How to dig a drainage ditch

Updated February 21, 2017

Drainage ditches help move water away from your home. This can prevent mould, mildew and flooding, all of which can lower your home's value. No matter which type of drain you're installing, you must first dig a drainage ditch in which to place the drainpipes or drain system. Map out your drainage ditch before you begin to build it. Choose a downhill path that will naturally move water away from your home.

Place stakes in the ground, which will delineate the lines of the trench. Place stakes on either side of the planned trench so you can determine how wide it should be at various points.

Remove all of the plants and flowers around the planned trench. Relocate the plants on your property.

Cut through the grass and topsoil around the sides of the trench with the edge of a straight trench shovel. This will outline the trench and make it easier to follow straight lines when digging.

Remove the sod from above the planned trench.

Dig the trench with a flat trench shovel. Flat shovels help you cut a straight line down the sides of the trench so the bottom of the trench and the sides are roughly at right angles.

Dig the trench as deep as your drainage pipe manufacturer recommends. This can be anywhere from 1 to 2 feet deep. Press the trench shovel against the sides of the trench to pack it and prevent it from caving.

Drop a long 2-by-4 into the trench and hammer it a few times. If you can't reach the 2-by-4, hit it with a long pole. This will compact the bottom of the trench.


Reserve the topsoil and sod to use above the drainage ditch to hide the pipe.

Things You'll Need

  • Stakes
  • Trench shovel
  • 2-by-4
  • Hammer
  • Pole
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About the Author

Kaye Wagner has been working in the fields of journalism and public relations since 2006 and is a recipient of a National Hearst Award. She is particularly interested in home-and-garden projects, as well as beauty and fashion writing. An avid traveler, she also writes travel reviews and guides. Wagner earned a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Brigham Young University.