How to improve lawn drainage –⁠ 8 easy fixes to protect your garden from heavy rain damage

Rain causing havoc in your garden? Here's how to improve lawn drainage, stat

A neat lawn edge bordered with purple flowers
(Image credit: Future PLC)

There are songs about umbrellas, but very few on how to improve lawn drainage. Which is a shame, really, as heavy rain damage is a topic that can provoke a huge emotional response from any gardener. Take note, Rihanna!

So when rain comes pouring down it sparks a hunt for the sort of lawn care tips that will undo all of the rain related problems.

How to improve lawn drainage

Rihanna fan or not, we doubt you'll be singing in the rain when you learn of the impact it can have on all of your carefully curated lawn ideas.

'When there is excessive rainfall, lawns can become compacted and difficult to manage,' shares Peter Chaloner, managing director of Cobra

'Waterlogged soil can impede the flow of air, water, and nutrients which can harm the growth of grass roots and make them more susceptible to disease.'

A neat lawn edge bordered with purple flowers

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Peter adds that 'plants need oxygen to survive, and over-saturated soil lacks air pockets, which can suffocate grass roots and make them weaker'.

Worse still, this can lead to 'additional problems, including nutrient deficiencies and pest infestations. And wet conditions can also promote the growth of fungi, such as mould, mildew, and rust, that can harm lawns, causing lasting damage'. 

A garden with a mowed lawn and flowers

(Image credit: Future PLC/Richard Powers)

'These diseases can spread quickly and cause unappealing discolouration and damage,' stresses Peter, noting that very heavy rainfall can also wash away the top layer of soil.

'This will expose grass roots and causing erosion, which can result in uneven surfaces and unattractive bare patches across lawns.' 


9 ways to prevent rain damage to your lawn

Thankfully, learning how to improve lawn drainage can help to mitigate many of these problems. So, yes, we wholeheartedly advise that you add the following to your list of essential autumn lawn care tips for the months ahead...

1. Remove any debris

The easiest way to improve lawn drainage? Stage a clean-up, and stat!

'As soon as any flood water has receded you should remove any leftover debris (sticks, silt, leaves) to clear the lawn's surface,' says Matt Kent, landscape manager at Toolstation

'Do not use a metal rake for this however, as this will damage the weakened soil surface.'

2. Aerate

'Aerating your lawn will allow better movement of air and water throughout the soil, creating a healthier root system so that it will manage better in periods of drought or waterlogging,' says Peter.

'Concentrate on areas that receive the most wear and those that are heavily compacted.'

Cobra’s SA32E Electric Scarifier And Aerator | £105 at Amazon

Cobra’s SA32E Electric Scarifier And Aerator | £105 at Amazon

Cobra’s SA32E Electric Scarifier and Aerator has the ability to both scarify and aerate your lawn, which will allow air and moisture to reach the soil and encourage strong, vibrant growth.

Matt agrees, noting that you should 'use a garden fork or aeration tool to spike holes into the soil surface' and that 'the holes should be no more than six inches deep.'

3 Scarify

If you're trying to figure out how to improve lawn drainage, you might also consider scarifying (that's a more intense version of aerating) your lawn.

'Gardeners should aim to scarify during late autumn when grass is still actively growing and a few days after you last mowed,' says Peter. 

A garden with green grass and a tree

(Image credit: Future PLC/Lizzie Orme)

'Adjust the depth of the scarifier to suit the depth of your lawn –⁠ this is usually around 3-5mm,' says Peter. 

'Scarify in a crosshatch pattern to remove debris evenly and use a rake to gather the debris and dispose of it sustainably.'

4. Fertilise

'Fertilise the lawn using a feed that is rich in phosphorus,' says Matt (personally, we rate Miracle-Gro EverGreen Autumn Lawn Care from Amazon for this time of year). 

'This will help to promote root growth as well as replace the nutrients in the ground,' he adds.

Applying your fertiliser after aerating and/or scarifying your lawn means it's more likely to penetrate deeper into the soil, allowing it to work at maximum effect.

5. Ditch the mower

Monty Don wants you to let your grass grow long this winter, and for good reason: grass will start to wind down its growth over the chillier months, after all.

As if that weren't enough to compel you to ditch the mower, Matt adds that 'it’s also important to remember not to mow a lawn after a period of extensive rain,' as it can cause further damage.

'It’s best to wait until Spring when the warmer temperatures will cause the grass to begin growing again,' he says.

6. Level out the ground

Garden with narrow lawn surrounded by hedges, trees and flower bed

(Image credit: Future PLC/Val Corbett)

Wondering how to improve lawn drainage for the future? 'If the flooding is only happening in isolated areas, you can add some topsoil and new turf to level out the uneven lawn,' says Matt.

7. Add garden walkways

'Each time you walk over your lawn, you compact it beneath your feet,' says Matt. 

'Adding a simple paved garden walkway (or any garden path ideas, really) will help to protect your lawn from damage in the future.'

8. Consider a French drain

Lawned garden with pergola, outside seating and hanging chair

(Image credit: Future PLC/Colin Poole)

Still searching for long-term ideas on how to improve lawn drainage? Try a French drain!

'If flooding is a regular issue, you may want to consider installing a French drain,' says Matt. 

'This is a gravel-filled ditch with a perforated underground pipe to drain away the water. It’s best to check with your local planning authority before starting any digging.'


How do you fix a lawn that doesn't drain?

The easiest way to fix a lawn that doesn't drain is to spend some time aerating and scarifying with a garden fork, as this will improve drainage.

It will, too, add air into the soil, which will in turn improve the conditions for the grass roots to live in, resulting in a greener and more verdant lawn.

What is a waterlogged lawn?

'When a lawn becomes submerged in water, oxygen cannot reach the roots meaning they are unable to provide the nutrients needed,' says Matt. 'Over time this can result in dead grass.'

Early symptoms of waterlogging damage, he goes on to explain, include:

Bare patches: 'As the grassroots start to die, it will result in bare patches of lawn. These first strike in the worst affected area.'

Moss patches: 'Whilst a small amount of moss is beneficial to a lawn, large amounts of it can cause the grass to die as the moss steals the ground nutrients.'

Excess weeds: 'Rogue weeds are a common sight in lawns however, they can quickly take over a weakened lawn and starve the remaining grass of nutrients.'

How do you fix a waterlogged garden?

If you're struggling with poor drainage, especially after heavy rainfall, it can lead to a waterlogged garden. 

Thankfully, there are ways to fix this, whether that be removing debris, aerating and scarifying your lawn, fertilising the soil, digging in a French drain, levelling out the ground, adding garden pathways, or even ditching the mower.

Whatever you decide to do, be sure to avoid watering your lawn until the grass has fully dried out. 

Now that you know how to improve lawn drainage, it's up to you to grab an umbrella (ella, ella, ella) and get to work.

Kayleigh Dray
Acting Content Editor

Kayleigh Dray became Ideal Home’s Acting Content Editor in the spring of 2023, and is very excited to get to work. She joins the team after a decade-long career working as a journalist and editor across a number of leading lifestyle brands, both in-house and as a freelancer.