Illustration for article titled What is a Rain Garden and How to Make One?Photo: Peter Turner Photography (Shutterstock)

Rain gardens are one of those rare examples of something that is useful, sustainable, inexpensive, and beautiful too. If you’re not familiar with the concept of rain gardens, they might look like a small (in some cases) randomly placed garden in a garden, but it’s actually the opposite. Rain gardens require planning, precision, and a little math. Here’s what you need to know about rain gardens, including what they are and how to create one.

Illustration for article titled What is a Rain Garden and How to Make One?

What is a rain garden?

First things first, a rain garden is a garden where native shrubs, perennials, and flowers are planted in the ground on a small slope, usually formed on a natural slope Groundwater Foundation explained. The goal of a rain garden is to temporarily hold and absorb rainwater that comes from roofs, driveways, terraces or lawns. Sounds good, but do they work? We leave that Groundwater Foundation break it open:

Rain gardens effectively remove up to 90% of nutrients and chemicals and up to 80% of sediments from rainwater runoff. Compared to a conventional lawn, rain gardens allow 30% more water to penetrate the soil.

Remember that a rain garden is not a water garden, pond, or wetland. In fact, it is dry most of the time, with the exception of during and within 12-48 of a rainfall Groundwater Foundation explained. In contrast to areas with standing water, rain gardens do not provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Great, but how does it make a difference to plant a garden in a recess in your yard? According to Jeanne Huber in this old house::

Rain gardens allow the water to collect during a downpour and then slowly seep into the soil. The shallow catch basin is more of a flowerbed for water than an itinerary like a swallow. A fast-draining soil mix promotes water immersion and lush plant growth. The drain can flow into a rain garden from a swallow or pipe, or simply run in from a sloping yard.

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Illustration for article titled What is a Rain Garden and How to Make One?

How to make a rain garden

Before you start digging, find a spot that’s at least 10 feet from your home and at least 40 feet from a sewer system or a steep slope. While creating a rain garden involves several steps, the project should take anywhere from three to four hours. Here is exactly what you need to do: per Huber in this old house::

  1. Before digging, call the utility’s location service to mark underground pipes and wires.
  2. Use marker paint to draw borders for the rain garden.
  3. Scrape off existing grass and roots in the garden with a shovel.
  4. Dig 18 inches out with shovels and discard the removed soil. A pickaxe can be used to break up heavier soil.
  5. Add 1-2 “coarse sand to the hole and use a metal rake to spread it evenly.
  6. Take the plants out of their nursery pots and set them up.
  7. Use a hand claw to tease the roots and encourage outward growth.
  8. Fill the hole with a soil mixture of 1/3 coarse sand, 1/3 compost and 1/3 bark mulch.
  9. Water the plants thoroughly and cover with a layer of bark mulch.
  10. Continue watering for a month until the plants are established. Then the plants should only survive with rainwater.

And what should you plant in a rain garden? Huber recommends planting species that can tolerate moist conditions – native sedges and lady ferns – in the center of the garden, surrounded by plants that can occasionally absorb stagnant water, such as B. Dogwood from red branches. On the outer edge of the garden, opt for plants that prefer drier soil, such as native evergreen and deciduous shrubs.

You can find more information about the rain garden at This page on the Environmental Protection Agency website probably has what you need.