Learn How to Plant a Rain Garden

Plant a rain garden in your own yard with these simple-to-follow steps.

| February 2014

  • Grow More with Less Book Cover
    “Grow More with Less,” by Vincent A Simeone, is a complete guide to small space gardening.
    Cover courtesy Cool Springs Press
  • Small Rain Garden
    The installation of a rain garden takes careful planning but can be a fun and rewarding project.
    Photo courtesy Cool Springs Press

  • Grow More with Less Book Cover
  • Small Rain Garden

Horticultural expert and gardening consultant Vincent Simeone offers the home gardener detailed and practical ways to create a sustainable home landscape. In Grow More with Less (Cool Springs Press, 2013), Simeone makes the what, how and why of sustainable gardening unmistakably clear. This excerpt, from chapter 5, “Water Conservation,” gives a breakdown on how to plant a rain garden.

You can purchase this book in the Mother Earth Living store: Grow More with Less.

There are several ways to harvest rainwater and maximize the benefits of one of nature’s most valuable resources. Creating a rain garden is one great way. The creation of rain gardens has really started to gain momentum over the last few years, and rain gardens are now common in both commercial and residential sites. This technique is a bit different from harvesting rainwater and collecting it in barrels or cisterns, because rain gardens divert water back to underground water supplies rather than saving it for future irrigation. In fact, rain gardens have much in common with the goals and benefits of permeable pavers. The concept behind rain gardening is quite simple and ingenious; let nature do the work. Rain gardens are low-lying areas that collect rainwater from roofs, walkways, driveways, and other waterproof surfaces. These water collection areas are landscaped with plants that are adapted to regular or occasional flooding. These are typically plants that like “wet feet” but do not like standing water all the time.

The idea of a rain garden is that as this water accumulates and seeps into the ground, the plants, roots, and soil will help filter out impurities in the water before the water makes its way into an aquifer or other groundwater supply. Rain gardens are very beneficial because they reduce storm water runoff and erosion, reduce pollution, and replenish freshwater supplies. When properly installed, they are also very beautiful, lush plantings that can be attractive features in the landscape.

There are some basic requirements you must consider when developing a rain garden for your own landscape. It is not always as simple as selecting a site in your garden that tends to flood during rainstorms and planting some shrubs and perennials in that area. Believe it or not, rain gardens require drainage. Water that stands for too long—several days, for instance—is not a rain garden. It’s a pool of stagnant water. Gardeners should be wary of rainwater collecting and standing for too long, as still water allows mosquitoes and other nasty pests to breed. A properly functioning rain garden should drain rather quickly, certainly within a day. Rain garden sites can be areas that naturally collect water after a rainstorm, or you can help the process along by digging out an area that is convenient for you. Here are a few quick tips to follow when selecting and designing a rain garden.

• Select area of the garden where water naturally flows or collects. Rainwater can be directed to this area by using drainpipes connected to your house’s downspouts. Rain gardens should be placed at least 10 feet from the house and away from the septic system.

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