What can be done for a sloped, wet backyard?

citressNovember 28, 2011

Hi everyone, my husband and I are about to put an offer on a house that we love. One of the things that bugs me about the house is that it has a sloped backyard that has rather wet soil when we saw it. It hadn't rained recently but the backyard doesn't seem to be much sunlight and little grass is growing on the left side of it. We live in VA so we are nearing the end of fall, that might explain why there is little grass growing. But does anyone have any ideas why the soil is wet? It's soft and a bit muddy, no puddles or anything. Should we be concerned? Is there anything we can do to make the backyard space useable and pretty without breaking the bank? I thought about leveling it with more soil and laying bricks over it, but that might be very expensive.

I should probably also note that the house is not exactly level with the street - it's a little bit below street level as the driveway slopes down to our house.

Here's a picture of the backyard from the right side (good side). This picture's probably taken in summer so the grass is growing much better then.

Thanks in advance!

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Are you sure you don't mind being in a low spot? I wouldn't want to be. Everything flows down.

You probably don't get much snow in VA, but shoveling uphill can be a real pain.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2011 at 9:00AM
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The sloped driveway is a shared driveway, with 4 houses branching off it. We are the first on the left, so we are quite close to the main street. You definitely brought up a valid point, it was also the first thing I thought of when I saw the location. But otherwise, it's a GREAT neighborhood and we are not at the lowest point in the area, so that made me feel a bit better. That could be why the backyard is wet, because the water is accumulating back there? It sounds bad but I'm trying to figure out if that's something that can be fixed or improved...

    Bookmark   November 28, 2011 at 10:16AM
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Everything can be fixed if you have the money to fix it. Water flows to low spots. They don't have to be the lowest in the whole area, just lower than what is immediately around them.

There is only really one way to fix it and that is to make another spot for the water to go. That is either going to mean creating a path to an even lower space or creating a well for the water to go deeper down into the ground instead of staying at the surface.

These are really low tech solutions to the problem eg a dig a ditch, put a pipe down, fill with gravel and the top with soil. The materials will be pretty cheap, but it is labor intensive.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2011 at 10:51AM
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"I should probably also note that the house is not exactly level with the street - it's a little bit below street level as the driveway slopes down to our house."

I personally would not live in a house that is below street level. If you can live with this, then you might want to put something in your contract regarding installing a drainage system so the water is properly diverted and won't erode the landscape anymore than it already has.

Here is some other information you might find helpful about sloping yards.

A link that might be useful:


    Bookmark   November 28, 2011 at 11:16AM
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"I personally would not live in a house that is below street level."


About half the houses here in my hilly part of western PA are above street level and about half are below. Very, very few are at street level.
And no one has a flat lot.

We are on the downhill side and have zero moisture problems with the house. AND no sump pump.

You'd rule out half the housing if you were moving here!

To the OP;
Do you know if the property has natural springs running through it? That brings lots of moisture AFTER it stops raining.

Also, heavy canopy can retain moisture on the ground. Judiciously removing a tree or two could promote air circulation and allow a little sunlight in, both helping to dry things up.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2011 at 11:48AM
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Gosh you guys are so objective! ;)

I probably need it anyway. I just postponed putting in the offer. Mostly because we're nearing the holidays and we're going away on vacation in a few weeks. We'll see if we still feel the same way about the house in January.

And thanks for the great ideas Bill and Dreamgarden!

    Bookmark   November 28, 2011 at 11:53AM
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LuAnn, the house backs into a wooded area and there are mature tall trees growing in the area. As a result, the backyard doesn't get much sunlight. That's probably also why it's wet as the trees are trapping the moisture. Darn I love having mature trees around the house, didn't know this was going to be a problem.... I guess the slope does not help.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2011 at 12:07PM
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I'm not sure how your weather has been there, but if it is wet now, you may have a real problem during bad weather. You need to bring in a professional to look at that yard. I would recommend going back to look at the house during a bad weather day so you can have an idea of what it is really like.

Another thought I have on a wet yard is mosquitos. They can make outdoor life unbearable.

The picture you are showing us has grass in it. You said part of the yard does not grow grass. That may be a clue for you. It may not be growing because of the dense trees or it may not be growing because of the wetness. You need to look around at the other plants. What is planted there. Are they plants that need a lot of water? How old are the plants. If they are new, it may mean they were planted for the short term because nothing lives there for long. I'd be tempted to sneak a peak in the other neighbor's back yards to see what they look like.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2011 at 1:09PM
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"I guess the slope does not help."

Actually, the slope DOES help.
Otherwise that water would pool in place, resulting in some slimy ground.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2011 at 2:20PM
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Good point LuAnn.

We are going back there this weekend to take a closer look. Thanks for all the tips!

    Bookmark   November 28, 2011 at 2:45PM
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Does this house have town sewer or septic? Is it possible he septic system (Leech fields) are not functioning properly? If there has been no rain, the ground should not be that wet. If its wet now, what will it be in the spring?

    Bookmark   November 28, 2011 at 9:19PM
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I'm in Virginia. Are you sure there's been no rain? It can be pouring like crazy five minutes down the road and I don't get a drop, and vice versa. Plus, from my experience here in Virginia for 7 years, the fall is our rainy season. We get a lot of rain this time of year. It's raining right now.

It's also very hilly here in Virginia and like I think it was LuAnnPA who said it--it's the norm and if you ruled out properties because they are downhill, you're ruling out a lot of good properties. The last place I lived in was downhill and that basement was bone dry. The property actually stayed wetter than where I am now but that's because we were in a holler and surrounded by trees so got little sun and wind. But it was never a problem. Just took a little longer to dry. Ask them when they had rain last. Ask them why it's wet! Actually, now that I'm remembering, our barn here is a little low and during heavy rains, a stream would go down the middle. Hubby just dug a ditch around the barn and diverted it away, filled it with yellow pebbles, and in five years we've never had a problem. I encourage you because that house looks beautiful.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2011 at 11:30PM
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Same thing in NY. No level land (except possibly Manhattan) and our house was 75 ft below street level. We never had a water problem and a dry basement. The property was graded so the water 'parted' past our house and continued down the slope.

We are presently looking at property in Florida. We came across a nice house with 1/2 acre property, lots of trees. When we walked out back the ground was wet and muddy. We couldn't walk on it. Florida is mostly sand and I thought it odd that the back yard was wet. Our agent suggested we put in a pond and let the water collect there. He pointed out the house next door which had a lovely pond.

We did not want to build a pond, nor deal with the bug issues from standing water. We walked away from the house.

You could install drains (French) to carry water further down the hill. My neighbor, at our previous house did that as their property collected water. It worked perfectly but the drains had to be cleaned out every so often. In NY the ground is rocky and it was a difficult job laying all that pipe, but it did the trick.


    Bookmark   November 29, 2011 at 12:46AM
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I do two things when I find a wet yard... I look for native plamts, (weeds) that grow in constantly wet or moist soil. If you find some, then the place is wet all the time. (you can Google this)
Second, ask the neighbors. They know all.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2011 at 6:58AM
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Citress, do you know why the current owners are selling?

    Bookmark   December 3, 2011 at 6:46PM
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