How to Make a Rain Garden

  • Sumo

A Rain GardenMany people have a spot in their yard that seems to flood a lot, or maybe is wet all the time, even in the driest parts of the summer. Typically these spots are at the bottom of a hill, and it could be at the edge of the yard or in the middle. The hill doesn’t need to be steep, either. Water naturally runs downhill, so any slight drop will cause water to pool.

During storms this problem is particularly bad. Water flows from storms can carry a lot of debris, which can clog up storm sewers and cause flooding all over the place.

What is a Rain Garden?

A rain garden, contrary to popular opinion, is not a garden that is planted right where the yard is wettest. Rather, it is a garden that is planted in such a way as to collect and absorb the rain before it has a chance to flood another part of the yard, or pass on to contribute to flooding elsewhere.

The way it works is this. Look for the path the water is taking to get from your house to the spot that is flooding. Water usually runs off the roof, driveway and other firm, non-absorbent surfaces and then travels downhill to the pool at the bottom.

Once you’ve identified the path, pick a spot along that path and plant a garden. Not just any garden, though. You need to plant a rain garden, and that means you need to use plants that like wet feet and that can suck up a lot of water. The result? The water that was pooling at the bottom now gets handled by the rain garden, so only a normal amount of water passes through to the other side.

Note, that this spot should also be a spot that drains well. That’s why another spot down the hill is flooding, because this spot drains water out so quickly. You can ensure the spot will drain well by preparing it ahead of time with a good dose of sand, some compost and possibly some topsoil. I would use a mixture of at least 50% sand, maybe higher, with another 30% of compost, and another 20% or less of topsoil. Mix this into your current soil to a depth of 2 feet.

Ideal Plants for a Rain Garden

What kinds of plants should you use? Willows should be first on the list. There is a large variety in the willow genus (botanically known as ‘Salix’). Some are large trees, but many are small to medium-sized shrubs. Some great examples are the Hakuro Nishiki Dappled Willow (4-6 feet tall), the Dwarf Blue Arctic Willow (3-5 feet tall), and the Weeping Pussy Willow (4-6 feet). Willows not only like wet feet. They root to China and suck up lots of water along the way!

Use native plants. Natives are well adapted to the conditions of your location, so they can handle extra water, even if they aren’t considered water-loving plants, just because all other conditions are ideal to them. If you live in a wetter climate, so much the better.

Some other great plants for wet soggy soil:

  • Iris
  • Lobelia
  • Ferns
  • Forget-Me-Not
  • Primrose
  • Sedge
  • Calla Lily
  • Hydrangea
  • Hibiscus
  • Joe-Pye Weed
  • Creeping Jenny
  • Bald Cypress
  • River Birch
  • Astilbe
  • Umbrella Plant
  • English Laurel

Keep in mind, above all else a rain garden is a garden! Choose plants that you like and make it a beautiful garden! Even a small garden with just a few beautiful, water-loving plants, will go a long way towards preventing flooding and runoff.

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