As seasonal rains become increasingly unpredictable, maintaining a perfectly manicured lawn isn’t as practical as it once was. Plus, the harsh chemicals, fertilizers, or wasteful watering practices many yards require aren’t doing any good for the environment or your wallet.
Alternatively, a rain garden may provide an easier, more environmentally friendly approach to your lawn and garden care. Not only are they beautiful and more self-sustaining, but they can also keep your yard and house from flooding during heavy rainfall.
Rain gardens are also great for local rivers and streams because they manage stormwater runoff and filter out pollutants…”
This type of garden is planted in the shape of a gentle sloping depression or divot so that rainwater is collected and retained in the yard. Plus, special deep-rooted shrubs, perennials, and flowers that are native to your region help direct excess water deep into the ground.
Usually, a rain garden will utilize common runoff water from roofs, driveways, and patios, and direct it to the garden for a natural and stress-free way to irrigate the garden every time it rains. Rain gardens are also great for local rivers and streams because they manage stormwater runoff and filter out pollutants such as garden pesticides, fertilizers, roadway salts, and automobile fluids that end up on the driveway or street.
It’s also easier than ever to start building a rain garden in your yard. Many cities like Austin, Texas, Washington, DC, and Chicago even offer rebates or grants to help get you started on a rain garden project.
But before you start planting, here are four tips to keep in mind that will keep your garden lush and low maintenance all season long:
Conduct a rain audit. The next time there’s a heavy rain shower, put on a raincoat and go outside to see where water typically flows around your house. Common areas where runoff occurs naturally include edges of the sidewalk or driveway, near gutters and downspouts, and surrounding a patio or deck.
Once you’ve determined where the natural flow of water occurs, you’ll want to pick a location. For instance, a south-facing sloped rain garden is ideal for plants requiring predominant sun. And according to the USDA, the garden should be planted at least 10 feet away from foundations or fences, and 25 feet from septic systems and drain fields or wellheads. They’re also typically 7 to 20 percent the size of the impervious surface generating runoff and between 6 and 9 inches deep.
Research native plants and shrubs. Depending on the region you live in, there will be several varieties of plants that thrive in rain gardens. Talk to a local nursery professional or master gardener for tips on which plants to purchase. And consider plants that match the location of your garden — direct or indirect sunlight, plus extra benefits for animals, like flower pollination for bees. For a list of plants that work well in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, visit the Three Rivers Rain Garden Alliance for salt-tolerant plants, as well as shrubs and perennials ideal for sunny or shady spots.
Consider a rain barrel. While you might assume a rain garden is DIY-irrigation, there will be in-between periods of drought when you might need to water your garden, especially in the early planting stages. To offset water from a hose, a rain barrel attached to a gutter system can help collect extra runoff water from a roof and deposit it back into the rain garden. It’s a great way to conserve, and many cities and towns distribute rain barrels to residents through rebate or grant programs.
Don’t forget TLC. Rain gardens help reduce green-thumb maintenance versus the typical garden, but you’ll still want to periodically check-in to ensure it doesn’t deteriorate due to water erosion or serve as a collection spot for lawn debris and trash. River rocks and small stones can help prevent water damage so that soil and mulch stay in place. And don’t forget to clean up winter weeds in early March, then weed every two weeks between April and November to keep the garden looking fresh. Especially after periods of heavy rain, check for leaves, branches, and trash, like plastic bottles and bags, which might flow into the garden too.