It is common knowledge that nitrogen is public enemy #1 when it comes to the Great South Bay. Stormwater runoff is a source of nitrogen pollution. As part of Save The Great South Bay’s Bay Friendly Yards initiative, we welcome guest blogger Rachel Perez who reveals how rain gardens can help and how you can build one in your own yard.

How to Build a Better Rain Garden

Does your property flood during a heavy rainfall? Do you wake up to a small pond instead of a front yard? Be it poor drainage or the natural flow route of water, not every property will drain properly without intervention.

Runoff issues and flooding are worse in areas with many impermeable surfaces. These include streets, roofs, and parking lots. Without open land, water can’t absorb and thus flows downhill. When water flows over such surfaces, those toxins come along as well.

That now-toxic water will keep flowing until it enters drains, streams, or a low point, like your front yard.

This is where rain gardens shine. By planting some shrubs and plants, a 100-square foot patch of your yard becomes a key tool against environmental damage.

So, how does a rain garden work? Read on for tips on how to build a better rain garden.

Placement is Key

Rain gardens are purpose-built gardens made of plants, aggregate, and specific soils. These components create a filtering system of deep roots, layered rocks, and easy-draining soil. This multi-tiered filtration system allows water to flow into the earth. However, the toxins, heavy metals, and other debris stay behind for natural remediation. This keeps toxins and other chemicals out of the waterways.

For best results, your rain garden must be placed where the water flows or sits. Look for depressions in the yard, or areas on slopes in the path of flowing water.

Always leave at least 10 feet between the garden and your home. If the space is too close, the absorbing water will disrupt your home’s foundation. Also, always contact your local utility clearance services. They will ensure that your chosen spot is free from any underground hazards.

Prepare the Soil Before Planting

To achieve optimal drainage, you need optimal soil. Don’t worry, though, remedies exist for even the slowest-draining soils. For instance, the following mixtures are ideal for rain garden drainage:

Loamy sand: A mixture of 80% sand, 10% silt, and 10% clay.
Sandy loam: A more balanced mixture of 48% sand, 45% silt, and 7% clay.
Silty loam: A sandless mixture consisting of 75% silt and 25% clay.

When digging, add sand or other sustainable soil amendments like compost to achieve the proper water flow. Some soils are better suited for quick drainage. Others take longer to drain, but withstand heavier water events. Always focus your rain garden based on your local conditions.

Go Native!

The most important part of a rain garden is the plants. They create the root system that binds the garden together.

The easiest approach is to plant native plants. They are already suited to the local hardiness zone. Native species have spent millennia adapting to local conditions, and they provide vital habitats to local wildlife.

When deciding on plants, remember the roles they will play. Some important factors to consider are:

  • Drought and flood tolerance. Some areas rain year-round, while others have a few major yearly events.
  • Root infiltration rate and depth. The more roots, the better chances the plant will survive and filter the ground.
  • Local needs. Several plant species provide the necessary food or habitat for many insects and animals.

Exotic plants are tempting, but they may not fare well in your rain garden. Therefore, go with more practical, native plants.

Final Thoughts

Rain gardens are an impressive solution for standing water and stormwater issues. Take matters into your own hands and convert a part of your yard into a savior of the environment. It may just seem like a small garden, but it impacts the entire ecosystem.

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