How to Plan and Plant a “Rain Garden”

Watching a patch of your yard turn into a muddy mess filled with puddles every time it rains can be a little unpleasing. There’s also the side effect of possible mosquito breeding in all that standing water. Fortunately, there’s a solution that’s aesthetically pleasing, cuts down on lawn maintenance, and is environmentally helpful.

By constructing your own rain garden in low-lying areas where water tends to pool, soil and flowers will soak up most of the fertilizer nutrients, preventing toxins from running into storm drains. This type of garden practically takes care of itself, catching and filtering all that rainwater.

Some cities even offer cost-share programs to homeowners as an incentive to establish a rain garden. Lincoln, Nebraska homeowners are eligible for a rebate of up to $2,000 for their “rainscaping” projects; homeowners in Northfield, Minnesota can receive a 50 percent reimbursement for the rain garden costs. Now, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty details.

Plot Your Spot

It’s your yard so you’re already familiar with where water generally settles. Keep in mind, you don’t want the garden too close to the house so as to avoid saturated soil threatening the foundation. A location of at least 10 feet away is ideal. Sun or partly sunny sites are recommended. Also, the standard advice is to not pick an area that never dries out. Rain gardens are not mini wetlands. They’re designed to receive water and then dry out.

Prep Work Makes the Garden Perk

Remove all grass from your chosen site. Dig around the area until the center is the deepest point, and all sides form a slight slope toward the middle. The U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests using a hose or sprinkler for up to an hour to see how quickly the water soaks in, thus testing the infiltration. If the ground is not fully soaked within 24 hours, remove up to four inches of soil then add sand or compost to improve drainage. According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, a properly designed rain garden should be able to filter up to one inch of rainfall within four hours.

Flower Power

Rain garden plants must be able to withstand periods of both drought and deluge, so be sure to read plant tags and labels carefully. With that said, the following are just a few hardy favorites to add to your shopping list:

  • Butterfly weed lures butterflies.
  • Bee balm attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.
  • Daylillies come in tall or short.
  • Dwarf Fotherfilla’s white blooms have a sweet scent.
  • The ornamental grass Switchgrass grows about three feet tall, and the list of plants that thrives in such a setting goes on and on.

Fill the edges of your rain garden with landscape rocks to stop erosion, help collect water and hold the ground in place. Adding mulch each season is recommended to help retain moisture and block out weeds. To find what plants are native to your area, search The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center native plant database for more information.

As your oasis grows, the more that weeds will get crowded out. So, sit back, relax and enjoy the curb appeal. Your ugly-duckling-turned-swan landscape will be the envy of the neighborhood, uplifting moods and sparking serenity in those who gaze upon its glory. Let the drenching begin!

-Sharon Oliver

Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels


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