Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Living on the Cheap.
Most of the rain that falls on your property is collected by gutters or runs off driveways and patios onto the street. All of this runoff is diverted into the stormwater drainage system which ultimately discharges into the nearest body of water.
As urban and suburban areas grow, stormwater runoff increases the likelihood of flooding and increases pollution from the oil, fertilizers, and pesticides that the water picks up along the way.
A rain garden is a shallow planting area designed to capture and filter rainwater before it reaches the sewer system. By installing a rain garden in your yard, you can help prevent flooding and pollution of lakes, streams, bays and wetlands. In addition to protecting water quality, a rain garden is an aquatic feature of your landscape that is easier and less expensive to maintain than a lawn. Rain gardens are a natural way to help prevent flooding and groundwater pollution.
Rain gardens are a natural way to break down pollutants and render them harmless. Well-planned and constructed rain gardens are a water feature of your landscape and an attractive urban habitat for birds, butterflies and insects.
As a community effort, rain gardens can mitigate the need for future taxes for municipal upgrades to stormwater treatment. Here is an overview of how they work.
Where to install a rain garden
It is important to note that a rain garden does not form a pond but acts as a collection area for rainwater to slowly seep into the ground, rather than immediately diverting it into the stormwater system. .
Because the purpose of a rain garden is to encourage the slow infiltration of rain and runoff, puddling indicates that filtration is too slow.
Rain gardens are located in full or partial sun, at least 10 feet below a house. Since the rain garden itself should be level, it is easiest to build one in an area of the yard with the least amount of slope.
Other Factors for Building a Rain Garden
Besides location, there are several other critical factors when siting and constructing a rain garden. These factors include the type of soil, the size of the drainage area, and the depth of the rain garden.
As a general rule, a rain garden should be perpendicular to the slope of the yard and twice as long as it is wide.
Most rain gardens are 100 to 300 square feet and 10 to 15 feet wide, with a depth of 4 to 8 inches.
Resources for Building a Rain Garden
Detailed information on how to build a rain garden can be found in the following free resources:
- 32 minute video on how to build a rain garden.
- Rain Garden Handbook for Western Washington from the Washington State Department of Ecology and Washington State University Extension. (Although it is designed specifically for residents of Washington, most of the information is applicable to other areas.)
How to save money on a rain garden
To save money on installing and maintaining a rain garden, build the garden yourself and use native plants recommended by local nurseries.
To save money on buying plants, use transplants from overgrown areas in your landscape or cuttings from your or your neighbors’ garden (with permission, of course) as well as wildflower seeds. . Contact local plant conservation groups who can salvage plants or offer plants at low prices.
When buying plants, use smaller sizes (4 inch or 1 gallon stock) and look for discounts on buying plants in bulk or bare root sales.
Contact your local water municipality to check for available discounts related to installing rain gardens.
Once plants are established, weeding and watering should be minimal, saving time and money on landscape maintenance.
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