Beyond providing nutrition and beautifying spaces, gardens can serve many purposes, such as supporting natural processes and pollinators. Rain gardens are a type of specialty garden that help protect our waterways by managing stormwater runoff. Below are some tips from our colleagues over at the New York League of Conservation Voters on how to establishing a rain garden in your yard!
What does a Rain Garden do?
Rain gardens help capture, absorb, and filter rainwater, and are a type of green infrastructure, or a natural technique for managing rainwater runoff. If you live in a developed space with impervious surfaces (such as roads, buildings, or sidewalks), you may want to consider installing a downspout planter or a container rain garden to mitigate flooding and runoff in your community, and help protect the water in your watershed.
Location is key to ensure effectiveness. Choose a spot that receives some sunlight and is downslope from a gutter, roof, or driveway. Your rain garden should be located at least 10 feet from your property and septic system to avoid water seepage. Before you start, do an infiltration test to determine the best place for your garden.
There are many variables that go into determining the best size and depth of your garden. Try using a rain garden sizing calculator like this one. Remember that any size rain garden will help capture some rain and reduce flooding.
Before creating your garden, take a look at the suggested materials that we outline in our Green Gardening Tips for Starting a Garden. Also consider using a fast-draining soil mixture; plenty of rocks; landscape fabric, and mulch. Choosing the right plants for your rain garden is key, too: native plants with long roots do well. The New York Botanical Garden has a comprehensive list of plants to choose from.
Creating a rain garden requires planning and strategic engineering. Review these best practices:
- Dig the rain garden so that the garden bed is level, not sloped.
- Use the soil that you dig up to build a slightly raised area on the lowest side of the garden. This small barrier is called a berm, and it will help contain stormwater within the garden.
- Plant water-loving plants in the middle of your garden, and plants that prefer a drier soil towards the perimeter.
- Place rocks on the run-off side of your garden to break up the flow of water and prevent mulch from washing away.
We hope you have a great time building your rain garden. Kudos to you for helping to keep our waterways clean!