Rain Garden Design

Do your part to save natural water resources by planting a rain garden. Learn about this easy-to-grow, clever concept.

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We call this our Waterway.  Rain water comes down our hill and runs to the side yard.

We call this our Waterway. Rain water comes down our hill and runs to the side yard.

We call this our "The Waterway". Rain water comes down our hill and runs through cement/rock pathway to the side yard.

Do your part to minimize stormwater runoff by learning about rain garden designs. These clever, simple gardens help mitigate runoff while adding a beauty spot to your property. A rain garden is easy to build, and it more than pays for itself if your city imposes stormwater runoff surcharges to property owners. Discover ideas for rain garden designs. 

In many cities, heavy rainfall in a short time combines with the hard surfaces of suburbia to swamp storm sewer systems. When this occurs, sewer systems can dump stormwater runoff, which carries road and lawn chemicals, pet waste, and fertilizers, into natural waterways. The result can be algal blooms, fish kill, and ongoing pollution.

In an effort to fund upgrading and improving storm sewer systems, some cities now charge homeowners for stormwater runoff. That fee can often be waived if you demonstrate that your property is an environmentally friendly rainscape that catches, contains or slows down stormwater runoff. This is where rain garden designs enter the scene.

By adding a rain garden, you can deal with stormwater runoff and improve your property value with an attractive landscape. Most rain garden designs comprise a simple saucer-shaped depression filled with plants. The depression slows stormwater runoff, catching, cooling and absorbing it into the earth. The soil and root systems of plants in the rain garden filter the runoff, cleansing it from pollutants. Because the rain water ultimately soaks into soil, it helps recharge local ground water supplies.

Properly installed rain garden designs shouldn’t create boggy areas that hold water for more than a day, so there’s no concern that mosquitoes can breed. Many professionally installed rain garden designs feature a sand or gravel drainage zone beneath the garden soil, but you can build your own rain garden simply by removing turf and digging shallowly.

A rain garden is typically a few yards across. Size really depends on soil type and how much space you have. An average rain garden size for a single family home varies from 150 to 400 square feet. The depression of the rain garden should create a 6-inch drop from surrounding grade. Excavate the sides of the bowl so they slope gradually, and level the bottom of the garden. Aim to create more of a saucer shape than a bowl. 

The best place to locate a rain garden is down-slope, at least 10 feet away from your home’s foundation. Try to place it where water naturally runs off from your house, driveway, or other hard surfaces. Areas near downspouts are a logical choice for hosting a rain garden design. If you have a low spot in your yard that typically collects water from your property, that’s also a great place to site a rain garden. 

Your rain garden can stand alone as a pretty planting area, or you may want to incorporate it into a swale or dry creek. If you plan to channel and direct water on your property, it’s wise to consult with a landscaper to make sure you’re not overlooking or even creating potential problems.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but you want to choose plants that withstand both wet soil and drought for your rain garden design. This is because at times the garden will have very wet soil, but at other times plantings will be swamped by rain water. 

Choose a mix of native and ornamental plants for their rain garden. Good choices include turtlehead (Chelone glabra), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), dense blazing star (Liatris spicata), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and tall white beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis).

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