Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
March, 2007
Regional Report

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Masterwort is an excellent addition to the rain garden since it tolerates damp soil and holds soil in place with its spreading roots.

Plant a Rain Garden

Since we can't garden outdoors, how about enjoying the warmth of the hearth and doing some planning? An idea that seems to be catching on across the country, and especially in the Midwest, is to install a rain garden.

A rain garden is a landscaped area that is designed to soak up rain water that runs off roofs, driveways, and walks. The garden is planted with wildflowers and other plants that can tolerate moisture and add beauty to the landscape. A bonus of this type of garden is that it usually becomes a wonderful habitat for birds, butterflies and dragonflies.

So, how does it work? In essence, the rain garden fills with a few inches of water right after a rain. The plants hold the water in place, allowing it to soak in instead of draining off into a storm drain. Statistics show that if properly constructed, a rain garden can allow up to thirty percent more water to soak in than a standard lawn allows.

Why are rain gardens such a great addition to the landscape? In cities where there is so much pavement, rainwater tends to run off quickly, carrying with it pollutants from streets, parking lots, and even lawns. This water either runs into streams and lakes or into municipal storm water treatment facilities. Either way, the runoff is polluting and costly to clean up.

Facts and Myths
Now, to answer questions. First of all, the rain garden is not a pond. The standing water is only there for the brief time it takes to soak in. The plants in the garden are chosen for their ability to help this process along. A pond is an entirely different planning process.

Rain gardens do not breed mosquitoes. Mosquito eggs need seven to twelve days to hatch and emerge as adults, and the rainwater will not be around that long.

Rain gardens are fairly low-maintenance once they are established. The whole point of designing this garden is to use plants that take little care. You may have to keep an eye on weeds, but then we have to do that in any garden, right?

Locating Your Rain Garden
Where should you put your rain garden? There are two possibilities: close to the house to catch runoff from the roof or further out in the yard to catch it from the roof and the lawn. My preference is a bit further from the house, but either will work if you plan right.

Whatever you decide, you need to consider several things. First of all, the garden needs to be at least ten feet from the foundation so as the water seeps into the soil it doesn't take a diversion and seep into your basement.

Don't put the garden in an area of the yard where the water already sits after a rain because these areas usually have low infiltration rates, exactly the opposite of what we want.

Never place your rain garden directly over your septic system. The extra water can cause the septic system to fail and the rain garden to work inefficiently. Also, when siting, try to put your garden in at least partial sun. You'll have a better looking garden with fewer problems.

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