Garden drainage systems: keep your garden puddle free

How to keep your garden puddle free all year round

Garden drainage is a growing issue in the UK as more and more houses are built on clay soil with no consideration for water run off. With the recent years bringing storms, any areas which were going to flood have done so much to the frustration of the owners and users. 

As garden drainage installers we have seen it all and have come up with workable solutions to most garden drainage issues. This article walks you through the best garden drainage solutions with examples and their pros and cons. 

If you want to skip all the reading you can check out free online tool which helps you work out the best drainage solution for your garden

Persona splashing in a waterlogged garden

Best garden drainage systems in a nutshell

The best garden drainage solutions usually consist of a french drain system leading into a pump station which redirects water into a surface drain. Cheaper but less effective methods include soakaway areas, soil aeration and changing the soil composition. The ideal garden drainage solution depends on how bad the issue is, what can fit in your garden and the budget. It’s a good idea to understand why your garden is prone to flooding and waterlogging before diving into potential solutions.

The next section explains the main garden drainage systems in detail

Garden drainage systems 

Most garden drainage systems will consist of 2 main parts, water collection and water storage or disposal. Almost all drainage issues are caused by water not being able to move away as fast as it is collected. 

To fix your garden drainage you need to change this by allowing the water to move away faster. So that the surface water is absorbed rather than sitting on the surface. 

Water collection 

There could be many reasons why water is sitting in your garden but the most common reason is that it has nowhere to go. The soil or surface is saturated and it simply cannot move the water in the ground fast enough to make space for the surface water to drain. 

The answer is to create an easy path for the water in the ground to flow so that the surface water can drain away. There are a number of common methods used to improve drainage, here is a brief overview of them from least effective (but cheapest) to most effective (but most expensive).

Soil aeration 

Old advert for a garden aerator

Soil should have space within it so that water can flow between the particles and be stored within the soil. Over time soil can become compacted and less permeable which can result in much slower drainage from the surface. 

Aeration uses a spiked roller to punch thousands of holes in the soil and bring back some of the spaces needed to allow surface water to drain through the soil. 

Aerating soil can seem like an attractive option because it is so simple however it will only work in specific circumstances. If your lawn drained fine for many years but recently has developed small puddles then it may do the trick for you. 

In most cases however aeration will do very little, if the issue is to do with soil quality (usually too much clay) or if the issue is bad then soil aeration likely wont make a noticeable difference to your garden drainage. 

Changing soil composition 

The composition of soil is frequently a cause of poor drainage. If your garden has thick clay soil there is a very good chance that you will have water logging issues. Clay is made from very small particles which form the smooth paste which kids can make bowls from. 

These small particles create a fairly water resistant layer which water struggles to permeate. If this is the main cause of your issues then changing the composition of the soil can sometimes rectify the issue. 

You will need to dig out the top layer of the clay then replace it with sandy soil (usually called turfing soil or loam soil) which will allow water to freely flow through the surface. 

This will be more effective than aeration but still has its limits because the water still may have nowhere to go when it has gone through the top layer of sandy soil. 

Before you get rid of the clay soil and start again check out this in depth guide to clay soil. It’s not all bad and there can be better solutions than replacing it. 

French drains

If your drainage issue is moderate to bad then you will want to look into a system using french drains. French drains are networks of permeable pipes which are installed underground to quickly move water to a more desirable location. They need to be combined with some sort of collection system (explained in the next part). 

Surface drainage channels

Performing a similar function to french drains, surface drainage channels catch water running off a surface and divert it to a collection or disposal point. They function much the same as the big rusty metal grids at the side of the road, catching water and redirecting it underground. 

Water storage and disposal

Allowing water to drain through a surface is the first part but for a garden drainage system to work it needs to go somewhere. The destination of the water needs to be able to handle the quantity which it frequently gets in moderate to bad rain. For smaller gardens a 400L capacity may be suitable. For low points which collect the whole neighbourhoods rain you will need a much larger solution. 

The ideal solution usually comes down to what is practically possible and budget. Here is a summary of the main types of water storage and disposal solutions for garden drainage. 

Soakaway areas

A soak away area is a ditch filled with rocks or large gravel where water can sit without causing issues until it eventually drains away. Soak away areas are frequently used in large gardens and parks which have land to spare.  

Soakaway crates 

Soakaway crates are large plastic, hollow crates which are installed underground to collect water. They will catch a set quantity of water and allow it to soak away out of site. Soakaway crates can be installed underneath patios, lawns and other surfaces. 

Useful for smaller gardens or specific points which get waterlogged, soakaway crates are a very popular option for moderate and bad drainage issues. 

Surface water drains

Perhaps the best option available is to redirect the water to a surface water drain. These are the drains which catch the rain water coming off the roof. Their capacity is very high and will likely act as a permanent solution to very bad drainage issues. 

Drainage pumps

Drainage pumps are not a solution on their own as they need to be connected to one of the other collection and disposal options. The function of a drainage pump is to move water to a place where gravity cannot get it to. 

As an example, a customer with very bad drainage in their medium sized back garden decided to get some soakaway crates installed to help deal with the issue. Unfortunately this didn’t even come close to solving the problem because here the garden was a low point where water was draining from the houses around. 

It was clear that a water storage solution was not going to work with this volume of water. She decided to get a drainage pump installed which redirected the garden water slightly uphill into the surface water drain at the side of the house. Not only did the drainage pump drain her garden but also sorted the neighbours gardens on both sides!  

Puddle pumps can also be a good temporary solution to garden flooding.

Examples of garden drainage systems

Here are a few examples of how the most common garden drainage systems are set up. I have also included approximate pricing for the total job including materials and installation. 

Soak away 

Soakaway crate garden drainage system


A concentrated spot where a moderate amount of water sits on the surface for a few days after heavy rain. 


This would count as a moderate drainage issue and could be treatable with the most straightforward of the 3 garden drainage solutions; a soakaway crate area. 

Simply install a drainage space as close to the centre of the issue as possible giving the surface water an underground space to sit and drain away. 

Check out our guide on installing a drainage cube soakaway 

French drains with soakaway crate area

French drain and soakaway crate garden drainage system

The next solution is an extension of the first. Simply installing a soakaway area under the problem area can work but if you have a wider issue there may be no way of the water making its way to the soakaway area. 

The answer is to install a french drain system which will capture the surface water and allow it to flow to the problem area

As you can see in the image above there are 3 small channels which capture the dispersed surface water and allow gravity to take it to the soakaway crate area.

A word of caution on this method, there are a number of things which can render this drainage solution ineffective. To make sure it functions properly and drains the area you will need to make sure the soakaway area can hold enough water and the french drains direct the water downhill. 

For more guidance on installing drainage check out our guide to installing drainage cube soakaway areas

French drains with sump and pump system

French drain and pump garden drainage system

French drain and pump garden drainage system

The final garden drainage system is the french drain and pump system. It has the advantage of being able to handle large amounts of water very quickly. 

As you can see from the images, we are using french drains to collect and direct surface water to the pumping station. The pump is sat inside a plastic housing which the french drains feed into. 

Drainage pumps activate automatically when the water reaches a certain level (using a flotation device much like the one in the cistern of your toilet). A standard dirty water pump will shaft 160L of water per minute which is around 1.5 baths. If only bath taps could fill that fast! 

The pump pushes the water through an outlet pipe to a surface water drain. 

Check back soon for a guide to installing garden drainage pump systems


With garden drainage as a growing issue in the UK there is no better time to get it fixed than now. It’s a good idea to do thorough research before setting out on any DIY garden drainage improvements because bad drainage is the same as no drainage. 

If you would like some help working out the best garden drainage solutions for you why not check out our free garden drainage recommendation tool.

We always recommend using professional, experienced companies like us to install garden drainage. Visit our garden drainage Preston service page for more information. 

As an amazon associate we earn from qualifying purchases