9 DIY Steps For Digging A Trench For Drainage

Are you tired of looking out at a muddy yard filled with puddles and excess water? 

Chances are the cause of this is improper drainage. 

Water needs to have a way to flow out of the yard, or else it pools up and causes issues like root rot, flooding, and damage to our house. 

Luckily, it is pretty easy to dig a trench to rectify the situation and stop water from pooling up in your yard. 

If you want to fix the drainage issues in your yard, we have easy-to-follow 9 DIY steps for digging a trench for drainage. 

How To Dig A Trench For Drainage 6
A drainage ditch is a big help in keeping a healthy lawn!

Materials Needed For Digging A Trench For Drainage

Taking on digging a trench for drainage may seem daunting at first. 

Luckily, it is feasible and attainable for homeowners with the right tools and a bit of labor. 

There are a few items and tools you’ll need to successfully establish a trench for drainage to keep your lawn free of puddles and pooling water. 

Digging Tool

There are a few different types of digging tools to choose from. 

Each one has its benefits and disadvantages to consider. 

Drain Spade

A drain spade is an excellent tool for shallow trenches about 5-6” inches deep. 

It has a long narrow blade to make digging through tough soil and rocks easier. 

This may not be the best option for particularly deep or long trenches as it will take a lot of time and energy to use a drain spade. 

Trenching Hoe

A trenching hoe is another excellent tool for digging a trench by hand. 

The flat edge allows for a clean trench with a wide width and flat bottom. 

They do not do well for making a particularly deep trench and work well for trenches around 5-6” inches. 


A trencher is a machine used to make digging a trench speedy work. 

They do require experience and skill to operate. 

There are a few types, but the most commonly used is a walk-behind trencher. 

They do an excellent job at digging a deep yet narrow trench. 

Usually, they dig about 3-4’ feet deep and 5-8” inches wide. 

Landscaping Fabric

Landscaping fabric is an essential step in creating a long-lasting trench. 

The fabric blocks weeds and roots from damaging and clogging the drain pipe. 

Lining your trench with landscaping fabric will increase how long the trench will function and drastically cut down on recurring repairs. 

Drain Grate

The drain grate works as the entryway for the water. 

It’s essential to strategically place the drain grate to make sure it collects water. 

Placement at the bottom of a gutter or area prone to pooling and puddles is your best bet. 

Drainage Pipe

You’ll also need to pick a quality drain pipe for your drainage trench. 

There are two main types of drain pipes to consider:

  • Perforated pipes allow the trench to evenly distribute water under the top layers of soil throughout the length of the trench. 
  • Straight pipes require an outlet for the water to exit. Placement of the end of the pipe is critical to not contribute to erosion on your property. 


Gravel is a vital part of establishing trenches for drainage. 

Use the gravel to weigh down the landscaping fabric layer and help with drainage. 

Gravel helps water to drain easily through the depths of the soil and reach the drain pipe. 

How Do I Dig A Trench For Drainage?

Once you have all your tools and materials together for your trench for drainage, you’re ready to start with the steps. 

Establishing a functional trench for drainage will help protect your yard against water pooling and causing root rot, mold, and other issues for your grass and plants. 

Plan Your Trench

How To Dig A Trench For Drainage 1
Mark out where the drain trench is going to go.

The first and most crucial step for digging a trench for drainage is planning. 

Establishing an optimal drainage plan allows you to place your trench strategically. 

Analyze your yard and determine what areas are most prone to pooling and puddles. 

Often this happens at the end of gutters or low elevation points in the yard. 

This is where you will want to start your trench. 

Measure The Slope Of Your Yard

Gravity is the force responsible for proper drainage through your trench. 

You want to work with it. 

A well-functioning trench requires a downward slope of 1” inch every 10’ feet. 

To measure this, place a stake at the beginning and end of where you plan to dig your trench. 

If the slope is less than ideal, compensate by slowly increasing the depth of your trench by 1” inch every 10’ feet. 

Dig Your Trench

How To Dig A Trench For Drainage 2
Dig your trench deep enough to allow the pipe to be covered by an inch or two of soil or gravel.

Once you’ve planned the inlet and outlet for your trench and determined the slope is adequate, start to dig the trench. 

Depending on the digging tool of your choosing, this may be the longest step for you. 

Make sure you are clearing roots and rocks to make a nice clean trench to lay down the other materials.

Lay Down Landscaping Fabric

After digging the trench, lay down your landscaping fabric. 

Make sure to completely cover the bottom and sides of the trench. 

Leaving a bit of excess landscape fabric to wrap the pipe and gravel in will further protect your trench from invasive roots and plants damage. 

Lay Down Gravel

Once the landscaping fabric is put down in the trench, it is time to lay gravel. 

The gravel is an essential part of establishing proper drainage. 

Lay down a few inches of gravel before placing the pipe in the trench. 

Install Drain Grate

How To Dig A Trench For Drainage 5
Install drain gate at the lowest point of the yard.

The drain grate should be placed strategically in the yard to achieve optimal results from your trench. 

The grate should be installed wherever the water is pooling most. 

Common places include low elevation spots where water drains or at the bottom of the gutter. 

Install the drain gate at the start of the trench. 

Install Drainage Pipe

How To Dig A Trench For Drainage 4
Make sure the drain pipe lays down flat to the ground with no kinks.

Whether you have chosen the perforated or traditional drain pipe, the installation is roughly the same at this step. 

Install the drain pipe into your trench. 

For traditional systems, make sure it connects to the outlet. 

If you are using a perforated drain pipe for a french drainage system, make sure the holes in the pipe are facing down. 

This allows the water to drain effectively and disperse from the pipe. 

Cover Drain Pipe With Gravel

Once the pipe is in place, cover the drain pipe with gravel. 

The inches of gravel allow the water to flow deeper into the soil and make its way into the trench to drain. 

Water follows the path of least resistance, and it travels easily through loose gravel. 

Cover Trench 

How To Dig A Trench For Drainage 3
Cover the trench back up with gravel, fabric, or soil.

If you have excess landscape fabric, use it to cover the gravel you laid down. 

Once the trench is covered with gravel and landscaping fabric, you have several options for the finishing touches. 

Some people like to keep it simple and just use an additional layer of gravel to cover the entirety of the trench. 

This is great if you need to do repairs at any point in the future, as it is straightforward to remove the gravel and access the drain pipe. 

Other people will cover it with dirt or grass. 

This is a great way to hide your trench but will require you to dig it up if you need to repair the trench at any point. 

Other ideas include landscaping stones, a layer of sand, and bricks. 

For even more ideas, check out this big list of ideas for covering a drainage ditch.

Video For How To Dig A Trench For Drainage

Time Stamps: 

  • Plan Your Trench
  • Measure The Slope
  • 0:04 – Dig Your Trench
  • Lay Down Landscaping Fabric
  • Lay Down Gravel
  • 2:56 – Install Drain Gate
  • 1:41 – Install Drainage Pipe And Cover
  • 2:01 – Cover Trench

Why Is Water Pooling In My Backyard?

Walking outside and consistently seeing a soggy yard filled with puddles is frustrating for any homeowner. 

We may wonder why the water is pooling in the backyard. 

Chances are, the answer is poor drainage. 

Many factors can lead to improper drainage and a soggy yard. 

Soil composition determines how well your yard drains. 

High percentages of clay in the soil are responsible for improper drainage. 

Well-draining soiling allows water to pass through the different soil layers as it is absorbed. 

Since clay is very dense, it does not allow the water to be absorbed into the deeper layers of the soil. 

Many ponds are lined with clay to keep water from sinking into the earth. 

While it works well for ponds, clay causes water to pool and accumulate in the yard. 

Another common factor responsible for poor drainage is the slope of the yard. 

If the soil doesn’t allow for proper absorption of rainwater, a slope will redirect the water out of the yard. 

If you have poor soil and a flat yard, nothing is working to absorb or redirect the water in your yard. 

It takes a lot to reconstruct the soil composition, and there is little to be done about the slope of your yard. 

This is why a trench is a great option to promote proper drainage. 

How Does A Trench Work?

A trench works to redirect the water pooling in your yard to a planned outlet. 

A well-placed drain grate is positioned where water pools and flows through the trench. 

The trench works downward to allow gravity to pull the water away from the yard. 

Depending on the type of trench you choose, the water flows through an outlet or is dispersed underground through a perforated pipe. 

French Drain

A french drain is a great option for those who do not have a well-suited place to redirect the water. 

In this type of trench, a perforated pipe is installed to evenly distribute water underneath the layer of topsoil. 

This is great for redirecting water without contributing to erosion. 

Sometimes the outlet end of a traditional pipe causes erosion where water comes out. 

Traditional Pipe

Traditional trenches use a solid pipe to redirect the water. 

The installation is almost identical to a french drain, but an outlet must be established. 

It’s very important to make sure the outlet of your trench won’t cause erosion. 

The best places for outlets are ponds and lakes. 

Things To Keep In Mind When Digging A Trench For Drainage

There are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind when you plan to establish a drainage trench in your yard. 

Since you are redirecting water, you want to ensure it is being safely redistributed through the outlet. 

As with any other digging on your property, you’ll need to make sure you don’t damage anything in the process of establishing your trench. 

Check For Wires And Pipes

Make sure you will not damage any electrical wires by digging your trench. 

The same is true for pipes running through your yard. 

Consult the blueprints for your electrical and plumbing and ensure you will not damage any vital systems on your property. 

The last thing you want to do is cut through an electrical wire or damage a water pipe. 

Make Sure You Are Up To Code

Many places require a permit for digging or establishing a drainage trench. 

Consult your local agencies to see if you need approval before you start digging. 

Officials will remove your drainage system if it is not up to code or lacks the proper permits. 

Be Mindful Of Where You Redirect Water

Water accelerates erosion. 

It is important to make sure the trench outlet is not going to cause damage through erosion. 

Many people will have their trench redirect water into an existing body of water like a pond, river, or lake. 

It is incredibly important to consider runoff from any chemicals or fertilizers used on your lawn if you do this. 

If you redirect your water into any waterways, use organic products to limit the damage to the water and wildlife.