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Solve Drainage Problems With a Rain Garden

Updated on June 22, 2011

A rain garden is a beautiful solution to drainage problems on your property from stormwater runoff and other sources.

A single inch of rain falling on a roof or other impervious surface produces 680 gallons of stormwater runoff per 1000 square feet. All too often, this water contributes to erosion or drainage problems on land, or carries pollutants into surface or groundwater supplies. an estimated 70% of water pollution in developed countries is caused by stormwater runoff from roofs, roads, and similar surfaces.

Rain gardens are shallow, bowl-shaped depressions planted heavily with flowers, ornamental grasses, sedges, and other plants. Rain gardens collect runoff from gutters and roofs, decks, roads, and other impervious surfaces and allow it to infiltrate naturally into the soil and be absorbed by the plants, instead of contributing to drainage or erosion problems on your property. Rain gardens also help prevent ground and surface water pollution from polluted stormwater by taking up pollutants into the plants, and decrease the risk of flooding by reducing the amount of runoff channeled into nearby rivers, streams, and creeks.

Sedges are moisture loving, grass-like plants that make attractive additions to a rain garden. Photo by noricum.
Sedges are moisture loving, grass-like plants that make attractive additions to a rain garden. Photo by noricum.

Planning Your Rain Garden

The best spot to plant your rain garden is an area where water already collects after storms.

However, rain gardens should not be located too close to the foundations of your home or other buildings on your property. Ideally, the rain garden should be at least 10 feet away, and downslope from the foundation. If you have a septic system, avoid locating your rain garden in the drainfield.

If your low spots are located too near your home, construct channels or swales to direct the water to a more desirable location. You can also install a rain barrel to collect water from gutters, and direct the overflow hose to empty into your rain garden.

If you have multiple low spots, choose one or two near downspouts from your roof or paved surfaces such as the driveway or road.

The blue flag iris, one of our lovely native irises, makes a great choice for rain gardeners in much of the Midwest and East Coast. Photo by D.Fletcher.
The blue flag iris, one of our lovely native irises, makes a great choice for rain gardeners in much of the Midwest and East Coast. Photo by D.Fletcher.

Planting Your Rain Garden

When you've chosen a spot, you can begin excavating the rain garden. You will need to dig a saucer or bowl shaped depression with a deeper depression in the middle. For most rain gardens, the deepest area should be about six inches. If you have extremely poor drainage, make the whole garden larger and shallower to prevent water getting trapped for too long and creating habitat for mosquitoes. You can also improve drainage in extremely poor soils by digging deeper and replacing some of the excavated soil with a mix of about 1/2 sand, 1/4 topsoil, and 1/4 compost.

When the garden is excavated, you can begin planting.

Native plants are the best choices for rain gardens, because they are best adapted to local conditions. Many native plants also have deep roots that help break up heavy or compacted soils and improve drainage. Finally, native plants also attract butterflies, birds, and other wildlife, making the garden even more beautiful and colorful.

Choose plants for the deepest area in the center that will tolerate wet conditions, and for the edges choose plants that will tolerate a mix of wet and dry conditions.

After planting, mulch the area with two to three inches of wood chips or other organic mulch.

Rain Gardens


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    • Durant profile image

      Joel Durant 6 years ago from Canada

      Really great hub! I love the idea of solving problems through nature and gardening.

    • RussellLHuey profile image

      RussellLHuey 6 years ago

      That's a very good idea, kerryg.I love the photographs specifically the second one.

    • blackmarx profile image

      blackmarx 7 years ago from Rice Lake, WI

      what a wonderful idea, I'll have to take a look at my yard and see what spot would be best. thanks for the great Hub.

      if your interested, I just started a new gardening community site, for info see my profile.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Another thing that I've heard about but really didn't pay much attention. Thanks for the information. Your pictures are beautiful and really set off the whole idea.

    • reddog1027 profile image

      reddog1027 7 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Great hub. I have wanted to plant a rain garden for along time and your hub told me exactly what I need to do. Thanks much.

    • Bob Ewing profile image

      Bob Ewing 8 years ago from New Brunswick

      I discovered rain gardens a few years back when looking for ways individuals could use water that was going to waste. Very informative hub.

    • Cindy Letchworth profile image

      Cindy Letchworth 8 years ago from Midwest, U.S.A.

      I've thought about doing this, but have never gotten around to really learning about it. This gives me the tips I need to get started. I will pass this along to my sister as well, as she has hinted at the very same. Great hub.