How to Fix Poor Soil Drainage

Well-drained soil is a key factor in growing healthy plants in your yard or garden. If soil is poorly drained, water from rainfall or sprinklers will collect on the soil's surface. Plant roots can then become submerged in water or even freeze in colder temperatures, leading to damaged roots or plants that will not bloom. Use these methods to fix poor soil drainage.


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    Mix an organic substance into the soil before planting. While tilling soil, use a gardening fork or other appropriate tool to add gritty or coarse organic matter to the topsoil. Sawdust, compost, sand, or potting soil can all work.
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    Adding sand has very limited effectiveness as clay is highly dominant in a mixed loam soil. Adding gypsum (calcium sulfate) helps pull clay particles together which allows better drainage to develop as more micro pores form. Take a soil test and look at the cation base saturation (Ca, Mg and K). A ratio of 3 parts Ca to 1 part Mg is about right to encourage pore development.
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    Eliminate tillage if possible. Worms (macro) pores can be highly effective at moving water into soils, but a tillage pass will break these pores. It takes 4-5 years for these pores to fully develop.
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    Spread a layer of topsoil in places where the ground is lower than usual in your planting space. This will help even out the soil and improve drainage.
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    Build a French drain to direct water away from plants or other spots that collect water.
    • Dig a 11/2 foot (45 cm) trench.
    • Put 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 cm) of gravel in the trench.
    • Position drainage pipes on top of the gravel to drain water away.
    • Fill the rest of the trench to the top with gravel. Make sure the gravel also covers the drainage pipes. Water will trickle from the surface down through the gravel and into the pipes, which will drain water away from the plants.
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    Create a dry well in your yard or garden.
    • Dig a large hole in the area where you want to improve drainage.
    • Fill the hole with pieces of brick, stone and concrete. The water will sink through the well and slowly get absorbed by the soil around it.


  • Know what type of soil you have in your yard or garden. The basic types are wetter clay soil, drier sandy soil, or loam soil-a combination of the first 2 soils. Since different soils can absorb different amounts of moisture, knowing your soil type may help you determine how much you need to do to successfully improve drainage.
  • Try watering your plants less frequently if you constantly collect water in a certain area of your yard or garden.
  • Organic substances that can be mixed into soil improve the soil's fluffiness and allow for plant roots, air and water to more easily penetrate soil by opening the pores of the soil.
  • Manure can make fine clay particles clump together, improving clay soil's drainage and structure. It also benefits drier sandy soil by allowing it to retain moisture and nutrients when added as a mulch substance.


  • Adding too much sawdust, bark, or other high-carbon organic matter to soil can create a deficiency in nitrogen. Use a nitrogen fertilizer or manure to rebalance the nitrogen and create faster decomposition of the organic matter.

Things You'll Need

  • Coarse or gritty organic substance
  • Gardening fork
  • topsoil
  • Shovel
  • Gravel
  • Drainage pipes
  • Bricks
  • Stones
  • Concrete pieces

Article Info

Categories: Compost Mulch and Soil Preparation