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Digging a Trench for a French Drain That Lasts

A french drain begins with digging a trench. We recommend using an excavator to start digging the trench at the low points in the yard and work our way to the discharge location.


Your trench should be 14 inches wide, and once your fabric and pipe are in the trench, filled with coarse, washed rock. To keep it clean, use loaders to take the dirt you remove to the truck that is going to haul it away. The excavator should be able to cut through any tree roots you come across or you can use an axe to cut through them.


An excavator is the right tool to dig a french drain, a trencher won’t give you the ability to dig as large of a trench. An excavator creates a wide trench that has more room for stone. The more stone you can put in your french drain the better, and the longer it will last.


You want to haul all the dirt you take out for your trench. If you put it back, it will cause your system to fail.


How to dig a french drain:


  • Start at the low point.
  • Start digging with an excavator.
  • Move the dirt out with a loader.
  • Take it to a dump truck, dump trailer.
  • Haul it off-site.


When you start your trench in a low spot it can get really deep in other areas. For example, this trench is going to be about three feet deep behind this excavator. This trench is going to go all the way out to the St. Clair River to discharge.