Reasons Why Your Yard is Flooding

Flooded area of grass next to a large brick wall

No one likes stepping into puddles or squishing their feet into soggy grass, let alone dealing with expensive water damage on your property. Get to the root of the problem by finding out why your yard is flooding. 

Your home is an investment, and as little as 1 inch of flooding in your house can set you back more than $25,000, and your landscape is at risk, too. Flooded yards also can lead to soil erosion, disease, and increased pests, and cost hundreds to thousands of dollars in damage.

Learn why your lawn might be flooding, how to protect it from floods, and what problems might arise in your lawn after a flood. 

Why is my yard flooding?  

Flooding can impact you and your community on small and large scales. Soil erosion, landslides, and property damage can occur due to floods. 

Flooding is often due to heavy rain, but also can be caused by Mother Nature’s fury, like hurricanes, tsunamis, and rising sea levels. Damage to dams, levees, and other manmade structures can cause flooding, too. 

Types of floods

  • Flash floods: Short floods that happen due to sudden spouts of heavy rainfall. 
  • Inland flooding: Moderate to high levels of rainfall over several days leading to flooding, can be caused by hurricanes.
  • Storm surges: Unusually high levels of water in coastal regions due to a storm, like a hurricane. 
  • Coastal flooding: Flooding caused by high tides, strong winds, and/or heavy rain. 
  • River flood: Flooding caused by snowmelt or high levels of rainfall that raise the water levels above the river banks. 

Apart from natural disasters, here are some other common causes of flooding on your lawn.

Overwatering

While overwatering won’t cause as extensive damage as a flash flood, it is not a great way to take care of your lawn. If you notice puddles of water accumulating when there hasn’t been a recent storm, your watering schedule or sprinkler system might be to blame.

Water your lawn early in the morning, and only when your grass appears thirsty (it is fading, curling, or slow to bounce back after being stepped on). The best watering hours are from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m., which allows enough time for the water to seep into the ground before the sun’s heat causes it to evaporate. 

Sprinkler lawn irrigation is a leading cause of water waste and is even putting financial strain on households across the country. Be sure to maintain your lawn sprinkler system to prevent any leaks, and consider more eco-friendly methods like drip irrigation that reduce water waste by targeting specific areas. 

Poor drainage

With snow melting at the end of winter or heavy spring rains showering down for days on end, your yard can easily turn into a swamp. Heavy periods of precipitation can be unexpected, but if you live in an area that regularly receives piles of snow or heavy rain, you should take some steps to drain excess water from your lawn.

Help make sure rainwater gets where it needs to go by installing a drainage system in your yard. Multiple drainage solutions are often used together to prevent any one from being overwhelmed during a heavy storm. 

Implementing yard drainage solutions can:

  • Conserve water
  • Reduce runoff
  • Limit erosion
  • Control and prevent flooding

There are several options for draining water from your lawn. Popular yard drainage methods include: 

  1. French drains
  2. Dry wells
  3. Channel drains

1. French drains are shallow trenches connecting to an underground pipe system. They redirect water, moving it through a system of underground pipes into a storm drain, rain barrel, dry well, or rain garden. Install a french drain to reduce standing water, limit erosion and runoff, and solve your yard’s drainage issues.

French drains typically last up to 10 years without needing to be repaired but do need to be maintained to avoid clogging. They are ideal for properties with a low graded slope, ideally less than 1.5 inches. 

2. Dry wells are open-bottom barrels that help quickly move water from the surface deeper underground. Water is transported from a french drain, gutter system, or other drainage pipes into the well, where it stores and filters out the water underground. Dry wells are typically around 3 feet deep and can be empty or filled with gravel. 

Keep in mind that many localities will require a permit for installing a dry well. However, this might be a worthwhile investment: With proper care, dry wells can last over 80 years. 

3. Channel drains are small trenches, typically installed along hardscaping and walkways, to prevent water from collecting on the surface. Water flows into the channel drain and is funneled away from the house. They can be connected to french drains.

Poor grading

An uneven lawn can lead to dips, bumps, and puddles. But if your entire lawn is poorly graded, you could wake up to a lakefront view of accumulated standing water. Or worse, flowing rainwater will head toward your home and cause costly damage. 

Contrary to what you might think, you don’t want your yard to be totally flat. In fact, it’s pretty unlikely that your yard has no slope at all. Most lawns need to have a mild downward slope away from your house to prevent water from running toward the foundation. 

Proper grading can help prevent puddles from taking over your yard after a storm, while improper grading can lead to basement or first floor flooding, and damage the foundational structure of your house. If your yard is poorly graded, and stormwater is running toward your home instead of away, you’ll need to change the grading of your yard. 

Yards should have a minimum slope of 2%, but it’s recommended they have 5% or more for the best water drainage. Inclines greater than 25% are under greater threat of erosion during rainstorms.

Level your yard if it’s uneven and water is puddling in depressions and low spots, and completely re-grade it if rainwater is flowing toward your home. You’ll want to reach out to a pro if you’re planning to completely regrade your lawn. 

Poor soil conditions

Compacted soil limits water, in addition to oxygen and nutrients, from seeping into the ground. You want your soil to be light and loose, so water, oxygen, nutrients, and plant shoots can easily go through. 

Your soil can become compacted over time by wear and tear caused by heavy foot traffic, parked cars, and the use of large equipment. Flooding also can worsen compacted soil. Wet soils with a moderate texture (between clay and sand) are more easily compacted. This includes loamy and silty soil types. 

Signs you have compacted soil

  • Grass appears yellowed, brown, or off-color
  • Thinning grass
  • Increased pests and weeds
  • Tree roots are unnaturally exposed
  • Slow-growing grass
  • Puddles appear and linger after watering the grass

You can alleviate your soil compaction by aerating your yard. Core aeration is the recommended method, which is a process of removing small plugs of soil from your lawn. These holes give the ground some room to breathe and will help water pass through easily during a storm. 

Prevent compaction by redirecting foot traffic from your grass with pavers or gravel walkways. You also can slow compaction by buying lighter lawn equipment. 

Erosion can cause chemicals and sediment to run into local waterways, raising water levels, harming aquatic life, and making it more difficult and expensive to treat your region’s drinking water. Soil erosion and degradation have become a huge problem for farmers across the globe, costing the American agriculture industry to lose around 44 billion dollars annually

Thankfully, you can prevent soil erosion in your backyard and your community by:

  • Planting trees, cover crops, and other plants
  • Using compost and manure instead of mineral-based fertilizers 
  • Supporting small, local farms that rotate pastured land

Low elevation

Sea levels are rising, and more than 30% of the U.S. population is at risk. Cities in low-elevated coastal areas experience high-tide flooding 300% to 900% more frequently than they did five decades ago. 

If you live in a coastal region, low elevation is especially a threat for flooding caused by rising sea levels, high tides, and natural disasters like hurricanes. But coastal regions aren’t the only places at risk for flooding due to low elevations.

Mountain valleys, urban areas, and properties near bodies of water can experience flooding thanks to low elevation and other factors. 

  • Stormwater quickly runs down mountains, leading to flash floods and landslides in the valleys below. 
  • Flat urban areas with less permeable ground area can experience flooding if the city’s drainage system can’t keep up with the rate of precipitation or stormwater. 
  • Bodies of water can overflow due to heavy precipitation and dam or levee failures. 

Whether or not you live close to sea level, you’re more at risk for flooding if your house is at the bottom of a hill. This is especially true during a heavy rainstorm or at the end of winter as the snow is melting. 

If you live in a region that experiences a lot of flooding, you’ll want to implement extra measures to prevent flooding, increase drainage, and protect your lawn.

Clogged gutters

Life gets busy and it can be easy to neglect things like clogged gutters. Keep your gutters clean to make sure that rainwater funnels away from your house. Clogged gutters can worsen flooding, and cause damage to your home. 

If your gutters can’t direct water back into the ground, the water will leak through your home’s walls or foundation. Water damage can leave unsightly watermarks and lead to mold and mildew in your house. 

Make sure to repair your gutters if you notice any damage. You might consider replacing your gutters entirely: Gutter systems typically last for 20-50 years. 

Be sure to also take a look at the drain pipe and downspout for clogging or any other problems. If your downspout doesn’t carry water at least 4 to 6 feet away from your home, you might want to consider adding a downspout extension. The ideal distance between your home and the outflow of water is 10 feet. 

Check your gutters weekly or monthly, depending on the number of trees surrounding your house. You also can invest in gutter covers to prevent debris from getting stuck there in the first place. 

Ways to prevent flooding in your yard

Floods are unpredictable, and there’s no way to entirely prevent your yard from being damaged by flooding. However, there are a few things you can do to prepare ahead of time and mitigate flooding damage.

Reduce shade

Shade can be great in summertime, but not so much after a rainstorm. 

Shaded yards can be slower to dry after heavy precipitation. Sunlight can help evaporate excess water and keep mold, mildew, and fungus from forming on your lawn. 

You can try to reduce shade in your yard by cutting down trees. Another option is to embrace your shaded yard with a shade garden and replace your turf with shade-tolerant varieties like St. Augustinegrass

Add some greenery 

Make your landscape more attractive and flood-resistant by adding more plants. Grass, ground covers, and other plants greatly help to keep your soil intact. Exposed soil is most vulnerable to flooding and erosion. 

  • Fill your yard with a grass type that can survive in poorly-drained soil, like tall fescue or bahiagrass. 
  • Adding erosion control plants to your landscape allows you to slow runoff and prevent topsoil from being washed away. Plants with deep roots are best for flood-risk regions, as shallow-rooted plants can be uprooted from the ground in a storm. 
  • Trees and shrubs have deep and expansive roots and are great for keeping the soil intact along hills and sloped yards. Just be sure not to increase your yard’s shade too much, because too much shade can prevent your lawn from quickly drying. 

Grow a rain garden

Add beauty and flood protection to your yard by building a rain garden. Rain gardens are built into a shallow trench or on a hill sloping down to help prevent stormwater from reaching your home or running into your sewer system. They are filled with water-loving, deep-rooted plants that happily soak up the water and keep the soil from eroding. 

Rain gardens won’t be able to stave off heavy flooding but can help collect runoff from your gutter system or paved areas. Rain garden plants can help filter out the runoff, removing pollutants before the water goes back into the ecosystem. 

Pro Tip: Fill your rain garden with water-loving native plants to attract pollinators like butterflies and bees

Install a swale

Swales, also called bioswales, are wide but shallow trenches that help redirect excess water. They are often lined with rocks or plants. Swales are very similar to rain gardens, but instead of absorbing the rainfall, they move it to another location. 

Swales are often found near roadsides and can be used to designate property lines. Swales can be connected to rain gardens, other irrigation systems, or a body of water. They are not recommended for yards that slope more than 4%. Swales will not be as efficient in regions with clay or compacted soil. 

Add a dry creek bed 

Beautify and fortify your landscape by installing a dry creek bed. This is a small trench dug into your yard, often surrounded by plants and rocks. The rocks in the dry creek bed help keep topsoil from eroding, while the trench helps the water soak into the ground instead of becoming runoff. 

Use a rain barrel 

Prevent rainwater from flooding your home and grass by collecting it in a rain barrel. Harvesting rainwater is a sustainable way to conserve water and prevent it from accumulating around your home. 

Rain barrels can be placed below your home to collect water running from the roof or gutter and downspout. You also can divert rainwater from a french drain and sump pump into rain barrels. Most household-use rain barrels can store between 40 and 80 gallons of rainwater at a time. 

Some states and cities limit rain barrel use. Rain barrel restrictions are more commonly found in Western states like Colorado, California, and Nevada. Many other states actually encourage homeowners to install rain barrels. 

Depending on where you live, some states and cities offer tax exemptions or credits for spending on rainwater harvesting. Research ahead of time to see if there are any financial incentives for rainwater harvesting in your area. 

Add mulch to your landscape

Mulch is a great addition to any yard. Add mulch to beds around your house to help soak up excess rainwater. Mulch helps keep the water that’s coming off your roof from becoming runoff and eroding your topsoil. 

  • Organic mulch options include: wood chips, pine needles, grass clippings, cardboard, compost, and shredded bark and leaves. 
  • Inorganic mulch includes: river rocks, gravel, rubber, landscape fabric, and tumbled glass. 

Avoid using glass, rocks, gravel, or other hard materials if your home is at risk of frequent strong winds, hurricanes, or tornadoes. 

Mulch your flower beds for a beautiful, balanced landscape. You also can mulch your garden ahead of a storm to keep your veggies from getting uprooted and damaged. 

Benefits of mulch: 

  • Slows soil compaction
  • Keeps weeds at bay
  • Encourages root growth
  • Helps maintain soil temperature

Pro Tip: Leave a gap between your organic mulch-filled flower beds and the foundation. Wet wood chips and compost can lead to rotted siding and leaks. 

Build a seawall

If you have a waterfront property, you should consider installing a seawall — if you don’t have one already. Lapping water or ocean waves can erode the soil, causing you to lose land over time. Waterfront views are nice, but also can cause costly damage to your property. 

Seawalls prevent erosion and ensure shoreline protection during flooding. They can prevent water from encroaching on your land during high tide or heavy rain. 

It’s best to work with a local professional when installing a seawall. Many regions have local regulations and required permits for building a seawall.

If you don’t feel the need to install a full seawall, you might choose to add riprap to your landscape. Riprap is a low-maintenance retaining wall made out of large stones. It helps prevent the soil from eroding, and also can help control your yard’s slope going toward the water. 

Use a concrete alternative

Many people use concrete for landscaping and hardscaping projects, like driveways and walkways. But concrete isn’t the best material to use, especially if you frequently deal with rainstorms and flooding. 

Opt for a more permeable alternative like:

  • Porous concrete
  • Porous asphalt
  • Pavers
  • Plastic grids (also help reduce soil compaction) 
  • River rock
  • Gravel
  • Decomposed granite 

These materials allow water to pass through or around and seep into the ground instead of puddling on the surface. They also prevent ice from accumulating, reducing risky conditions in freezing weather. 

Problems caused by a flooded yard

Your kids and pets might love jumping in the puddles in your backyard, but your turf won’t be so happy. Oversaturated conditions and standing water can lead to many issues, such as:

  • Foundation damage
  • Lawn diseases like fairy ring, red thread, and dollar spot
  • Increased soil compaction
  • Mosquito population boom
  • Decreased biodiversity
  • Leached nutrients

Heavy precipitation and low drainage also can drown helpful soil organisms and prevent new vegetation from germinating. Silt and debris left from a flood can lead to an increase in nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, and other elements. These can be harmful to your lawn, so it’s important to grab a shovel to scrape away the silt, and then hose off your plants. 

While flooding is uncertain, you need to be prepared, especially if you live in a flood-risk area. Proper drainage isn’t just important for keeping your lawn nice and healthy. These nutrients contained in runoff can lead to large-scale issues like dead zones and algae blooms. 

Flooding also can contaminate local water systems, including private wells. If your lawn takes more than 24 hours to drain, you should quickly address any grading and drainage problems that might be present, and consider implementing additional drainage methods. 

How to get rid of standing water

You might notice standing water after a rainstorm or following an attempt to water the lawn. Use organic mulch or compost to help soak up the puddles, and prevent them from forming by:

  • Taking proper care of your lawn
  • Maintain your drainage and sprinkler system(s)
  • Install new irrigation systems
  • Dethatching annually
  • Aerating annually

FAQ about yard flooding

1. How can I prevent soil erosion?

Soil erosion is terrible for our waterways, vegetation, public health, and the economy. Thankfully, there are many ways to prevent soil from eroding

Keep topsoil from eroding by: 

–Planting trees
–Planting shrubs
–Planting cover crops
–Planting grass
–Switch to drip irrigation
Terrace your garden
–Installing drainage systems
–Aerating your lawn

2. How can I protect my house from flooding?

Not everyone can (or should) put their house on stilts. However, you should keep your home’s foundation in top shape and take measures to keep it from being flooded during a storm. 

–Make sure your foundation is sealed, and check that there are no cracks in the foundation or any walls, doorways, or windows. Water the soil around your foundation to prevent it from cracking or shrinking in the summer.

–Install flood vents in your foundation and a sump pump in your basement. Make sure that all your pipes have working valves, and keep track of and quickly fix any damages that occur to your property.

–If you’re anticipating a storm, place sandbags around your home to act as a barrier and brace the flood instead of your foundation. Be sure to stack them in pyramids; otherwise, they will be easily knocked down. 

3. How can I help my lawn recover from a flood?

After a flood, your yard can look like a disaster. But don’t lose hope yet; your lawn might be able to make a quick comeback. 

Help your lawn recover from flood damage by: 

–Analyzing the damage
–Picking up debris 
–Checking your drainage systems
–Scraping off sediment deposited by the flood
–Aerating your yard (once the ground has dried)
Reseeding or resodding, if needed

Stay alert and take action

Mother Nature doesn’t seem happy. Flooding is happening more frequently due to climate change, which is bad for a large number of Americans who live in oceanside homes. 

Just because you don’t live near a coastline doesn’t mean you shouldn’t worry about flooding. Know your Base Flood Elevation (BFE), and make sure the lowest floor of your house is above it. Be sure to also check the FEMA Flood Map, and know whether you live in a Special Flood Hazard Area

Homeowners’ insurance does not cover flood damage, so be sure to buy flood insurance if necessary. 

Prepare for unpredictable floods with our recommended methods, but be mindful of your neighbors when making any changes to your grading and drainage system. You’ll be in for some angry neighbors (and potentially legal action) if you direct the stormwater their way and cause their yard to flood. 

Don’t wait until the storm hits — reach out to a local Lawn Love pro to help landscape your way to a flood-free backyard. 

Main Photo Credit: tamadhanaval | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Sav Maive

Sav Maive is a writer and director based in San Antonio. Sav is a recent graduate from the University of Virginia and is a loving cat and plant mom.