Building a Drainage Ditch

A shovel set into the soil with a pair of yellow work gloves.
  • 4-20 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 0-500
What You'll Need
Shovel or trench digging machine
Crushed rock (the larger the better)
Field stones or flat rock
What You'll Need
Shovel or trench digging machine
Crushed rock (the larger the better)
Field stones or flat rock

Build your own drainage ditch as a quick, economic solution to combat water buildup on your property. While a ditch won't stop the water from attempting to collect, it will allow it to quickly drain away, flowing downhill to a stream, street drain, storm sewer, or pond. You can plant flowers or other vegetation along the edges of your ditch to conceal it and make it more appealing as well.

Step 1 - Before You Dig

Before investing the time and effort in digging your ditch, ask yourself these questions. You may save some time, effort, and money.

Where is the water on your property coming from? Is it standing rainwater? Is the water flowing onto the property from a stream or uphill construction or a neighbor's property? Is there an underground stream or new road or building that has changed the configuration of the land above your property? If so, the owner of that property is responsible for correcting the flooding, not you.

Since water flows downhill if the flooding is a recent event check to see if something is preventing the water from draining. Are existing drains clogged or backed up with debris?

If existing drainage isn't a problem and a ditch is necessary, determine how much water must be controlled and how wide a ditch you'll need to dig. Look at the slope and see what kind of ditch you'll need. A steep slope will have to have small breaks or diversions to slow down the rush of water and prevent erosion. A gentler slope won't need the breaks but may need to have a deeper drop along the slope to ensure the water drains as it’s supposed to.

Step 2 - Choose Your Path

rock drainage next to lawn

Determine where the downhill edge of your water problem is and the lay of your land so you know where to put your drainage ditch. Try to plot a ditch that follows the natural downhill flow.

Step 3 - Clear the Ground

Clear away the rocks, stumps, and vegetation in the path of your planned ditch. If you're removing topsoil, save it for any vegetation you may plant along the ditch afterward, or put it in your garden.

Step 4 - Dig

gravel and drainage gate

Break ground with either a shovel or a trench digger. The depth will depend on how much water you need to funnel away. However deep you dig, remember the width of the trench should be greater than the depth. You want a gentle slope from the edges of the trench to the center. You don't want a deep, steep ditch, but a shallow, sloping one instead.

Step 5 - Add Crushed Rock

Fill the bottom of the trench with large crushed rock, setting field stones or larger flat stones into the sides to help shape and support it.

This ditch should solve your problems with standing water near your home. If not, you might need to reevaluate the source or modify your trench.