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Protecting your home from drainage issues

Drainage is not an exciting topic but it is critical to the long term success of your house’s foundation and your landscape. In fact, it is one of the most important things that landscape designers address (that, and shade in the summer!)

Why is drainage important?

A successful landscape is a well-drained landscape. With the start of spring, snow begins to melt, rain begins to fall and all of a sudden you have an excess amount of water on your landscape. Water is essential for any landscape to flourish but if you have too much water in one spot, it will begin to cause issues. If you don’t have a plan for where your water is going and what it is going to do when it gets there, problems will start to occur. Learning to identify a drainage issue can help you prevent a minor problem from turning into a major catastrophe.

Tall dark brick home with a wide driveway and a modern landscape design.

Here are a few of the most common drainage issues we encounter and how to solve them

1. The Problem:​ ​Improper Grading

A very common and potentially disastrous drainage issue to be aware of is water being held at the foundation of your home. Rain gutters and downspouts provide an efficient first step in controlling roof runoff. However, if the rain or melted snow channelled off the roof isn’t carried far enough away from the house, it will collect against the foundation wall or footing and seep into your basement. This can potentially damage the interior finishes of your house like drywall or wood floors. Once water is directed away from your home, improper grading can also cause water to get trapped in depressions in your yard. If left alone, this standing water can cause damage to your lawn and plant material.

The Solution:​ ​Controlling Water Direction

You always want to make sure that water is being carried and directed away from your home. Proper grading around your house helps stop build-up at the foundation by providing water alternative places to go. Drainage systems, such as catch basins and pipes, below the ground are another way to deal with water issues. For standing water, swales and creek beds keep the flow moving in a downhill direction to the properly prepared locations. If using gravity isn’t an option, sump pumps can also be used to remove excess water.

An open backyard patio with an outdoor sofa and a fountain.

2. The Problem: Incorrect Garden Bed Placement & Plant Selection

Before you consider what plant material you want in your bed you need to think about the placement of your beds in relation to drainage. If beds are placed incorrectly they can block the natural flow of water. This can lead to oversaturated beds and dead plant material. It can also cause water to go in other directions it was not intended to go causing damage along the way.

Soil type will also play a part in proper drainage. Knowing your soil type will help you pick plant material based on the amount of drainage your soil can provide. Certain plants will only perform in well-drained soils. If you have heavy clay soil, drainage can be an issue for some plant material.

The Solution: ​Knowing Your Soil Type and Plan Accordingly

A drainage plan will help you place your beds properly using the correct slopes. With a good plan, water will drain downhill and beds will not inhibit the path of flow. If you’re on a property with heavy clay, raising the bed elevation is also critical to the plant’s long term health.

3. The Problem: Flat Surfaces & No Drainage

If you don’t have enough slope on your hard surface, water will not move. Standing water is not only a slipping hazard but can also affect the quality of your hardscaping in the long term. Having too much slope on a hardscape surface can also create problems! Too much slope can make the surface uncomfortable and in some cases dysfunctional.

The Solution: ​Applying Proper Slope to Hardscaping

Applying the proper slope to your hardscaping ensures your landscape is safe, enjoyable and long lasting. A slope of 1.5-2% is typically the magic number for a living space. Any more than 2.5% and it will feel like you are sitting on a hill.

On top of proper grading, trench drains are also a great option to move water in the right direction. Strip drains (a version of a trench drain) can also be used as an aesthetically pleasing option for getting rid of water.

A large backyard with a garden outlining it.

4. The Problem: Downspouts Draining Too Close to the Foundation, or Facing the Wrong Direction

When you fail to consider where your downspouts will empty, you are creating potential problems you may not be aware of. Directing water into a bed can cause the plant material to become oversaturated and drown. Sending water onto a hard surface can also cause issues with the integrity and longevity of the surface.

The Solution: ​Know Where Your Water Should Be Going

Like we mentioned before, you want the water to be moving away from your house. When adjusting your downspouts, ensure water will be moving downhill and consider the plant material underneath it. Trenching the downspouts under walkways and installing pop-up emitters is another aesthetically pleasing solution.

Drainage can make or break a landscape. If you don’t have the expertise to know how to properly take care of the problem, you may end up making the problem worse. Having a landscape plan that takes into account water movement, drainage and soil conditions allows your landscape to function cohesively. If you are having drainage issues or would like to create a plan for future drainage, get in touch with one of our professionals here.


Homeowners who value creative design and exceptional craftsmanship, trust Earthscape’s simple step-by-step process to transform an outdated or non-functional landscape into an exceptional outdoor escape.

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