A rain garden is a shallow planting area designed to capture and filter rainwater runoff before it reaches the sewer system. Most of the rain that falls on your property is collected by rain gutters or flows from driveways and patios into the street. All of this runoff is diverted into the storm drain system that ultimately empties into the nearest body of water. As urban and suburban areas grow, stormwater runoff increases the likelihood of flooding and increases pollution from oil, fertilizers and pesticides collected along the way.
By installing a rain garden in your yard you can help prevent flooding and pollution of lakes, streams, bays and wetlands. As a community effort, rain gardens can alleviate the need for future taxes for municipal improvements in stormwater treatment. Rain gardens are a natural way to break down pollutants and render them harmless. Besides protecting water quality, properly planned and constructed rain gardens are a water-wise feature of your landscape and an attractive urban habitat for birds, butterflies and insects.
To save money on installation and maintenance of a rain garden, construct the garden yourself and use native plants recommended by local nurseries. To save money on the purchase of plants, use transplants from overgrown areas in your landscape or cuttings from yours or neighbors’ yards (with permission, of course) along with wildflower seeds. Contact local plant conservation groups that may salvage plants or offer plants at low prices. When buying plants, use smaller sizes (four-inch or one-gallon stock) and look for discounts on the purchase of plants in bulk or sales on bareroot stock. Contact your local water municipality to check for available rebates related to the installation of rain gardens. Once the plants are well established, weeding and watering should be minimal, saving time and money on maintenance.
Where to locate a rain garden
It is important to note that a rain garden does not form a pond, but acts as a collection area for rain water to soak into the ground rather than divert immediately into the storm water system. Because the goal of a rain garden is to encourage slow seepage of rain and runoff, ponding indicates the filtration is too slow. For this reason, rain gardens are located in full or partial sun, at least 10 feet downslope from the house. Since the rain garden itself is level, it is easier to build in an area of the yard with the least slope.
Other rain garden factors
Besides considering its location, to build a successful rain garden, you need to determine the soil type, estimate the drainage area and decide how deep to make it. Most rain gardens are between 100 and 300 square feet and 10 to 15 feet wide, with a depth of four to eight inches. As a general rule, a rain garden should be twice as long as it is wide and perpendicular to the slope of the yard.
More information about how to build a rain garden
For more detailed information about how to build a rain garden, consult any of the following free resources:
- 32-minute video on how to build a rain garden
- University of Wisconsin manual details how to build a rain garden and includes planting plans for several sizes of garden and soil types
- Adapted from the University of Wisconsin publication above for Alabama gardeners
- Another “how to” rain garden handbook with plans from Washington State University includes a list of resources and money saving ideas
Rain gardens are a natural way to help prevent flooding and pollution of groundwater. Besides protecting water quality, rain gardens are a water-wise feature of your landscape that is easier and less costly to maintain than a lawn.
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