Hired a gardener to cut the grass a bit over a year ago. Have to admit that since I have not paid a lot of attention to the state of the backyard. A few weeks ago I noticied the north side of the house was getting soggy*, and there seemed to be a dry spot yard on the east side. Not big deal - I thought - the weather has changed and the sprinklers need adjusting. A couple weeks after changing the watering times on the sprinklers things were not improved, so I fired up the sprinklers, walked around, and found problems. Turns out I have at least two broken sprinkler heads, and at least one tree that needs to be removed. Oh fun.

A soggy yard means muddy dog footprints in the house, so I cannot ignore the problem…

This is Southern California. We get a fair amount of humidity from the ocean, but very little rain. Without that added humidity (and the imported Colorado river water) this area would be pretty close to hard desert. Lose the sprinklers and that part of your yard dies.

The house was built a bit over ten years ago and is located up in the foothills with the development bordered by a wilderness area. To form the lots they had to do a lot of the usual sculpting with an earthmover. The end result is that the ground is 1-2 feet of poor soil underlaid by very hard clay. Water cannot drain through the clay. On the plus side the entire community is very well drained, and even the heaviest rainfall disappears without trouble once it hits the street. Draining your own yard is your responsibility.

If you are putting in drainage into your yard, the usual practice of putting in visible surface drains makes remarkably little sense. When you to stop to think a bit you realise that for surface drains to work all the ground must be saturated up to the level of the drains(!). This makes no sense unless you are in an area where water soaks easily into the ground. My last house was like this - when you dug downward you found deep loose sandy soil. With that sort of soil you could dump seemingly any amount of water on the yard, and never get standing water (surface drains where not really needed). With ground like my present house proper drainage is critical. Surface drains are pretty near useless.

* The soggy side of the yard is in part due to my respect for the landscaper’s expertise - or as it turns out lack of expertise. I let the guy talk me out of putting in subsurface drains in the north part of the yard. That was a big mistake.

In contrast I had earlier put in subsurface drains on the south side of the house. The south side is slightly downslope, and just with normal watering the drainage from both my and my neighbor’s yard made that area into smelly muck. Since putting in subsurface drains that part of the yard is never a problem, and even with the heaviest rain that part of the yard never has standing water.

The back (east) side of the yard is at the bottom of a slope maintained by the community. I was concerned that drainage from the slope might be a problem. When the landscaper was working on the yard, I insisted on subsurface drains all along that edge of the yard. The drains in combination with a low wall on the downslope have worked very well. On the years with the heaviest rain (every few years we get about a month of relatively heavy rain) when my neighbors had problem with standing water, I did not.

In truth I was not satisfied with the sprinkler system as put in landscaper originally. He tried to divide the yard into too few zones, with the end result that one part of the yard would be near-dead for lack of water, and a nearby area would be muck.

Looks like I need to find another someone to work on the backyard - at least to fix the broken sprinklers, remove the offending tree, probably to put in proper subsurface drains in the north side yard, and possibly to re-do the entire sprinkler system.

Don’t know how to pick someone reasonable to do the work. There are leaflets dropped at the front door pretty much every week, so I guess that has to be the starting point.