For a homeowner with drainage issues, heavy spring rains can be frustrating and worrisome. Major puddling may occur resulting in unusable yard space and dieback of plants and grass. It may be that the same drainage issues are also happening in your surrounding neighbors’ yards, too.

We recommend first contacting your city or town hall to see if they offer a flood relief program. The Village of Skokie, for example, offers a Residential Yard Drainage Assistance Program, where a civil engineer comes out (at no cost) to inspect the property and then presents the homeowner with a drainage plan. It is the homeowner’s financial responsibility to implement the solution. If the problem is occurring in your neighbors’ yards too, you could all agree to fund it collectively.

In this article, we discuss some of the drainage strategies we employ for our customers.

Bury and Redirect Downspouts

Oftentimes, misdirected downspouts are the reason for drainage issues. They may sit on a patio and cause pooling, or they may direct the water against the foundation of the house. In order to correct this, we bury downspouts to redirect the water away from the house or patio. A minimum 8-foot extension away from a home’s foundation is recommended. We take a 10-foot length of PVC pipe, cut it to make a short vertical piece to connect to a debris filter to prevent leaf blockage and a 90-degree elbow. The balance of the pipe is buried and used for the long extension. The pipe ends in an underground gravel pit/drain. This will take the water away from the foundation and often will solve the problem.

Our crew connects all downspouts of a multi-unit building to an underground drainage system.

Install a Dry Creek Bed with Moisture-Loving Plants

Another way to redirect water is with a dry creek bed with moisture-loving plants. We create a shallow depression, or swale, in a designated area, usually near a large catchbasin or at the end of a buried drainage pipe. We then install river rocks, pebbles, and gravel and surround it with a palette of wet-loving plants. Here, it collects excess rainwater where it can percolate into the ground. Aesthetically pleasing, with gentle curves and various-sized stones, a dry creek bed adds a refreshing and naturalistic look to a garden. It is also functional, directing drainage during a rain event and providing sporadic irrigation to adjacent garden beds.

A dry creek bed with moisture-loving plants is both aesthetic and functional.

Convert a Soggy Area to a Rain Garden

If you have an area of your garden that is always soggy, where rain naturally collects and in which grass will not grow, convert it into a rain garden. Attractive shrubs that are tolerant of wet conditions include Buttonbush, Gray Dogwood, Summersweet, Sweetshrub, and Sweetspire. Attractive perennials that tolerate wet conditions include astilbe, Joe pye weed, ligularia, pink turtlehead, and sedge.

Fiber Optics Buttonbush

Fiber Optics Buttonbush has striking flowers that birds, bees, and butterflies love. Photo Credit: Bailey Nurseries.

Harvest Rainwater

If you’re looking for a way to harvest rainwater, Aquablox is a great solution. This custom-sized rainwater harvesting system is built by installing storage tanks underground. The system can hold thousands of gallons of water which, with the addition to a pump, can then be used for other purposes around the property. Learn more about Aquablox on their website.

Our crew installs Aquablox under our client’s front yard, which is connected to a drain in the backyard.

Recommended reading: The Green Neighbor Guide, released in September 2020 by The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Chicago (MWRDC). It’s a well-written, colorfully illustrated guide that explains how drainage issues occur and discusses neighborly ways to mitigate these problems.