In a previous blog article, I wrote about using a rain barrel in your yard to save money for the homeowner and to help save local lakes and streams from storm run-off.  As a new homeowner, one of my first purchases next spring will be a rain barrel.  But there is another way to capture that storm run-off and beautify your yard at the same time- A rain garden.  Like rain barrels, rain gardens have gotten a lot of press recently, but many homeowners still seem confused or reluctant to install one.  What exactly is a rain garden? How does it work? What kind of plants do I install?  Hopefully, this blog can answer questions and clear up some of the confusion.

First, what exactly is a rain garden?  In the simplest terms, a rain garden is a shallow depression in your yard, planted with native plants.  These depressions are often, through not always mulched.  The plants are planted in soil that has been amended to increase its filtration rate.  A fancy way of saying, how fast the water absorbs into the ground.  When choosing a site for you rain garden, consider an area in which storm water run-off is most prevalent in your property.  Remember that downspouts can be directed into rain gardens to absorb run-off from buildings.  Avoid placing rain gardens on a slope (it may actually encourage erosion),  directly above septic systems, and remember to keep your rain garden a minimum of 10 feet away from the house to prevent water from seeping into the foundation.  You should not place rain gardens where water already pools, unless you amend the soil.  Pooling water is a sign that the soil in that area has a slow infiltration rate, filtering the storm water is actually an important component in the process.  The idea is to let plant’s bacteria and soils clean and temporarily hold the water as it infiltrates the ground close to where the rain falls.  The water either transpires through the plant’s leaves and stems, or, it seeps into the groundwater to discharge later as clean water into springs, lakes or streams.

Second, selecting the right plants is crucial.  The alternating of wet and dry conditions requires that you choose plants that can tolerate extreme conditions.   Native plants can survive these kinds of environments, and do not require fertilization.  They attract local native wildlife, butterflies and beneficial insects.  Plants that you can use in Wisconsin include; goldenrod, sunflowers, and grasses like little blue-stem and prairie drop seed.  Take into consideration the amount of sunlight the garden will get, size and height of the plant at maturity, and what kind of wildlife you wish to attract.  Rain gardens can be beautiful to look at and a safe habitat.   With just a little effort on your part, you can turn a wet unattractive area in your yard into a charming garden paradise.