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  • Rosie Lerner, Purdue Extension

Rain Gardens Go with the Flow


Rain gardens are areas of the landscape designed to catch rainwater long enough to allow it to percolate slowly back into the groundwater rather than run off the soil. Rain gardens help recharge groundwater, improve the water quality of streams and rivers, reduce flooding, and provide cover for wildlife and butterflies.

Rain gardens can be just shallow depressions of a few inches or elaborately constructed sites, depending on available space and needs of the site. The garden’s topography should be designed to encourage water flow into the garden. The site must drain well enough to allow slow and steady percolation into the groundwater. Soil drainage can be greatly enhanced by additions of finished compost in preparing the area.

Ideally, the rain garden should be located away from (10-foot minimum) and a bit below the grade of structures, such as the house, toolshed and garage. Rain barrels can be used to collect runoff water from house drainpipes and redirect to the rain garden. Reasonably level land will be much easier to work with.

Avoid placing the rain garden over a septic drain field or tank; a buffer of at least 50 feet is recommended. Be aware of shallow utilities in the area, and always call to locate and mark these utilities before you dig. Also avoid the edges of steep slopes where erosion is a risk.

As you consider the overall landscape design and appearance, like other gardens, you’ll need to consider the mature size, growth habit, flowering, fruiting and other characteristics of your plant selections. Most rain gardens feature moisture-tolerant perennial flowers, native wetland or wet prairie wildflowers, and grasses, but shrubs and trees can be used in larger gardens. Keep in mind that plants will also need to be tolerant of periodic dry spells as well as heavy rains.

The following are a few species to consider for your rain garden planting, but it’s by no means an exhaustive list.

Grasses

Big Bluestem

Indiangrass

Little Bluestem

Various Sedges

Flowers

Aster

Black-Eyed Susan

False Indigo

Flag Iris

Goldenrod

Great Blue Lobelia

Ironweed

Joe Pye Weed

Liatris

Penstemon

Swamp Milkweed

Shrubs

American Beautyberry

Arrowwood Viburnum

Bottlebrush Buckeye

Buttonbush

Oakleaf Hydrangea

Summersweet Clethra

Sweetspire

Trees

Bald Cypress

Fringetree

Ginkgo

Red Maple

River Birch

Sycamore


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St. Joseph County Soil & Water Conservation District Plymouth Service Center 2903 Gary Drive, Plymouth, IN 46563 Phone: 574-936-2024 Ext. 4 Fax: 855-496-7861. Please direct comments or concerns to info@stjosephswcd.org or call 574-936-2024 Ext 4.

© 6 March 2013 ~ St. Joseph County SWCD The St. Joseph County SWCD and USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. Refer to our Civil Rights Statement page for details.

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