Garden drainage solutions – 5 ways to help prevent your backyard from flooding

Prepare your lawn, patio, flower beds and decking for heavy rainfall

Chelsea 2022, Garden designed by Ruth Willmott, Garden Designer showing large flower beds and a pergola
(Image credit: Jacky Hobbs / Future)

Garden drainage solutions are a must if you live somewhere that is affected by heavy, frequent rainfall. Without necessary measures in place to control water run-off, plots can begin to flood, flower beds can erode, and plants can become ruined.

What's more, puddles on your backyard landscaping ideas, such as decking and paving, can lead to damage, thus reducing their lifespan drastically and upping the need for more regular maintenance. It's a safety hazard, too – no one wants to slip over while trying to enjoy their outdoor living space.

'Owing to changes in climate we have seen a dramatic shift in garden design trends in recent years,' says deputy gardens editor at Homes & Gardens, Teresa Conway. 'As we experience more drastic weather, periods of heavy rainfall and drought, garden designers are having to incorporate solutions to these extremes into their plans.

'Ensuring a garden has sufficient drainage should be the minimum expectation for all backyards, in particular, flood-risk areas. Incorporating creative rain harnessing solutions are a bonus,' she says.

Garden designed to prevent flooding with permeable paving and water run off from roof

Garden designers now consider drainage as an essential component in their projects

(Image credit: Jacky Hobbs / Future)
Teresa Conway headshot
Teresa Conway

Teresa has been creating and editing a variety of rich garden content for over six years, across many brands including Homes & Gardens, Country Homes & Interiors and Living Etc. She was Deputy Editor on Gardeningetc.com as well as a judge on the panel at the prestigious Society of Garden Designers awards.

Reduce the risk of flooding with these garden drainage solutions

'Poor drainage in the garden can create problems with being able to grow plants,' says Kody Kettering, landscape and outdoor maintenance expert.

'What we try to do in our designs is make sure we have a good base for the water to move through the garden,' he says.

Kody Ketterling head shot
Kody Ketterling

Idahoan, Kody J. Ketterling has run his own landscaping maintenance business for more than a decade and is an expert in lawn care and maintenance, water conservation, gardening, water features and landscape design.

1. Improve your lawn's ability to soak up rain

House and landscaped backyard with shaped lawn

Prevent your lawn from becoming waterlogged

(Image credit: Mint Images / Getty Images)

A boggy lawn is every gardener's woe. Excess water will compact the soil and drown the grass, leaving a muddy stretch of brown in place of luscious green turf. There is, however, a way to avoid this mishap.

David Hedges Gower, a lawn care specialist, suggests ensuring you have a lawn care plan in place that includes how to aerate a lawn. 'Aeration will allow the best chance for your lawn to survive if you have flooding,' he says. It will ensure there is adequate space in the soil beneath your lawn for soaking up as much water as possible.

However, for the best results, you need to ensure you're doing the right type of aeration. 'Adding a fork into a soil profile will not change its soil structure and therefore will rarely improve anything for more than minutes,' he says. 

Instead, use a plug aerator. Try this Jardineer Plug Aerator Lawn Tool at Walmart. There is no need to remove the plugs afterward – they will break back down naturally into your lawn's surface. 

David also warns against artificial grass if you live in an area prone to floods. 'Fake grass, together with its matting and installation substrate, cannot percolate heavy rainwater as efficiently as natural turf,' he says.

David Hedges-Gower headshot
David Hedges-Gower

David Hedges-Gower is a trusted lawn expert, having dedicated his career to his love of lawns. He is the Chairman of The Lawn Association.

2. Install decking with rainfall in mind

Permeable decking with gaps in between for planting and drainage

Gaps in decking will aid drainage

(Image credit: Jacky Hobbs / Future)

Without proper garden drainage solutions, timber deck ideas can be prone to rot, the likelihood of mold is increased, and the shape and finish of the structure can become distorted. What's more, pooling water beneath your deck can erode soil, harbor bacteria, and encourage insects such as mosquitoes.

When building a deck, ensure there is adequate spacing between each board to reduce the risk of puddles forming on the surface. Beneath your deck, apply flashing as a moisture barrier, and for ultimate protection, a drainage system. 

Look for products that will keep water safely away from the joists, beams, and the exterior of your home. It can be as simple as corrugated plastic sheets, but you'll want to ensure they are water-tight.

Alternatively, install a sloped, non-permeable surface below your deck that will drain water away from your home in a controlled manner.

3. Incorporate drainage into patios

An outdoor table on a paved patio with gaps left for planting

Flood proof patios will have more longevity

(Image credit: Jack Hobbs / Future)

No one wants their patio ideas to be covered in puddles, which is why it's important to add garden drainage to your outdoor living space.

One of the most effective approaches is installing drainage channels, which can provide a solution for patios and driveway design, including areas around garages and conservatories. 

Water from the drainage channels can flow into a storm drain or soakaway. Soakaways are a pit in the ground, usually filled with gravel which allows water to slowly soak through to the soil.

Another option is to use permeable paving, or opt for a gravel patio – both of which will reduce the likelihood of standing water on your space. Don't forget about the impact of a slight slope, too, which can help drain rainwater run-off into nearby flower beds or other drainage areas. This is especially prudent if you want to design a patio from scratch.

4. Improve the soil structure of your flower beds

A compacted gravel pathway next to wide planting beds containing bolders

Keep your precious plants safe from floods

(Image credit: Jacky Hobbs / Future)

Digging over the soil to incorporate grit will aid drainage in planting beds. Applying organic matter will also improve the soil structure of your flower beds and borders, as will adding a balanced fertilizer in spring, followed by a layer of mulch over the root area.

If you get lots of rain in your region, you may want to swap out borders for raised garden beds instead, as they tend to be better for drainage and the soil structure is easier to control. 

There are also plenty of plants for wet soil, so if you want to reduce the risk of damage, opt for these in areas prone to water retention.

5. Get creative with rain gardens

Slanted garden roof rain water run off collecting in rain barrel

Utilize water run off with rain barrels

(Image credit: Jacky Hobbs / Future)

Don't forget there are plenty of creative ways to incorporate garden drainage ideas into your outdoor space, including building a rain garden as a natural area for excess water to collect. 

Green roofs, for instance, will help to absorb rain thus reducing run-off. They look beautiful too, and are wonderful for visiting wildlife. 

Other elements that can be included are water butts – ideal if you're looking to create a more sustainable garden. Plus, there are other linking elements that can be added to channel rainwater around your plot towards a dedicated rain garden (a shallow, dug-out dip in the ground, often filled with suitable plants, made for soaking up water). These include rills, rain chains, and small ponds. 

FAQs

What should you do with a garden after it has flooded?

If your garden has already flooded, there are a few things you should do (alongside incorporating the above tips for next time a storm comes around, that is).

Collect up any debris and ensure that storm drains aren't blocked. It's also a good idea to wash down hard surfaces, such as paving, to remove any lingering pollutants.

A pressure washer will come in useful for this. Wear gloves and protective clothing while you do so.

In terms of your lawn, keep off the grass. Walking on it while it is still waterlogged will only worsen conditions.

If your kitchen garden has flooded, unfortunately it's best to discard edible crops close to harvest as they may no longer be safe to consume. Avoid growing salads and other raw veg for two years after flooding in case disease spores remain in the soil. It should be safe to grow cooking veg after just one year.

It may sound surprising, but after a waterlogged period, it's crucial to water your garden thoroughly in dry spells. This is because the plants will be more susceptible to drought stress.


Consider installing a french drain in your yard if you want a quick and relatively easy way to reduce waterlogged soil. 

If your garden floods it's one thing. But if inclement weather has caused your interior to flood, then you might find our guide on how to prevent mold after a flood useful.

Holly Crossley
Contributing Editor

The garden was always a big part of Holly's life growing up, as was the surrounding New Forest where she lived. Her appreciation for the great outdoors has only grown since then; over the years, she's been an allotment keeper, a professional gardener, and a botanical illustrator. Having worked for Gardeningetc.com for two years, Holly now regularly writes about plants and outdoor living for Homes & Gardens.