If you've been hit with late-summer rain storms lately, you might have noticed areas in your garden or yard that fill up fast and have standing water even after the rain ends. One way to handle these low-lying spots is by creating a rain garden.
Rain gardens contain low-maintenance plants that do well with soggy soil, but also don't need extra watering once established. Native plants are often the best for the job, which means rain gardens can double as wildlife attracting gardens. Plus, the plants help reduce runoff and filter rainwater as it seeps into the ground, further helping the environment.
Creating a rain garden is essentially the same process as any garden – it's all about location, soil prep, and plant choice!
Steps to Creating a Rain Garden
1. Find The Right Location
Heavy rain will show you the spots in your yard or garden that collect water, but rain gardens shouldn't be located where standing water presents other, more serious issues. Don't put one within 10 feet of your house, garage, or other structures (because of potential foundation issues), close to trees, or above septic systems.
Look for a spot that avoids potential problem areas, retains water during heavy rains, and is in sunlight for at least part of the day.
2. Choose Your Plants
Plants for rain gardens have to tolerate both wet soils and the dry spells between rains. Look for plants that will need little to no maintenance once established (native plants are a great place to start). You'll want a mix of flowering perennials and sedges or other grassy plants with their long root systems. For larger areas, consider shrubs as well.
Some plants that thrive in rain gardens include:
- Astilbe Vision in Pink
- 1-2' tall, spikes of bright pink flowers, needs afternoon shade
- Blackeyed Susan - Rudbeckia Goldstrum
- 2-3' tall, bright yellow flowers that are loved by butterflies
- Swamp Milkweed - Asclepias incarnata
- 3-4' tall, small pink or white flowers, attracts Monarch butterflies
- Joe Pye Weed - Eutrochium purpureum
- 4-5' tall, clusters of small pink flowers, seeds attract birds
- Blue Zinger Carex
- 1-2' tall, clumping grass with blue-green foliage
- Pennsylvania Sedge Grass
- 15" tall, shade-loving grass with bright green foliage
- Buttonbush Shrubs
- 6-10' tall, flowering shrub with fragrant, spherical flower heads
3. Prepare and Plant
To prepare your chosen site, work compost or other organic matter into the top layer of the soil (once the area has drained, of course!). This will help keep moisture levels in the garden a little more even between rains. It will also help to ensure the garden drains completely within a couple of days; long-term standing water isn't good for your plants or for keeping your garden free of mosquitos.
For planting your rain garden, slightly older and larger plants are a much better choice than directly sowing seeds or planting tiny seedlings, both of which are likely to get washed away by heavy rains. Plant according to directions, and mulch around the plants to conserve moisture, help prevent weeds, and reduce soil erosion.
Once you've got your plants in the ground, like all new plantings, you will need to water them until they're established. But as long as you've chosen your plants well, once established, the watering should take care of itself! As the plants grow, you'll have a beautiful, low-maintenance rain garden that both you and the local fauna can enjoy.