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Rain Gardens 101

Rain gardens are becoming increasingly popular in home landscaping. A rain garden is a shallow depression designed to capture and soak up stormwater runoff from your roof or other impervious areas around your home like driveways, walkways and even compacted lawn areas.

Rain gardens protect surface water quality while adding beauty to the yard. Water from the roof or pavement is routed to the garden where it soaks in instead of running off. Native plants with deep roots systems help absorb water and filter pollutants. Water entering rain gardens will slowly seeps into the ground or in large storms, collects for a short time and slowly evaporates.

So, why build a rain garden?
- Water that soaks in replenishes groundwater and helps prevent flooding.
- Rain gardens improve water quality by trapping sediment, fertilizers and other pollutants.
- They don't require fertilizer or pesticides and after establishment, don't need to be watered.
- Native plants provide food and shelter for butterflies, song birds and other animals.
- Create an attractive landscaping feature in your yard.


Rain gardens don't have to involve a lot of complicated planning. They don't require much space, can be fitted into oddball shapes, and can easily added to existing buildings. They look nice, and you don't need to be an engineer to build one.

Here are some things to consider when planning your rain garden:

Put your rain garden in the right place.
Examine your yard's drainage. Place the rain garden down-slope and at least 10 feet away from building foundations and up-slope from storm drains.

Evaluate existing soils. For heavy clays soils, tilling compost in loosens the soil to help plants grow. Compacted soils often cause rain gardens to fail, so keep machinery and vehicles off the area.

Increase infiltration. Excavate six to eight inches of soil to create a slight depression that catches water. Mound this soil into a berm on the down side of the garden.

Create an attractive design. Rain gardens feature native plants that are attractive and easy to care for. Give your rain garden a tended appearance with neatly defined borders to keep it from looking weedy.

See a color-by-numbers rain garden design here.