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Water Sits On Top Of Soil – Here’s Why & What To Do About It

Water Sits On Top Of Soil – Here’s Why & What To Do About It

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Paul Brown

I have places in my yard that don’t just hold water after a rainfall. Water literally sits on top of the soil. It just sits there! I’ve installed french drains and that certainly helps to move excess water but there are still these puddles where water sits, sometimes for days!

I’ve spent a great deal of time researching this. I’ve learned a lot not only through my own studies but from ThrivingYard’s writer Sydney Bosque who knows more about soil than I could ever hope to know.

Why does water sit on top of soil? The reason water sits on top of soil is because the soil is heavily compacted and does not allow for proper drainage. The solution to this problem is to improve the aeration and texture of the soil to allow for water to leach through.

There are a lot of ways to improve your soil depending on the type you have. If water is sitting on top of the soil, it’s very likely you have clay which compacts tightly.

To learn all about the creative ways to amend a clay soil yard, read Sydney’s comprehensive article Improve Clay Soil for New Or Existing Lawns.

Understanding The Problem Of Water Sitting On Top Of Soil

According to the Noble Research Institute, clay and silt have larger surfaces areas than sand which causes them to hold more water (source). When wet, clay can bind together so tightly that practically nothing (including water) can get through.

Soil types that have a tendency to repel water are often called hydrophobic. I think that’s a really good name. They are literally resistant to water.

But clay soil is funny. It will hold water on the surface but it also will absorb and hold water for extended times. In fact, it has one of the highest water retaining capacities of all soils (source).

If you are having problems with water standing in your yard, you need to increase the aggregates in the soil to allow for better drainage.

Understanding Soil Aggregates And Water Drainage

If you take two jars and fill one of them with sand and the other with large rocks, you can pour water into them and quickly see how water moves more efficiently through the rocks. This is due to the air spaces that are created as the rocks butt against each other.

Now, take those same two jars and instead of rocks, fill one jar with clay soil. As it gets wet, water will literally sit on top of the clay. Why? Because unlike those rocks, clay soil can pack so tightly that it is very difficult for water to get through.

The point is this: heavily compacted soil doesn’t allow for water to leach through effectively. This results in standing water.

What Should I Do To Stop Water From Sitting On Top Of The Soil In My Lawn?

Water sits on top of soil in yard.

Your goal is two-fold. You want to improve the aeration and the texture of the soil. This will improve drainage and stop water from sitting on top of your lawn.

I suggest you read Sydney’s article on How To Improve Clay Soil For New Or Existing Lawns. There are several approaches listed so at least one of them will be right for your situation.

Aeration is helpful. You can improve soil drainage to some extent with this approach. The problem is that you are usually only aerating the top few inches of soil. If your clay soil layer runs deeper than that, you’ll only see a limited benefit.

Personally, I am a big believer in a concept that I call Deep Soil Integration. This is essentially a process of drilling holes in clay soil to improve drainage. I fill the holes with organic material. Over time, that organic material decomposes and the result is a better quality soil.

This allows for the water to drain more effectively through the clay to the more porous soil below. At the same time, you are literally changing the texture and composition of the soil which will allow for longterm benefit.

Click here to read my article on how deep soil integration can help improve your clay soil.

I’ve done this for the past two years and have been very pleased with the results. It has not only improved the drainage in my yard but has significantly improved the quality of grass growth on my lawn.


If water sits on top of the soil in your yard, you need to improve the texture of that soil and reduce compaction. If you have small puddles in limited areas, drilling holes through the clay to allow for drainage to better soil underneath will probably do the trick.

If, on the other hand, you are facing large surface areas of standing water in your yard, more extreme measures such as installing a french drain system to stop standing water may be in order.

In the end, the goal is to prevent water from sitting on top of the soil in your lawn. This not only will improve the look of your yard but it will prevent mosquitoes from using that standing water as a breeding ground.

If you really want to understand your soil, read What is Soil (And Why Does It Matter?).

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