Designing Rain Gardens

Rain gardens benefit our environment in several ways: They increase the amount of water that filters into the ground, they help protect communities from flooding and drainage problems, they help protect streams and lakes from pollutants, and they provide a valuable habitat for birds, butterflies, and many beneficial bugs.

While rain gardens are a highly functional way to help protect water quality, they are also gardens and should be an attractive part of your yard and neighborhood. Think of the rain garden in the context of your home’s overall landscape design. Here are a few tips:

When choosing native plants for the garden, it is important to consider the height of each plant, bloom time and color, and its overall texture. Use plants that bloom at different times to create a long flowering season. Mix heights, shapes, and textures to give the garden depth and dimension. This will keep the rain garden looking interesting even when few wildflowers are in bloom.

When laying plants out, randomly clump individual species in groups of 3 to 7 plants to provide a bolder statement of color. Make sure to repeat these individual groupings to create repetition and cohesion in a planting. This will provide a more traditional formal look to the planting.

Try incorporating a diverse mixture of sedges, rushes, and grasses with your flowering species (forbs). This creates necessary root competition that will allow plants to follow their normal growth patterns and not outgrow or out-compete other species. In natural areas, a diversity of plant types not only adds beauty but also create a thick underground root matrix that keeps the entire plant community in balance. In fact, 80% of the plant mass in native prairie communities is underground. Once the rain garden has matured and your sedges, rushes and grasses have established a deep, thick root system, there will be less change in species location from year to year, and weeds will naturally decline.

Finally, consider enhancing the rain garden by using local or existing stone, ornamental fences, trails, garden benches, or additional wildflower plantings. This will help give the new garden an intentional and cohesive look and provide a feeling of neatness that the neighbors will appreciate.

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