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I have 3 areas on my lawn where water pools when it rains. My soil is clay and the water takes a long time to be absorbed into the ground.

One of these area is bordered by a planting bed and patio, preventing the water from running off.

The other areas are shallower and I noticed that the grass is less strong there. Maybe because of the pooling, or is the pooling because of lack of grass?

Here is a photo taken in the early spring before the lawn has had a chance to start growing again (in summer it's greener).

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This was taken about 2 hours after it stopped raining. During the rain the area was bigger.

What should I do to lessen/solve this problem? Are there alternatives to re-levelling large portions of my lawn (even if they are less efficient)

I'm in zone 4/5 if that matters.

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I've had a similar problem. As I see if you have these choices:

  1. Reduce the source of the water. In my case, run-off from a nearby shed was adding to the volume of rainwater - guttering on the shed reduced the problem.
  2. Add some sort of slope to the affected area. If there's any way you can put a 1-2 degree slope on the lawn, then the water will all run to the bottom of the slope, where you'll then have the same problem, but can do different things to solve it. You may even find just building up the affected area a little bit spreads the problem around sufficiently that it's not so much of a concern.
  3. Plant water-loving or very thirsty plants in or around the area.
  4. Make a soak-away: Take up a bit of the turf, and then using a fence post auger dig a very deep hole, all the way through the clay base and as far as you can into whatever is below it (often, rocks). Then, fill the hole with pea gravel and then a decent layer of compost/topsoil mix and then replace the turf.
  5. Take the drainage of your whole garden, and to some extent that of your neighbours in account and put in a full drainage solution. You'll need a professional to specify this, but it'll involve lots of pipes and a sort of 'sump' with a pump that will pump water into a sewer or similar.
  6. As others have said - increase the amount of organic material in your topsoil by a huge amount (so mix in compost regularly).

Personally, my problem wasn't too terrible to deal with. Guttering on the shed stopped water pooling, but the area was still boggy. A bit of a soak-away pretty much solved it completely. However, in a clay-soil area, you can never use enough compost, so every time you do anything, anywhere in the garden, add a generous amount of compost!

A word of warning though: Adding soak-aways or drainage can actually make the problem worse! It all depends on the slope of the surrounding area. In some cases, if your garden is good at dispelling water, then you can find all of your neighbours gardens just end up draining into yours. Get a professional to take a look if you're in any doubt.

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  • Add organic matter. Whether you are trying to get a heavy clay soil to drain better, or light sandy soil to retain water and nutrients, one of the surest ways of improving your soil is to add organic matter. Spread 2 to 4 inches of compost or well-rotted manure, for example, and work it into the soil after you kill the vegetation. Make additional applications as often as you can. Grass clippings, leaves, organic mulches, peat moss, and topsoil are other good sources of organic matter.

  • Avoid compaction. Avoid walking on the soil or working it when it is wet. Create permanent walking paths between planting beds, and only walk in those paths. If you make wider beds, place stepping stones strategically to help you reach areas for weeding or maintenance without walking on the soil.

Reference: http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/factsheets/misc/soilbasics.html

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One sure fire way to quickly move the water away from that area is to install a French Drain.

Drainage problems near to your foundation (you say it's by your patio, so I'm not sure how close that is to the edge of your foundation) can lead to the soil swelling under your foundation and damaging it. I am currently having this problem and it is not cheap!

For other options, this is the best guide I have found on the internet so far on diagnosing drainage problems, and it may have other suggestions.

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Apply gypsum or gardening lime (aka 'soil sweetener'). This will break up the clay (on a microscopic level) and allow for better drainage. I would venture to guess that in the heat of the summer you also have dry areas at which water just seems to roll off. This is the other extreme of clay-laden soil and the same fix of applying gypsum or horticultural lime will remedy your problem. You can find what you need at your local hardware store or garden nursery. Apply as directed on the product.

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