Thursday, May 6

Rain Gardens: The What, How, and Why

Spring is here, which means it’s a great time to get outside, dig in the dirt, and make your property look pretty. Between the spring of 2013 and 2014, nearly 113.5 million people participated in gardening, so it stands to reason that millions of others would want to do the same in 2019. While there are many methods to use when gardening, there’s one idea that can provide beauty while doing even more to help the planet. A rain garden can make use of all available resources while adding value to your home. Let’s talk more about what sets these types of gardens apart and how you can create one for yourself.

What Is a Rain Garden?

Nearly 51% of homeowners who upgrade their outdoor spaces spend six or more hours there a week — mainly relaxing entertaining, and gardening. While you can certainly sit and enjoy your rain garden during nice weather, its real purpose is to ensure no water is wasted. Instead of allowing run-off from your roof, driveway, and other areas to drain off your property and potentially carry contaminants into area waterways, this sunken garden (which usually contains native plant species) will collect that rain run-off and use it to keep the plants thriving. While plant selection will vary depending on your area and the size of the garden, most experts recommend that a rain garden includes a variety of trees, shrubs, plants, native grasses, and perennial herbs. The best plants to choose are ones that will do well in moist soil but that will continue to survive during dry periods.

Why Have a Rain Garden?

A rain garden can be a wonderful way to prevent pollution. Although steel has been used to store and transport water for over 150 years, there’s nothing protecting the quality of water in open areas. Subsequently, many waterways are polluted, with the majority of that pollution coming from stormwater. When that stormwater drains off of roofing and even landscaping, it carries pesticides, chemicals, and other contaminants into the water supply. But if you can divert the water to another garden, that keeps these materials out of the water supply without posing any harm to the garden.

What’s more, a rain garden can also control property puddling and even keep your basement dry, which may be a welcome solution for frequent flooding. And because many rain gardens use native plants, they can help support vulnerable wildlife (including important pollinators like bees and butterflies). They’re also incredibly low maintenance, which means you can add value and visual interest to your property without a lot of ongoing upkeep.

How Can I Create a Rain Garden?

Creating a rain garden does require some substantial planning, but homeowners typically find that it’s worth the time investment. Your rain garden should ideally be positioned on a slight slope and located away from the home, as positioning it too close by can end up diverting water back to the foundation. Aim to position your garden at least 10 feet away and ensure that the direction of the garden will allow runoff from your downspouts to provide the hydration those plants need. You can do some research in the rain to see how the water naturally flower; alternatively, you could build a shallow trench or run an underground line. Usually, it’ll be in a lower area where rainwater already collects.

Rain gardens are on the shallow side in most cases, averaging around six inches deep. It should be flat so that the rain water can be absorbed evenly and slowly. Soil texture matters here, as well, since the type of soil used will impact the garden’s ability to hold nutrients, its rate of drainage, and its water holding capacity. If your area is prone to having clay, rocky, or sandy soil, you’ll want to add organic matter to improve the quality. Loam soils are considered to be ideal for rain gardens.

While you may need to provide some additional maintenance during the first year, your rain garden will soon thrive without much intervention on your part. That said, weeding, mulching, and regular clean-up will still be required. Still, this can be a relatively wild part of your garden that supports local animals and that serves an even greater purpose than mere decoration.

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