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Rain Gardens - A Beautiful Way To Improve Water Quality

Updated on June 11, 2015

Stop Water Pollution In Its Tracks!

Did you know that 85% of pollutants in our lakes and streams is the result of stormwater runoff?

Did you know that every parking lot and road that is built only increases the pollution?

Did you know that these pollutants affect wildlife habitats as well as our rivers, streams, lakes and other wetlands?

I took this photo of a sign embedded in the concrete near a street drain in Los Angeles. I was really pleased to see it.

In this article, I'll try to explain why our eco-system is affected by storm runoff and how each of us can make a huge difference.

What Is A Rain Garden?

And Why Do We Need Them?

A rain garden is really a garden planted with native flowers and grasses. Rain Gardens are designed to absorb rainwater runoff from driveways, sidewalks and the roofs of homes and other buildings.

Every time it rains or every time you water your lawn or wash your car, the water runoff goes either directly into a river, lake or ocean or through a city drainage system and eventually into the rivers, lakes and oceans.

All of the water that runs off streets, driveways and roofs ends up in the rivers, lakes and oceans, too.

So think about what's in that water runoff...it's probably chemicals from fertilizers, exhaust from cars, etc.

Instead of flowing down into storm drains, the runoff from these impervious surfaces soaks into the ground, thereby reducing the amount pollution from exhaust fumes and lawn fertilizers, etc. that eventually ends up in our lakes, rivers and oceans.

If you live on a lake or at the seashore, consider lakescaping. Lakescapes are the equivalent of raingardens but they're saving our natural bodies of water right at the source! How great is that?

How A Rain Garden Can Help

Here's a quote from "Land And Water" The Magazine of Natural Resource Management and Restoration in an article about rainwater gardens in Burnsville, Minnesota.

"By capturing runoff in shallow depressions and letting it soak into the ground, rainwater gardens not only lowers the peak flow, but increases the base flow of water that reaches lakes and streams, but help recharge stores of groundwater in aquifers. Moreover, they filter out sediment and other pollutants like oil, grease and heavy metals by catching about the first inch of runoff, which contains the highest concentration of pollutants.

Rainwater gardens transform stormwater from a destructive carrier of pollution into a source of sustenance for plant and wildlife habitats: the plants thrive on nitrogen and phosphorus, while their stems trap sediment."

Just One Example Of A Rain Garden

Just One Example Of A Rain Garden
Just One Example Of A Rain Garden

A Beautiful Solution To Water Pollution

This is a powerful video all about Rain Gardens and well worth watching.

NOTE: It's not as long as it looks because for some reason it will run twice. You can stop it after it's first run.

Grants for Planting Rain Gardens

Check with your county Soil and Water Conservation District to see if they are offering grants for planting rain gardens or lakescaping or other land restoration projects. There may be funds available in your area.

A Newly Planted Rain Garden

A Newly Planted Rain Garden
A Newly Planted Rain Garden

First Planting

This rain garden is in Minnesota and it's brand new. It'll catch the runoff from the road and sidewalk. Notice its shape and position. It'll be beautiful in a very short period of time.

Rain Gardens typically have more wildflowers than grasses so they're usually more colorful when they're mature. Be sure to plant the taller varieties at the back or in the center and the smaller wildflowers and sedges around the edges.

Rain Garden Links

These links will give you all the information you need to design and plant your very own rain garden.

Rain Garden Basics - From the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

I am copying this list verbatim from the Minnesota DNR website because it describes perfectly the procedure for basic planting and maintenance of Rain Gardens. It was written by a guy named Tom Dixon.

I just couldn't have said it better, myself!

  1. Choose a low or wet spot in your yard where water drains naturally. The closer to the street, the better the spot. Make sure it's at least 15 feet from any home foundation to avoid basement wetness.
  2. Check the soil. Sand-based soil works well. Clay-soil gardens are not recommended.
  3. Use a garden hose to outline the area. Any shape is fine.
  4. After checking for underground power lines and other utilities, dig a shallow depression, with the center at a depth of 12 to 18 inches, feathering out to the perimeter.
  5. Dig a shallow trench from the downspout or sump pump outlet to the garden.
  6. Choose native plants and cultivars that tolerate drought and occasional drenching. As a general rule of thumb, plants should be about 18 inches apart, or one plant per 2.5 square feet.
  7. Mow or remove the dead vegetation each spring, or burn it off if local ordinances allow. Weed three times per growing season. (Tree seedlings are usually the most abundant weeds.)

Mulching Your Newly Planted Rain Garden

Protecting the tiny plants

When you create a rain garden or a lakescape, it's important to protect the tiny plants after you've set them into the earth. Mulching the plants helps keep the moisture to the roots until they become strong. After the plants are established and spreading, they will need very little care.

Good Mulch and Bad Mulch - Protect Louisiana's Cypress Forests

Please do not use cypress mulch in any of your gardens. The cypress forests of Louisiana are being destroyed at an alarming rate by indiscriminate clear cutting. This not only affects the critical habitat but it removes the natural protection against hurricane damage to the coastline.

There are a number of sustainable alternatives to cypress mulch and I've listed some here from the Save Our Cypress website. Read more about this at Save Our Cypress

  1. Recycled Yard Waste
  2. Leaves
  3. Pine Straw
  4. Pine Bark Mulch
  5. Eucalyptus Mulch

What Can You Do If You Live In A City? - You can help, even if you're an apartment dweller

There are many ways to help save our natural waterways, even if you don't own or live in a home with a yard or garden.

  1. Never dump anything down a city street drain!
  2. Pick up after your pets.
  3. Periodically check your vehicles for leaks.
  4. Always recycle your motor oil.
  5. Wash your car at a car wash, not in your driveway.

Did You Know....

...that the average gasoline powered mower tested by the EPA emits in one hour of operation the same amount of hydrocarbons that a 1992 Ford Explorer emits over 23,600 miles?

SOURCE: Green Seal's Report

Astonishing!

Tell me what you think - good or bad, I can take it. Just be polite, please.

Thank you very much!

Your Comments and Suggestions, Please

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    • justramblin profile image

      justramblin 5 years ago

      Thanks for the tips. I like using native pants, they always do better in a drought and we had a bad one this year in the midwest. Now I have more reason to dislike seeing people wasting water by washing cars on driveways.

    • profile image

      BarbaraCasey 6 years ago

      Good to know about the cypress mulch, thanks.

    • CherylK profile image
      Author

      Cheryl Kohan 7 years ago from Minnesota

      @anonymous: Another very good idea. Thanks for the visit!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Suggestion:

      Support pervious paving, either asphalt or concrete. Do It!

      Reason: It allows water to pass through and helps

      recharge stores of groundwater in aquifers

      instead of running wildly off causing erosion and sediment

      pollution in our streams and lakes, etc.

      Society is facing a water shortage for good clean safe drinking water.

      Let's educate ourselves and mandate changes in paving. It's that important.

    • CherylK profile image
      Author

      Cheryl Kohan 7 years ago from Minnesota

      @Charmcrazey: Thank you very, very much for the angel blessing, Wanda. I did read your lens on the native plant gardening in Florida and learned a thing or two!! So thank you. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, too.

    • Charmcrazey profile image

      Wanda Fitzgerald 7 years ago from Central Florida

      A beautiful example of a native plant garden. I'm interested in native plants and wrote a lens on native plant gardening in Florida. Thanks for being so conscious of our environment and your lens is squid angel blessed.

    • CherylK profile image
      Author

      Cheryl Kohan 7 years ago from Minnesota

      @KathyMcGraw2: Hi Kathy! Thanks so much for stopping by and for your kind comments. We love our native flowers and grasses and so does our lake!!

    • CherylK profile image
      Author

      Cheryl Kohan 7 years ago from Minnesota

      @Virginia Allain: Well, thank you very much for the visit! Isn't it nice that gardening isn't just "pretty"? It's also earth friendly...ya gotta love that!

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 7 years ago from Central Florida

      Such an important message! I love to garden and now I can also feel that I'm doing something for the planet's water supply too.

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 7 years ago from California

      Hi Cheryl....saw your picture on the Introducing Giants and had to come say hi. What I didn't expect was to find this great article...I have been trying to work on conserving water, and figuring ways to reuse it. Love this lens....

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 7 years ago

      Great lens on such an important subject. My entire block is a rain garden full of native trees and shrubs and mulched over to stop weeds. It is completely maintenance free yet I grow over 30 different types of fruit and most of my vegies. *-*Bllessed*-* and featured on Sprinkled with Stardust and also on Save Planet Earth

    • profile image

      megank824 7 years ago

      @CherylK: Thanks Cheryl! That is a big help.

      I will be sure to send you a note when the manual is ready. It should be available online.

      Take care!

    • CherylK profile image
      Author

      Cheryl Kohan 7 years ago from Minnesota

      @megank824: Hi Megan...glad you like the photo. I got permission to use it from a Flickr photographer (if you click on the picture you'll be taken to his photostream.). Here's a link to his raingarden set of photographs http://www.flickr.com/photos/scottie32/sets/721576... I think you should contact him and I know he'll be pleased to let you use any of the pictures in that set. You can tell him you saw the photo on my Squidoo lens. Good luck with your manual and let me know when it's ready...would love to take a look at it!

    • profile image

      megank824 7 years ago

      Hi Cheryl,

      Not sure if my first post went through...

      I work for a nonprofit and I'm wondering if I may use your photo of the newly planted rain garden for a stormwater management manual I'm helping write. It is a great picture! Thanks,

      Megan

    • AppalachianCoun profile image

      AppalachianCoun 7 years ago

      Great information that I will use. Thx for all the work on this lens! 5*

    • CherylK profile image
      Author

      Cheryl Kohan 7 years ago from Minnesota

      @Levitah: Thank you for stopping by, Levitah, and welcome to Squidoo. So glad you agree that we need to protect our natural waterways!

    • profile image

      Levitah 7 years ago

      What a great lens, I really enjoyed reading rain gardens. Thank you for sharing it. 5*

    • CherylK profile image
      Author

      Cheryl Kohan 7 years ago from Minnesota

      I appreciate all the supportive comments...thanks much. Water is such a critical natural resource and rain gardens and lakescapes are perfect filters. Plus they're just so beautiful.

    • Kimsworld LM profile image

      Kimsworld LM 7 years ago

      I also built a rainwater collection system to water my vegetable garden. We have been in a severe drought so long that every little drop will help, when summer comes around.

    • profile image

      Rainwater_Harvester 8 years ago

      Great lens, I collect rainwater in rainwater tanks and then direct the overflow to certain areas of my garden where it soaks into the soil to do the most good. Since I've started doing this my garden has benefited greatly.

    • profile image

      CaroleBee 8 years ago

      Cheryl, thank you for writing such an informative lens about this very important issue. Stormwater management is on of the tenets of Conservation Gardening, where I have added this lens to my lensroll.

    • sittonbull profile image

      sittonbull 8 years ago

      Congratulations on making Kim G's "Another Day of 100 Squid Angel Blessings" with this great lens. Water conservation and quality are a passion of mine and especially important to the quality of our lives as we end this decade and move forward into the next.

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 8 years ago

      You've been blessed by a Squid Angel, and this lens was included in Another Day of One Hundred Squid Angel Blessings.

    • KOrazem profile image

      Seeking Pearls 8 years ago from Pueblo West

      I love your photos:) This lens is very informative. I am apartment living not by choice but necessity. My dad does the gardening in his little mountain town. Thanks for the kind encouragement when you stopped by. I appreciate it immensely:)

    • profile image

      RinchenChodron 8 years ago

      Very well written and interesting - I actually read every word! Thanks for an informative and creative and meaningful lens - 5 stars and a fav. Best wishes in reaching Giant Squid very soon!

    • Demaw profile image

      Demaw 8 years ago

      In my area people are cementing up their front yards for convenience and to park their extra cars. Now the local politicians want to pass a law that says they have to leave a certain percentage with gravel or anything that would allow water to soak in. This would help with the problem of overflowing sewers and flooding. I love the beautiful pictures of the flowers in your garden. 5 plus lens.

    • Terry Boroff profile image

      Terry Boroff (flipflopnana) 8 years ago from FL

      I have moved recently and have been working on landscaping plans. I think I need to change them a little. Thanks so much for your information, Great lens!

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 8 years ago from Vermont

      We think alike when it comes to gardening and protecting the watershed. Thanks for visiting my Rain Gardens lens and for your kind comments- 'rolled back to this rain garden lens as another solid resource.

    • profile image

      kimmanleyort 8 years ago

      Thanks for featuring my lens. This is a wonderful lens and very practical - one way each person can make a difference.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Extremely well written lens! Information here I hadn't thought about before. 5*s for U!

    • JanieceTobey profile image

      JanieceTobey 8 years ago

      Wonderful lens! Thanks for the info! 5's!

    • RolandTumble profile image

      RolandTumble 8 years ago

      Very nice. 5*, favorite & lensrolled to my eco-lens

    • profile image

      Lazy_Environmentalist 8 years ago

      Great lens! You've put together a lot of helpful information here. I'd love for you to visit my lens and say hello when you have the chance.

    • AppalachianCoun profile image

      AppalachianCoun 8 years ago

      This is so needed. The mountain farmers down here do this all over. Great lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      I'm a big fan of sustainable ideas and this is such a simple and effective one.

      Great lens and deservingly blessed.

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 8 years ago

      Great lens - you've been blessed by a squidoo angel :)

    • profile image

      rockycha 8 years ago

      Caught your shout it out :) Wonderful lens worthy of a squid angel blessing - excellent development of this topic and very well presented...

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 8 years ago from San Francisco

      Your lenses are always beautiful, well-written and informative, Cheryl. This one is exemplary. What a perfect weekend project for the whole family!

    • mistyblue75605 lm profile image

      mistyblue75605 lm 9 years ago

      5*'s very nice lens!! Love the topic and content!!

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 9 years ago from Southampton, UK

      I had never heard of this but it makes perfect sense. 5***** for a very nice lens.

    • naturegirl7s profile image

      Yvonne L. B. 9 years ago from Covington, LA

      Great Green gardening lens. I'm lensrolling it to my Sustainable Gardening a la Rabbit Hill lens. Have you thought about submitting it to our Naturally Native Squids group? I hope you will.

    • PastorKay profile image

      Pastor Kay 9 years ago

      The Prairie Smoke is beautiful. I am not familiar with it.

    • Andy-Po profile image

      Andy 9 years ago from London, England

      Great lens. I now wish I had a garden. (5*)

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      Yes, stop water pollution. We must practice proper waste management and take good care of our environment. 5* for you

    • profile image

      SustainableSarah 9 years ago

      This is a wonderful lens on SUCH an important topic (as is Elizabeth Jean Allen's!). I'm so glad I saw this in your lenses. I just watched a move called FLOW (and, of course, will make a lens about it!) but it's incredibly impactful and I totally recommend that you check it out. I was just in CA and was talking to a water conservationist about algal blooms in the Monterey bay and the effect of pesticide run off- it's terrifying!

    • mllamb46 profile image

      mllamb46 9 years ago

      WOW, what a fantastic lens Cheryl! Its so informative as well as a pleasure to look at!

      (Thanks for your nice comments too)

      ~Melody

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      This lens is very informative. I learned a lot about water run off and thr right kinds of mulch.

      thank you for a beautiful contribution, Cheryl.

      Thank you also for your wonderful comments. You made my day!

    • ZenandChic profile image

      Patricia 9 years ago

      What a great lens. Thanks for stopping by my Being Earth Friendly lens and favoriting it and lensrolling. I am doing the same on yours. I love your lenses!

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 9 years ago

      Very good point, and very well made. Gardens should be made in such a way that they help water go into the ground, instead of into the sewers or surface water.

    • MacPharlain profile image

      MacPharlain 9 years ago

      Cool lens! Thanks for spreading the word about rain gardens.

    • funwithtrains lm profile image

      funwithtrains lm 9 years ago

      Nice Lens! 5 stars and a favorite from me! Please visit my Marklin Trains lens.

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 9 years ago

      What a great lens with great information! I lensrolled it to my lens on water and water pollution.

      Liz

    • eccles1 profile image

      eccles1 9 years ago

      what a great idea!

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 9 years ago from Royalton

      What a great lens! 5 stars and Favored!

      The Purple Gallinulesloved your lens so much that they are sending you some virtual Raindrops

    • triathlontraini1 profile image

      triathlontraini1 9 years ago

      Hey fellow Minnesotan! Great job on the Lens. I love the topic!

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 9 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Another really good one! We do have a runoff problem and I wouldn't mind having a lovely flower garden. Could solve two problems in one, right? Thanks!

    • Imogen Crest profile image

      Imogen Crest 9 years ago

      A lens with some great ideas! Thanks for creating it!

    • profile image

      merriweather 9 years ago

      Great information and fairly simple to implement. Thanks!

    • PromptWriter profile image

      Moe Wood 9 years ago from Eastern Ontario

      Excellent lens. I've been considering this for the front yard so I really appreciated your lens. My first goal this season is to get a decent looking, inexpensive rain barrel.