I'll be digging a few french drains in my backyard. I'll need to dig the trenches, smooth them out with right slope; put in a few inches of drainage stone; lay the pipe; more drainage stone; top off with topsoil.

I have to run about 160' all total over 3 branches. My yard is about 12-18" dirt, then 18" of very moist clay, about 3' down I'll hit water. The Mini-X seems well suited to the task but i'll need to go back and forth to gather and place the stone. My backyard isn't terribly big - it's about 3K square feet total.

Which would you rent from Home Depot - the Mini-X or the Backhoe?

--Updated information -- My problem is that my lawn is nearly always soaking wet. In addition to the heavy clay and high water table, I have a wonderful neighbor that installed a drain pipe of his own - and exits it 6 inches away from the property fence - and right into my lawn. The result is half of my lawn is pretty much just shy of mud all the time.

In the back of my yard i have one of the county's stormwater drains - i'll exit into that. Originally I had thought just connect PVC to both my house's gutters and run one over to the fence line - but then I stumbled across this video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7goh7iDCx0 which isn't too far off from my yard.

My idea was to put in a drainage that primarily gets rid of the water being forced into my yard and to assist in draining out the high water table water also.

When i look up drain tile - it seems like it is a french drain? https://www.uswaterproofing.com/learning-center/what-is-drain-tile-101-how-drain-tile-worksenter image description here

Neighbor property on the left, mine on the right.

Here is what i'm thinking as far as drainage.drainage

  • Be sure to check for utility lines. The city will probably insist anyway. Had a fiber optic layer break my gas line this summer even though flagged. It was only 6 inches (150mm) down. Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 18:58
  • 1
    What is the "Mini-X" ? Is this just a small version of an excavator that you push or??
    – Rob
    Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 19:12
  • mini excavator - like the Kubota K008 Excavator. The Backhoe being the Kubota BX25 homedepot.com/c/large_equipment_rental#earthmoving-equipment And yep on calling for utility. I've had it scanned before and there's a telephone wire wrapping around the back of the house that I may try to remove.
    – Chasester
    Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 20:03
  • whatever you rent make sure you get a toothed bucket. I found small excavators did not have enough power to dig into heavily compacted clay
    – kevinskio
    Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 20:48
  • 1
    I would assume that since you are needing to install french drains the ground is going to be malleable enough that you can get away with the Mini-X.
    – Rob
    Commented Jan 9, 2019 at 23:04

1 Answer 1


To install french drains one only needs a small ditch digger, something that is able to dig down one foot or a bit more by 6" width. We always installed irrigation systems AFTER installation of lawns and plants and mulch. Hard to see any disturbance.

French drains are for surface water. If these drain pipes are beneath your lawn you do not want to use drain rock. Perforated PVC wrapped in landscape fabric set right at the bottom of a skinny ditch on subsoil is enough. There are also amazing drain 'tile' or drainage pipes made just for this purpose. Tall (12") and 4" in width...already covered with a filter or a fabric to screen soil from entering the pipes.

These narrow drainage pipes are 4, 3" pipes set one on top of another that fit right in the narrow 12 to 18" X 6"wide trench. Depth depends upon slope. That drain tile has to slope away from the top and able to collect water from tributary drain pipes. No drain rock is necessary.

Where are you daylighting this system or where are you sending the drainage water off your property? Very important.

When installing french drains (or irrigation pipes) through lawns, one cuts the sod back and folds that sod over. Once the pipe is installed the soil is pushed back over the pipes/trench, firmed then the sod is unfolded and put back in place. Not noticeable.

Drain rock will drain the water too fast to match the rest of the lawn's drainage and you will see where the drain pipe and rock have been installed. The main focus is to not allow soil into the pipes and the fabric or filters on drain pipe do that very well. Sitting right on top of the subsoil the water is able to flow right into the drainage pipes/system. With drain rock the water is able to flow beneath and away from the drainage pipes.

When using equipment you should have a few pieces of plywood to protect your lawn and beds. Try to do this when the soil is not soaking wet. Remember that the ground freezes in the winter and water doesn't flow. Irrigation lines need to be 'blown out' with compressed air for the winter. Anything you don't want to freeze needs to be 3' below the surface in most areas with winters. French drains are for surface water during the warm seasons where water is able to flow.

Check out your rental shop. There is no need for tractors and large equipment to do this trenching.

  • --i'm updating my original question since the reply is too long.
    – Chasester
    Commented Jan 10, 2019 at 13:09
  • @Chasester Is this you? How close is this to your home? Wow, video! Just amazing! Something else is going on with the water. Water tables just couldn't be that high in your neighborhood. Do you have a basement? Anyone else have a basement? This looks like there is a serious leak somewhere close by and it is the city's job to fix it. They will want to supervise and be in charge. Try to get their recommendation in writing! Someone has a major leak somewhere. An irrigation pipe not blown out before winter? The water travels through the soil. Think about those foundations!
    – stormy
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 5:28
  • I LOVE that video! Is it legal to drain your surface water into the storm drains? Not what I am used to at all. The soil and grass should NOT be up on that brick siding...ugh. Look 'uphill' from your property. Take a peek at other's yards. Someone will have a mushy marsh spot where this is originating. Are you on city water? Someone is paying for all of this water! High water table like this means these homes were built in a marsh, a bog. I want to know about the basements yours and neighbors...what condition they are in...
    – stormy
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 5:33
  • ...sorry, and to drain that amount of water that pipe should be at least a foot deeper than what that poor guy is doing. I am not seeing slope happening in his trenches either. I see puddles with gravel, fabric a 4" perf pipe covered with fabric and more gravel. This trench and pipe will always be seen. The grass above will be yellow and thin. Without slope all that work and pipe will be worthless.
    – stormy
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 5:37
  • That 'trencher' is the tool you want for sure. Make sure you do locate services for utilities/electricity FIRST. You want the trench to slope 1 to 2 % slope. Do not need the gravel. You do need the fabric or the stacked and covered with a soil filter drainage pipe to not allow soil into the drain pipe. Normal drainage problems can be augmented with french/trench drainage of surface water. Yours is not normal. And I'd like to know if draining the water into the city storm water system is legal...otherwise we can discuss 'dry wells'.
    – stormy
    Commented Jan 11, 2019 at 5:46

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