Coping with a waterlogged lawn

By | 31/01/2014
Lawn Puddle

A waterlogged lawn is a very fragile thing and can be completely destroyed in a few minutes by heavy boots or an quick game of football. This post is to just take a look at why the a wet lawn is susceptible to damage, how to prevent it, and how to bring it back if it does end up turning into a mud bath!

The majority of the UK has experienced an extremely damp start to 2014. With record rainfall levels and flooding affecting a lot of the South East.

How do I know if I have a waterlogged lawn?

An excessively waterlogged lawn is very easy to spot. If you have had a lot of rain over a number of weeks then you may start to notice that the tips of the grass will start to turn yellow. This is a sign that the roots are struggling to breathe and the plant is pulling in its reserves to try and prevent death. Grass is extremely hardy and can survive for a number of days flooded, but will certainly perish if underwater for any prolonged period.

If you step on the lawn you may also notice the soil feels “squelchy” underfoot and water does not drain away from the surface. In severe cases there maybe puddling on the soil. This is all a symptom of poor drainage, with the water not being able to escape quickly enough into the sub-soil or run off.

Why is excess water bad for your lawn?

A healthy soil is full of pockets of air. These enable roots of plants and micro-organisms which live in the soil to breathe. If a soil becomes waterlogged, all of the air floats to the surface and is lost to the atmosphere. The extra weight of the water closes these pockets and the soil becomes compacted, preventing it from breathing and so plants rot and eventually die. This is a real problem for grass.

How to limit damage to a waterlogged lawn.

The main thing to do is STAY OFF A WATERLOGGED LAWN! This cannot be stressed enough. Any pressure on wet soil squeezes out more air which then cannot be replaced and the result will be a very compacted and dead soil.

The second thing you need to address is drainage. If you find that you regularly have a waterlogged lawn, even in times when other parts of the garden are not suffering, then you need to look at improving this for the long term.

Things to consider are:

  1. Try to fill in any depressions and level any areas which tend to puddle. This will help water drain off the lawn.
  2. When the lawn is dryer, hollow-tine aerate and then brush sharp-sand into the open holes. This helps to keep the soil structure open and aids water movement through the soil.
  3. Regular top dressing will help keep the soil healthy and level.
  4. A French drain system can be installed to help move water away from the problem area.
  5. Some plants can be planted to help garden drainage. Some conifers and other trees will suck up hundreds of gallons of water from the soil, helping problem areas.

Fixing a lawn ruined by waterlogging

Damaged Lawn
A flooded lawn damaged by wet weather

In many cases, as long as the wet has not been too long or the lawn hasn’t been used while wet, most grasses will recover from a wet spell easily. However, if you have heavy damage then follow the following steps to bring the lawn back to life:

  1. Wait until conditions improve and the soil is warm (at least 8 degrees Celsius is needed for grass seed germination).
  2. Aerate the area well. Spiking deeply is advised, but a professional hollow-tine aeration treatment is recommended.
  3. Brush in a layer of sharp sand. NOT builders sand which can contain salts and other impurities, but a horticultural sharp sand.
  4. Overseed the area with an appropriate grass seed. Some grasses can tolerate damp roots much better than others.
  5. If necessary, cover the area with a light layer of topsoil or compost, to give the seed a good medium to germinate into.
  6. Keep it lightly watered to help the seed to take and then let it establish before mowing.

Follow these steps and it will recover quickly.

Kris Lord

14 thoughts on “Coping with a waterlogged lawn

  1. Yvonne draper

    Hi hope you can help my lawn is flooded how can I stop this problem bungalows at the back have built on to there property near to my fence I have grave boards and a built up boarder with sleepers round the garden would it help if I put drainage in the boarder or the lawn or both

    1. Kris Lord Post author

      Hi Yvonne,
      Yes you will need to install drainage. If the lawn is now flooding due to building work nearby, then it would suggest that the water no has nowhere to go. Installing drainage will help the water to move out of the soil and help your soil to dry out.
      Thanks for reading.

  2. Sam

    Hi, please could you advise further on which plants would help with drainage? You mention some that would draw a lot of water. I have a small garden but the lawn is a complete no go area all winter as it’s so wet (clay soil) and it takes all summer to recover.
    I will also try the hollow tine treatment
    Thank you

  3. Jason Visser

    Hi i
    I have a small lawn 5mx5m and laid turf when we moved in after 3 years after winter nothing came back so I turned the soil levelled and laid turf the first winter it just about came back … This winter there is nothing at all just mud the ground is on clay but initially I put 3 ton of topsoil in to level it out …… I am tempted to turn it over level and seed this year as turfing every 2 years seems a waste of money … Your view would be greatly appreciated as I am pulling my hair out

    1. Kris Lord Post author

      Hi Jason,
      You should really look at why the grass keeps dying and look to remedy that, rather just keeping repairing it.
      If it is waterlogged, put in drainage. If it is too shadey, cut back bushes. If that’s not possible (e.g. on a north-facing side of a house) then grass is probably not a good idea as it will never do well.
      Thanks for reading.

  4. Chris

    Hi. Is it advisable to use a fertiliser when seeding a new lawn. I’ve read conflicting instructions?

    1. Kris Lord Post author

      Yes, applying just fertiliser is usually fine. Make sure it doesn’t have any weedkiller in it though as this may kill the new grass.

  5. John Davies

    Hi I have a lawn approx. 20m x 25m,the ground has a lot of clay and we have always had a drainage problem even tough we are surrounded by large trees.Late last year I got a landscape firm to fit a land drain, but this does not appear to have had much effect.The landscape people say I need approx. 20 ton of top soil and new turf, they also said they would put in another land drain.Do you think this will solve or improve the situation or will I be throwing good money after bad ? Any advise as to what to do would be appreciated.
    Thank you in anticipation

    1. Kris Lord Post author

      Hi John,
      I can’t advise directly but creating new drains and replacing the topsoil does sound like a sensible move and will improve drainage and water movement through the soil considerably.
      However, I very much recommend seeding your new lawn rather than turfing. It will be much cheaper, you will get a much better species of grass, and the lawn will establish much better in the long term. Turf can only die off, seed can only grow.
      Thanks for reading.

  6. Sarah gray

    Hi. Had serious flooding this winter and my new laid lawn April 2015 has turned into a mud bath with grass tufts. Any suggestions as need the lawn reestablished by March 2016 Thank-you

    1. Kris Lord Post author

      Hi Sarah,
      The only way to get a lawn ready for March would be to sort the drainage out professionally, and then re-turf it. However, Turf would probably make a poor quality lawn for the future so if you would like a good lawn for the long term, taking your time over it and getting the soil settled and then seeding would be a much better option.
      Thanks for reading.

  7. Paul Spiers

    Hi there. Just a quick question if I may. Our lawn is around 14m x 10 but is quite spongy. Once our kids have been playing on it during summer it’s a mess and is in need of keeping off to let grass grow back (which is upsetting to not allow them to play on their swings etc) Can I use a fork to aerate? If so do I need to wait fir dryer weather? Also should I put the sand down and new seeds together around March as that’s what a neighbour told me. Thank you and great website by the way.

    Simone in Mottram

    1. Kris Lord Post author

      Hi Simone,
      If the lawn is very compacted, then just forking the lawn may not be enough, as the soil will just relax back into the holes. I would get it properly aerated with a hollow-tine aeration machine. Either hire one from a local company or have a look for your local lawn care company.
      Thanks for reading


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