah before the rainy season sets in. Yes, the rains are coming, as they always do, but before you head indoors again, we suggest taking a moment to assess your lawn. How well did it stand up to the rain last year? 

We’ll forgive you if you’ve become a little complacent about your lawn’s drainage woes over the summer, especially considering only 12% of our annual rainfall is in the summer. Of the 40 inches of rain we get on average each year, more than half falls in a four-month span; and October through May typically accounts for 88%!

Yes, it’s already October and yes, we’ve begun to see rainy days again, but there’s no need to panic. We’ve been taking care of Portland lawns for a few decades now and, while we’ve seen it all, we can reassure you – this is the perfect time to address drainage issues in your lawn. And to make it a little easier, here’s our shortlist of things you can do now to prevent the perennial winter mud soup that should be your lawn. 

  1.       Aerate your lawn. This can be a good idea if you have compacted, poor or clay-heavy soil (very common in our area) as aerating can improve water, nutrient and oxygen movement through the soil. Not only can this improve drainage, but the root health of your lawn will also benefit. Timing is an important factor, though, as poorly timed aeration can actually stress the grass. We like early fall for aeration when the soil is moist, but not overly sodden, and lawns are not yet dormant.
  2.       Amend the soil. It’s common knowledge that Portland’s soil tends to be clay-heavy and over time, this can be a death sentence to your lawn as it settles and further compacts. Amending the soil with a top dressing of materials like sand, loam, and compost that water can more easily pass through can greatly improve drainage. In some cases, the lawn may need to be tilled for a more aggressive amending, followed by seed and fertilizer. We recommend having a professional assess your soil and drainage issues first to save you the headache of trial and error.
  3.       Regrade your yard. Compacted clay soil may not be the only culprit to your soggy lawn. Poor grading, or sloping, is often a contributing factor – especially in the hills of our fine city. Regrading may be necessary to correct improper sloping to help with drainage, and also prevent water from pooling in low spots or around your home’s foundation. The ability to change the grade of your lawn may depend on the size of your yard, as well as what is around it. If you are considering regrading, we highly recommend having a professional landscaper assess your property first.
  4.       Build a retaining wall. Sometimes the problem isn’t your lawn. Sometimes the problem is the property upslope from your yard. We already mentioned how hilly Portland is, so it should be no surprise at all that often times excessive water is due to runoff from a neighboring property. A retaining wall can be a good solution both to prevent water from reaching your lawn and to shore up compromised or weakened slopes. Building a retaining wall in the fall, rather than waiting until spring, is a good idea not just to beat the rain, but come spring, your landscape contractor is going to be busy!
  5.       Install a French drain. Another solution to fixing a drainage problem in your lawn or other areas of your yard is to install a French drain, which essentially harnesses the simple power of gravity to naturally draw water downward. The beauty of a French drain beyond its simplicity, however, is that you can redirect water flow and divert excess water to where you want it.
  6.       Dig a dry well or catch basin. A dry well or catch basin is an alternative solution you may want to consider, especially if water tends to pool in one area and regrading or adding a French drain is not possible. Basically, a plastic box with a grate on the top is inserted into a hole in the ground at the lowest point, with a drainpipe connected to one side. The drainpipe diverts water that collects in the basin underground to a lower point away from the problem area where it can be absorbed into the soil. While very common in parks and public spaces, residential dry wells are not uncommon and can provide a practical solution.
  7.       Install a dry creek bed or a rain garden. Sometimes water flowing into a yard or lawn simply can’t be prevented and your best option is to accept what mother nature is giving you. We’re not suggesting you resign yourself to life in a swampy yard. Rather, we’re suggesting adding some new elements to your yard that not only offer a practical, long-term solution but can also be quite beautiful. Rain gardens and dry creek beds are specifically designed to catch, retain and slowly drain water. With the help of an experienced landscape designer, your soggy lawn can be transformed into a beautiful yard with year-round interest (and no mud!).


Whatever ails your lawn, whether it’s too much water, poor drainage, bad soil, or something else altogether, chances are we have seen it before. And, chances are we can help you find a solution that’s right for you. If the list above seems a bit daunting, or you just don’t want to tackle the problem yourself – no one will judge you – contact Landscape East & West today. We love fixing soggy lawns!