Plant a Slice of Paradise in Your Backyard

An expert’s take on planting your own rain garden

Released: 6-May-2014 12:00 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: Wake Forest University
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Newswise — April showers bring May flowers indeed.

Although torrential rainfall has inundated the Southeast region this spring, there is something you can do in your own backyard to help prevent damage from flooding and runoff.

Plant a rain garden.

A rain garden is a landscaped area planted preferably with wildflowers and other native vegetation that soak up rainwater, from the roofs, driveways or other impervious surfaces.

Wake Forest’s Associate Director of Landscaping Services, David Davis, says a rain garden fills with a few inches of water after a storm and the water slowly filters into the ground rather than running off. Rain gardens can be very diverse biomes full of life. They offer a great opportunity to add beautiful water loving plants to the landscape and draw a host of butterflies, birds and other wildlife that depend on these plants for survival.

Compared to a conventional patch of lawn, a rain garden allows about 30 percent more water to soak into the ground, keeping plants green and conserving water along the way.

Davis offers four simple tips for starting your own rain garden:

1. Location, location, location – Pick a site for your garden where runoff from your driveway or roof gutters can be diverted into it or that tends to collect water. Your rain garden should be at least 10 feet away from building foundations, underground utilities and septic systems.
2. Don’t go too deep – Make your garden between four and eight inches deep. If it is too deep, the garden might pond water too long and can resemble a big hole in the ground. On the other hand, a shallow rain garden will need a lot of surface area to provide enough water storage to filtrate runoff from larger storms. Make sure to have at least one inlet for water to flow into the garden and one outlet (an area slightly lower in grade where water can exit) for water to filter out. Inlets and outlets generally need a cover of either vegetation or stone to prevent erosion.
3. Keep it on the level – Your excavated area should be relatively flat or level so that water can disperse evenly over the surface. Wake Forest’s horticulture crew excavated and installed a rain garden on campus with only a line level and some string—no fancy laser levels or survey equipment needed. Once excavated, add at least four inches of good organic compost to help with plant growth.
4. Choose plants carefully – There are many plants that do well in rain gardens or occasionally flooded areas. Davis says using native plants that normally grow in these conditions will practically ensure success with limited need for maintenance other than cutting back once annually, some weeding, and mulching. You may need to water if your rain garden dries out which won't happen often. Sedges and rushes do quite well and grow like weeds. These will cover an area fast so be aware of that. A fern that can take sun or shade in a continually wet area is the Sensitive Fern. Cardinal Flower has a beautiful red flower and is loved by Hummingbirds.


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