Creating a rain garden in your yard can be good for the environment, cut down on lawn maintenance and bring beauty to what might otherwise be a soggy patch of earth.
Planted in depressions in the landscape where water tends to pool, rain gardens fit into your topography: Choose colorful native wildflowers for a cottage garden or grasses and sedges for a contemporary presentation. The goal is to capture stormwater runoff and divert it into the garden to solve a landscape problem, turning an eyesore into an attractive focal point.
Rain gardens aren't like a water feature or pond that stays wet. They filter more water into the ground instead of storm drains, keeping toxins such as fertilizer and pesticides from going into the stormwater system. By removing standing water in the yard, they also reduce mosquito breeding and create valuable habitat for birds, butterflies, bees and other pollinators.
"With climate change, our weather is becoming more extreme so we have longer periods of drought and, when it does rain, it can be much heavier,” says Leslie Uppinghouse, horticulturalist for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas. “In the past, people would use French drains or berms, and rain gardens are an extension of that process … to slow the movement of water down."
Thanks to rain gardens’ environmental benefits, several cities offer cost-share programs to encourage homeowners to establish them. Homeowners in Northfield, Minnesota, can be reimbursed for 50 percent of the cost of their rain gardens, for example, and in Lincoln, Nebraska, homeowners who install rain gardens are eligible for a rebate of up to $2,000 for “rainscaping” projects. Check with your local government to see if there's a similar program in your area.
In addition to myriad environmental benefits, the native plants that thrive in rain gardens also make them an attractive addition to the landscape.
Follow these five steps to create a rain garden in your landscape.