With all the rain we’ve had lately I thought rain gardens were a good topic for this week!
When making a new garden one usually thinks first about the dirt… creating a mound of dark, delicious dirt and planting baby annuals and perennials all over the little hill. I see neighbors, towns and parks all doing the same thing, all thinking the same way.
A rain garden takes that kind of thinking and literally turns it upside down. You don’t create a mound, and you don’t start with the dirt. You start with…..guess what? The RAIN! (Which we’ve had plenty of lately!!!)
You still use dirt, you still use plants, you still need sun, and it will still be beautiful. But instead of a mound, you create a shallow depression. And you use native plants that allow the rainwater to slowly soak into the soil. Not only will a rain garden replenish your ground water, which is important if you have a well, it reduces mosquito breeding, creates a habitat for birds and butterflies, and protects nearby streams, ponds and lakes.
The first step. Pay attention to your rainwater. Where did you have ponds and puddles after our recent torrential rains? After rain hits hard surfaces, (driveways, roofs), note the water’s direction. Where possible, position your rain garden on a gentle slope in the path of runoff between the source and its destination.
Typically a rain garden is twice as long as it is wide, and about 100 – 300 square feet in size, with a depth of 4 – 8 inches, and is slightly deeper in the middle than on the sides. Position the rain garden at a right angle to the path of the water run off, in order to capture as much water as possible, and line with a couple of inches of pea gravel.
A properly constructed rain garden will hold and filter approximately 30 percent more rainfall than the same area covered by a lawn. The soil underneath the garden should drain easily, preferably within a day or so. If a one-foot hole, filled with water, drains within 12 – 24 hours, the site is suitable.
The plants in a rain garden need to withstand periods of wet and dry soil, as well as occasional flooding. Natives generally require less maintenance and do not need fertilizer or pesticide; some are deer resistant.
Why are rain gardens important? Storm water runoff is the nation’s number one water quality problem according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. So what you plant in your yard to help water soak in makes a difference. In a sense, everyone has waterfront property — streets connect to lakes and rivers through underground storm sewers. In natural landscapes, rain soaks into the ground gradually. When land is covered by hard surfaces like streets, parking lots and roofs, rain water runs-off rapidly, carrying pollutants collected along the way directly into our lakes and streams. The deep root systems of native plants in rain gardens anchor soil and act as filters, collecting dirty run-off and separating out pollutants while absorbing water and decreasing flooding.
For more information about rain garden options, contact the LGA at 668-3558 or firstname.lastname@example.org, see our rain garden presentation (or schedule one for your group) and visit our rain garden information on the web, or stop by the LGA office to pick up a free rain garden poster!
Photo credits: Top photo: www.carolstream.org; Second photo: Sharon Anderson Cayuga Lake Watershed Network