The Many Benefits of Rain Gardens

A current topic on everyone’s mind is how to manage water runoff from storms. 

We have the dubious honor of being profiled in the national news due to the flooding along the Lake Michigan shoreline.  It’s easy to forget at this time of year, but this is the result of high rainfall amounts over multiple consecutive years.  And…it’s not just Lake Michigan that’s being affected, it may be your yard as well.  So, what to do with all that water in your yard?  How about implementing a Rain Garden.

Rain Gardens are simple in concept:  create a low area in your yard that collects water runoff from other areas.  It can be an existing low area or newly created.  For the garden to help with your water problems, it needs to hold a certain amount of water both above ground AND below ground.  This is very important.  If your soil does not drain within 12-48 hours, you get a mud pit, not a Rain Garden.  Poorly drained soils will greatly limit the type of plants that will thrive in your garden.  This is usually done by amending the existing soil to a depth of at least 6”.  Think about it this way - how much water runs off your driveway or lawn in a heavy rain and how much area you would need to store that water!

Keep in mind that we are talking about the basics here.  For a large Rain Garden like the one pictured above: you may need the help of a landscape architect and/or civil engineer.  This new garden was installed to collect and store rain water from the entire property not just the lawn that you can see. It was planted with Midwestern natives as part of the owner’s sustainable landscape requirements.  Many of the plants used are not even very exotic and can be found at your local garden centers.  Look for plants like Red Twig Dogwood, Cardinal Flower, and Blue Flag Iris.  They can handle periodic flooding and the dryer soils in-between rain events.

Implementing a Rain Garden is a great way you can help yourself and help the environment.  It can create habitat for birds, butterflies and other beneficial insects.  It filters out surface pollutants and helps with ground water recharge.  All of this and it gives you a nice garden to look at, too!

Don Bolak, Senior Designer