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Boggy Mostly Clay Soil


I'm new to this forum and having a garden! I recently bought a new build house near Edinburgh, and as I've come to realise, taking the DIY route to turfing the back garden is a lot more effort than just rolling out some ready made lawn...

The builders took off a large wedge of topsoil just before we moved in, which at the time didn't look too bad as it used to be dairy cow fields. However, then the rain arrived...

The water sits on top of the rotivated mud, and it seems to be mostly clay. After some research, I found a lot of articles saying I should fork in some good organic-loaded topsoil... which I'm in process of doing as you can see in the photo. But in some places, it just seems so boggy, almost like a pool of soil.

So my question(s)... should I keep filling those boggy bits with more good soil to help drainage and level... or quit until drier weather (likely after winter).... dig a French drain.. or just get it all level and the turf will help 'fix' the drainage in time?

I see so many guides on fixing soil and laying turf, and many say you can lay turf any time of year (except frozen).. but I rarely see anyone actually laying a turf on boggy mud. Any help appreciated! 


  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 49,107
    Ah - the joys of new build plots @RichardCPhotos. You have my sympathy!
    There are countless threads about them, and unfortunately, there's no easy solution. Many of them are exactly like yours, because the ground underneath is usually rubbish - either it's just compacted ground full of builders' rubble etc, or it's compacted clay. 
    The best way of improving clay, whether for grass or for other planting, is to add tons of organic matter- manure is the best. There's two routes - you get loads of it from a stable or similar, and lay it on for the winter, which will make a huge difference, and is fine to use in these circumstances. That will break down over winter and render it decent enough for turfing in spring. Or,  you carry on doing what you can just now, with well rotted stuff, and/or the French drains, so that you can turf before then. 
    If it was me - I'd do it in spring, after following the first route.  :)

    You're right in that, once there's turf, that will help a fair bit, but there's a strong likelihood that you'll have ongoing problems, and will need to keep aerating and forking it on a regular basis.  It depends how you'll be using it too. If you have pets and children, it'll get a fair bit of abuse, which makes it harder to keep looking good. In theory, the east side of the country is drier, but it doesn't mean the winters are dry, so the problem will always seem worse at this time of year.
    If it's any consolation, my nephew bought a new build house quite near Edinburgh too, quite similar to that with a slope away from the house, and his has improved a lot, but he also has some planted, raised borders, which helps to use up some of the 'wet'. He has three children playing on it regularly too. 
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

  • RichardCPhotosRichardCPhotos ScotlandPosts: 3
    Thanks @Fairygirl! I admit it was late and I didn't think to search for other posts, so appreciate you still replying!

    Mine slopes towards the house, but thankfully the water seems to stay mostly at the higher part. You might be able to see we're also below the level of the back houses, so likely we get their run-off.

    I spoke to the site manager today, and he wasn't sure why they'd not back-filled the top soil after levelling it. He did say they normally have their contracted landscapers rotivate in a bunch of sand and mulch before laying grass... maybe that's the key to this site. I'm aware though that many people say it takes a couple of years for building sites to mend themselves. He said he'd ask the pros to have a look this week though, to make sure there's no drainage issues which won't fix in time.

    I think I'll plant that area on the back fence and see if that helps with run off... maybe a hydrangea or 5 lol.
  • RichardCPhotosRichardCPhotos ScotlandPosts: 3
    On the manure.. do you mean literally just lay it on top and over winter it?
  • raisingirlraisingirl East Devon, on the Edge of Exmoor.Posts: 6,327
    On the manure.. do you mean literally just lay it on top and over winter it?
    Yep. Have a look at videos on 'no dig gardening for beginners' for the principles
    “Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first” 
  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 49,107
    @raisingirl has given you the detail @RichardCPhotos :)
    Good that the site manager has spoken to you though. A lot of them aren't interested once they leave. Unfortunately, it doesn't always mean that adding topsoil is much better as the ground is usually compacted, and still doesn't drain well. I hope you get a bit of a solution though. 

    It wouldn't be a bad idea to add some shrubs at the far end, depending on what your plans are for the space, but the ground will still need a bit of help  :)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

  • If you have the budget, install a series of piped French drains now while you can. 
    You may have to use a contractor but you'll be glad you did otherwise regardless of what you do your garden will be a bog every winter. French drains won't cure it completely but will noticeably reduce standing water.
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