How to Deal With a Waterlogged Garden

Over the last few summers the UK has suffered from a rash of bad weather and the floods it brought along for the ride. Places like the Somerset levels were badly affected by rivers bursting their banks and the seemingly incessant rainfall, which is great if you don’t want to manage your watering but all in all combined to cause downright misery for the population of such areas with exception of the wildlife who love a bit of rain. We’re used to bad weather here in the UK, but sometimes it gets a bit too much to deal with and ends up causing untold levels of damage.

One area that is often left in a complete state is the garden, and with the nation’s love for carefully pruned gardens it can be incredibly demoralising after all that hard work you put into it. But don’t worry, there are ways to deal with a waterlogged garden that will eventually ensure it returns to the great state you’d nurtured it into before and at least you don’t need to worry about when to water the garden for a bit!

The telltale signs of a waterlogged garden.
The telltale signs of a waterlogged garden. source :

How does it start and what does it look like?

Prolonged periods of heavy rain can cause the water table in your garden to rise, with the water failing to drain away. Before you know it you’ve got big puddles in your garden that are literally drowning your plants. This is a great time to take advantage with a water butt if you can keep a level head! Floods can also sweep in from outside the boundaries of your garden, and while flash floods won’t kill your plants its prolonged periods where plants sit in water that you have to worry about, but that said, it’s not all bad news, after all, some plants love constant damp and that’s why we use self watering troughs.

Your garden will be more or less prone to water logging depending on the type of soil, a good point to note here is that aeration makes a big difference. If the soil is mostly made up of dense clay, or the soil is badly compacted, then the surface tends to stay wet for a lot longer than other types of ground, always keep your soil in tip top condition, it’ll help reduce the impact of water logging. The water table will also naturally be higher, with water closer to the soil surface, thus making the garden a lot of susceptible to flooding. Obviously areas near rivers or lakes will also be more at risk to water logging, and as we’ve seen in the news there aren’t always defensive measures in place to prevent these places from flooding.

It’s easy to notice when your garden is waterlogged as you’ll see water covering the surface. Areas such as the lawn may be covered in large puddles, which get deeper depending on how much the ground dips. However, depending on the severity of the water logging it won’t always be noticeable from the off. Look for signs like the lawn being squelchy to walk on, a glue-like layer of sticky soil can form on the surface and the grass will turn yellow and die out. You should also check the plants, as a waterlogged garden will deprive plants of oxygen by blocking air pockets in the soil. You can tell if a plant is dying by looking for yellow leaves, wilting, rotten roots that smell like rotten eggs and stunted growth where plants fail to sprout or grow new shoots.

Other problems that occur in a waterlogged garden:

  • Moss in damp areas.
  • Rush may arrive, which form tussocks.
  • Algae, lichens and liverworts are encouraged to thrive in the damp conditions.

What can you do

We’ll go around the garden and take a look at areas where you can repair waterlogged damage and prepare for any future onset of water.

Soil structure – Cultivate the soil by adding plenty of compost. We’ve raved about the benefits of compost in the past, so go through the year making sure you build up a decent amount of organic matter that you can spread in barrow loads for every metre square of ground. Clay soils should be dug in autumn, although leave it when the soil is wet. The frost will break up the soil over the winter and help improve the structure. Do this before the spring arrives as digging usually leads to moisture loss. Light and sandy soils can be tackled in spring or autumn, just as long as the ground isn’t waterlogged or frozen.

Lawns – Firstly, you should avoid walking on a waterlogged lawn wherever possible. Walking on it will only cause the soil to compact even more, further increasing the problem at hand. Instead you need to wait until some of the water has evaporated and the lawn becomes more visible. Spread some boards across the lawn to walk along, and get hold of a garden fork or anything you can use to spike the grass. Move along the board, spiking the grass at regular intervals to leave holes about 10-15cm deep so that the water has somewhere to drain away. You can further improve drainage by filling them with horticultural sand or other lawn top dressings that will help the water move from the surface to deeper and less compacted layers in the soil. The lawn mower can definitely wait here. You won’t need it for weeks to come now.

Forking the soil will aid drainage
Forking the soil will aid drainage. source :

If your lawn is regularly waterlogged than make sure you spike it every couple of years during the autumn to prepare it. Adding fertiliser during the spring will also help the lawn grow extensive root systems that can better withstand water logging damage, as well as help it recover from any damage received over the winter. Also make sure that you regularly remove patches where moss can thrive.

Plants – During the spring you should give your plants a good feed with a balanced fertiliser, followed by mulching the area. This will give them much-needed nutrients to help survive when the ground becomes waterlogged. For plants that have yellow and mottled leaves, give them an extra boost with a foliar feed; which is the act of applying liquid fertiliser directly to their leaves.

When digging holes for planting you should improve the drainage by forking holes into the sides and base of the hole where the plant will go. You should also consider making raised beds for plants, using material such as bricks and gravel that will allow the water to easily drain away should it collect. If that’s not possible go for plant pots or hanging baskets on your most favoured blooms.

Once the waters have ceded you need to make sure you water plants thoroughly, as those affected by the waterlogged situation will be more likely to suffer from drought stress.

Vegetables – If any of the vegetables in your waterlogged garden are still edible then make sure you wash them well before eating as they could be contaminated. Any vegetables that you usually eat raw should be immediately thrown away.

You shouldn’t start sowing vegetables again until the soil has become dry enough. You can help speed the process along by digging over areas where the water has receded to expose it to the air. Apply manures to bare areas of drier out ground will help drain it further and restore any lost nutrients that are needed to help vegetables grow again.

That’s pretty much everything you need to know about dealing with a waterlogged garden. But if you have any of your own tips to add then let us know in the comments.

About Terry Smith

I’m Terry Smith from, a professional landscape designer, hobbyist gardener, and barbecue fanatic with 20 years experience building and restoring. So as you go through my site you'll watch me document some of the professional garden installs I make as well as the major projects I take on at home. While sharing those experiences and guiding you, I'll be recommending some great tools I use to enable this along the way so you can really buy in confidence. Always feel free to pop me a message:

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