How to Get Rid of Standing Water in Your Yard

standing water in a front yard of a home

Puddles might be a kid’s best friend, but they’re a homeowner’s worst enemy. Standing water in your yard threatens the health of your house, lawn, and family. Our guide will show you how to get rid of standing water in your yard for good.

9 ways to get rid of standing water in your yard

1. Check for broken pipes

This solution is for you if the water appears suddenly with no rain or irrigation.

None of the following solutions will get rid of standing water permanently if the root problem is plumbing. The water will keep coming back until you determine which pipe is broken and get it fixed. You may be able to hear water flowing, which is a sure sign it’s not a drainage issue. An even better sign is a spike in your water bill.

To determine if the leak is from your irrigation system, disconnect it from the water supply. See if the puddle stops growing and any trickling sounds stop. If so, contact an irrigation or landscaping company. Any other pipe leaks need to be handled by a professional plumber.

2. Water wisely

This solution is for you if you notice puddles in your lawn or driveway, even when it hasn’t rained recently. 

The most common cause of standing water is improper watering practices. That includes a subpar watering routine, not maintaining your sprinklers, or choosing the wrong sprinkler system for your yard. 

Turfgrass likes deep but infrequent watering. Exactly how often and how much you should water your lawn depends on your grass type, your soil type, the average rainfall in your area, and the season. For example, warm-season grasses need the most water in summer, while cool-season grasses need the most water in spring and fall because that’s when they actively grow. 

illustration showing growth timeline for cool-season grass
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez
illustration showing growth timeline for warm-season grass
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

Signs you’re overwatering your lawn include: 

  • Spongy feeling when you walk on your grass that lasts hours after you’ve watered
  • Fungal disease (look for webbing, dead patches, or oddly colored spots)
  • Lots of weeds or mushrooms
  • Yellowing grass

An inch of water per week is a good rule of thumb for grass, but you need to consider your environment, too. If it rains, for example, skip the watering session that week. 

To measure your sprinkler’s water output, use the tuna can test:

  • Place six empty tuna cans (or cans of the same size) in different areas of your lawn within range of your sprinkler’s spray.
  • Run your system for 15 minutes.
  • Using a ruler, measure the depth of the water in the cans. Calculate the average of measurements by adding them together and dividing by six.
  • Use the table below to figure out how many minutes you should set your system to run per week. 
Average water depth after 15 minutesTotal minutes needed to water 1 inch/week
⅛ inch120
¼ inch60
½ inch30
¾ inch20
1 inch15

Pro Tip: Instead of jumping to an automated watering schedule, observe your lawn for a few weeks and water only when you see signs of thirst (blades that are wilted, curled, or brown). Take note of how often you’re watering on average, and determine an automated schedule from there. 

To determine if your sprinkler system is at fault, first make sure it’s in proper working order. Here’s a checklist of sprinkler maintenance tasks:

  • Clean the sprinkler heads and filters
  • Look for damaged heads
  • Make sure your heads are positioned to create the most effective spray pattern

Even if your sprinkler works perfectly, it may not be well-suited to your yard. Here are the types of sprinkler systems and what they’re best suited for:

  • Spray sprinkler heads: Small lawns with hard-to-reach areas
  • Rotor head systems: Large yards that require force to reach the outer corners
  • Bubbler or drip systems: Small areas like vegetable gardens and individual trees

3. Dethatch and aerate your lawn

macniak | Canva Pro | License

This solution is for you if you see signs that water isn’t soaking into your soil. Signs include wilting turfgrass and puddles after minimal watering. 

Do you know how sometimes your skin needs a good scrub to get rid of all the dead skin? Your lawn needs something like that, too: dethatching, the process of removing thatch

Thatch is a buildup of grass stems, roots, and leaves that become a tightly woven layer between the growing blades and the soil. A healthy amount of thatch is normal and makes your grass more resilient. When too much thatch builds up, it keeps water from seeping into the ground. 

How to tell if it’s time to dethatch: 

  • Cut out a small triangle of turf 6 inches deep.
  • Squeeze the spongy layer above the soil and measure it.
  • If it’s more than one-half inch thick when you squeeze it, it’s time to dethatch. 

How to dethatch:

  • Wait to dethatch until right after you mow the grass.
  • Mow the grass at half its normal height.
  • Use a dethatcher or a rake to pull up the thatch.

Once you’ve removed thatch, you can aerate your lawn. Soil can become compacted from consistent foot traffic, which slows drainage and deprives your grass of nutrients. Lawn aeration loosens up the soil and creates space for water and nutrients to move through. 

How to know if it’s time to aerate: 

  • Find a screwdriver. 
  • Press the point into the ground. If it won’t go in or you need to use excessive force, your soil is probably compacted.
  • Test a few different areas to make sure there wasn’t a rock or other obstacle in the way.

How to aerate:

  • Water your soil the day before or wait until after a light rain.
  • Mark sprinklers to avoid damage. 
  • Go over your lawn with an aerator, then do a once-over with a perpendicular path. If you don’t have access to an aerator, a landscaping company can do it for you. 

4. Add compost to the soil

compost placed in a lawn
Oregon State University | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

This solution is for you if you notice puddles in your yard, even when you’re using the right amount of water. 

The kind of soil you have in your yard determines your lawn’s level of drainage. The three soil types you’re most likely to find in your lawn are loam, sand, and clay. 

Whereas water passes through sand and loam quickly, it has a tougher time moving through clay. Clay soil traps water, slowing down the drainage process, and resulting in water sitting on top of the ground. 

To improve drainage, amend the soil with organic matter, such as compost. This breaks up the clay and allows water to move through the soil at a faster rate. Dethatch and aerate your lawn first for the best results. Otherwise, the organic matter may have a tough time reaching the soil.

5. Build a rain garden

Rain Garden
James Steakley | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

This solution is for you if you have a slope in your yard that causes rainwater to collect.

A rain garden is simply a garden placed at the bottom of a slope or valley that catches stormwater and absorbs it to prevent flooding. Rain gardens are an excellent way to utilize a natural resource and improve the health of your lawn at the same time.

infographic explaining how a rain garden works
Infographic by Juan Rodriguez

Benefits of a rain garden:

  • Conserve water by using rain
  • Attract pollinators like bees, butterflies, and birds
  • Protect streams and rivers from pollution by filtering water 
  • Inexpensive way to improve your yard’s drainage
  • You may be entitled to a government rebate for building a rain garden

When choosing plants for your rain garden, look for native flowers, shrubs, and ornamental grasses that are found in wet areas like swamps and lowlands. Sedges, rushes, and grasses are especially useful because of their deep, complex root systems. If you decide to DIY your rain garden, skip the seeds and go for plants that already have an established root system. 

6. Add a drainage system

Man clears mud from drainage ditch in driveway

This solution is for you if you have an improperly graded lawn or low slope.

Sometimes the shape of your landscape calls for a more intensive solution to yard drainage. A drainage system either channels water to an appropriate gutter (in the case of a French drain) or deep into the ground (in the case of a dry well). 

French drainage systems

A French drain is a pipe and gravel-filled trench running from the low area in your yard to an exit point. A lining of landscaping fabric keeps soil and silt out. The bottom of the trench is sloped down slightly to encourage water to flow into the intended area, which could be a dry well, rain garden, or storm drain. 

Usually, a perforated pipe is laid on top of the gravel and connected to an inlet grate installed at the point where water pools the most. The whole system is covered with topsoil. 

A professionally installed French drain costs around $2,800 to $6,500

Dry wells

A dry well is pretty much what it sounds like: a deep hole with a water-catching container surrounded by rocks. Water moves into the well and drains through the perforated container and rocks into the soil. Dry wells work well as termination points for French drains or beneath downspouts, especially if you get high rainfall. 

Install dry wells at least 10 feet away from your home’s foundation and 3 feet away from property lines.

A professionally installed dry well costs around $1,165 to $4,420

7. Regrade your yard

This solution is for you if you have a severely sloped yard.

If your landscape has any sort of slope, water will naturally flow downhill and gather near the bottom. This is especially problematic if your landscape has an inward slope toward your home, as the water could gather at the foundation and cause damage. 

While you can use slopes to your advantage for drainage systems and rain gardens, you could eliminate the slope altogether or change it in your favor. Leveling makes your yard flat and even, while grading typically creates an incline away from your home.

A landscaper can regrade or level your yard to prevent water pooling and redirect runoff. However, land grading costs between $0.08 and $2.00 per square foot, which adds up quickly. You can level mildly uneven lawns yourself, though it’s best to contact a pro for severe problems.

8. Take care of gutters and downspouts

clogged gutters on a roof
Photo Credit: BanksPhotos / Canva Pro / License

This solution is for you if you see water along the sides of your house or stagnant water inside your gutters.

Your gutters can’t do their job when they’re clogged with leaves and debris. When water can’t flow freely through them, you risk serious damage to your roof, foundation, and siding. That should convince you to haul out your ladder or hire a professional to clean your gutters for you.

Clean your gutters twice a year. The best times are in autumn after the leaves have fallen and in spring to get out any bird nests or pine needles. Here are the steps to clean your gutters:

  • Get your garden trowel, spade, or spatula ready for scooping.
  • Position your ladder on dry, flat ground. 
  • Scoop out debris into a bucket or onto a plastic tarp below, working in small sections.
  • Inspect for leaks as you go. You can fix these later with waterproof sealant spray or tape. 
  • To clean gutter downspouts, place a hose into the top opening and let it run for a few minutes. Use a plumbing snake to clear stubborn leaves. 

Another culprit of standing water is ineffective downspouts. Downspouts should end at least 4 feet away from your home. When they’re too close, they threaten your home’s foundation and allow excess water to pool against the building instead of draining into the soil. 

Here are some options for extending your downspouts

  • Aluminum extensions are inexpensive and easy to install. They snap onto the existing downspout.
  • Splash blocks are plastic, stone, or metal channels that sit on the ground beneath the downspout. 
  • Roll-out drain sleeves uncoil during heavy rain and allow water to pass through small holes. When the rain ends, they roll back up. 

8. Use permeable hardscaping

This solution is for you if the pooling water is concentrated in hardscaped areas.

Many homeowners use concrete, cement, or asphalt for patios, paths, or driveways. While these materials prevent plants from popping up, they don’t let water through to the soil. With nowhere to go, rainwater and irrigation will collect on these surfaces and accumulate pollutants. 

The solution? Use permeable materials instead. Pavers, gravel, and stepping stones are some alternatives that allow water to filter through to the ground and prevent pooling or runoff. You also can install a drain or maintain your existing one.

Why you should get rid of standing water

Water may be the source of life, but it also can be the source of disease, struggling lawns, and an unstable foundation. 

How standing water impacts your house

Puddles can affect your home in a big way. When standing water builds up along the sides of your house, it puts pressure on the foundation. When the water evaporates during dry seasons, the pressure disappears, too. This causes your home to shift back and forth, putting stress on the underlying structure. Over time, this can lead to an unstable foundation, cracks, and leaks. 

Excess water also can damage drywall and cause any wooden structures to swell and warp, shortening their lifespan.

How standing water impacts your lawn

A soggy lawn is a recipe for bald spots and disease. Consistently wet grass can cause fungal diseases such as dollar spot, fairy ring, and red thread. 

These diseases are difficult to combat, and fertilizer makes them worse. If you have to stop using fertilizer because of a disease, you’ll end up with a nutrient-deprived, struggling lawn. Fight fungal diseases at their source by improving your yard’s drainage before you have an issue.

Other wet lawn problems include: 

  • Weeds
  • Pest infestations
  • Erosion
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Runoff 
  • Ineffective lawn treatments

How standing water impacts you 

Standing water isn’t just a threat to your property. It’s also a breeding ground for bacteria that can harm you, your family, and your pets. Not to mention, it’s a primary habitat for mosquitos. The pesky bugs will annoy you all summer long, and they can carry deadly pathogens like Zika and West Nile virus. 

Main causes of standing water

Photo Credit: Pxhere / CC0 1.0

Even if your area gets a lot of rain, your yard should be able to drain it by the next day. So, why isn’t this happening in your yard? What’s causing puddles?

The main causes of standing water are:

  • Low spots in your landscape 
  • Improper watering techniques 
  • Drainage problems with your soil 

The methods we described above will help you combat all three.

FAQ about how to get rid of standing water

Will gravel help with standing water? 

Yes. There’s a reason gravel is used for so many drainage systems. The gravel itself won’t absorb water, but the empty space between each rock allows an easy path for water to trickle through, unlike tightly packed soil. This extra space can hold the water until the surrounding soil can handle it. It will take longer for a gravel bed to get waterlogged than a soil bed.

Use anywhere from ½ inch to 3 inches of gravel in poorly drained areas to improve drainage.

What groundcover absorbs the most water?

The best groundcovers for water absorption need to be tolerant of wet sites. Here are some examples:

  • Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.)
  • Globeflower (Trollius x cultorum)
  • Liriope (Liriope spp.)
  • Primrose (Primula spp.)
  • Violet (Viola spp.)

Prioritize native plants whenever possible. Not only will they benefit the local ecosystem, but they’ll be easier to care for since they’re adapted to the climate, weather, and soil conditions in your area.

Does mulch absorb water?

Some mulch does absorb water, but it depends on whether you use organic or inorganic mulch. Organic mulches like wood chips, bark, and straw absorb water. Inorganic mulches like rocks, gravel, pebbles, and rubber don’t absorb water but may allow water to drain through the gaps between pieces. 

Be careful with wood mulches, though — because they retain moisture, they can attract termites and roaches and put your home in danger. It’s better to use inorganic mulches to improve drainage than to rely on organic mulches. Though organic mulches can absorb water, they may not solve your standing water problem as effectively. 

Get the proper lawn care

These solutions for getting rid of standing water are just the first steps to having a successful lawn. All aspects of lawn care feed into each other. For example, proper mowing leads to fewer weeds, which means denser grass. A dense lawn prevents erosion, which means more nutrients are available in the soil for a healthy lawn. 

Staying on top of lawn maintenance means it’s easier to spot problems when they arise and identify their source. If lawn maintenance sounds overwhelming, call an expert. A professional landscaping company can help you maintain your landscape, address drainage issues, and perform seasonal cleanup.

Main Photo Credit: Michael Coghlan | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Rachel Abrams

Born and raised in Gainesville, Florida, Rachel Abrams studied creative writing at the University of Virginia. She enjoys volunteering at her neighborhood community garden and growing herbs in her New York City apartment.