By Dawn Cole, Wright County Extension Master Gardener
Rain gardens are a way to add beauty to your property while decreasing dangerous surface water runoff that ultimately makes its way into our lakes and rivers.
We all understand erosion. Nobody likes the gullies and ruts we experience after a big downpour. But erosion that we can see isn’t the only problem. Rainwater, instead of pausing long enough to soak into the ground, careens over the surface of roads, roofs, driveways, patios, lawns and slopes – through storm sewers – and eventually into rivers and lakes.
What’s in this water? Soil (sediment), leaves, grass clippings, lawn fertilizer, oil, animal (or human) feces and chemicals. The result is more water weeds, algae, muck, bacteria and dirtier recreational and drinking water.
Rain gardens are creative plant groupings you can place in your yard to catch the water from your downspouts, driveway or lawn. Simply put, a rain garden is a slightly depressed garden of native plants where rainwater can pause and soak into the ground instead of running off.
These gardens are typically four to eight inches deep, but can vary in size and shape. A rule of thumb is that your rain garden should be about one-third the size of the area that is draining into it, whether it’s a roof, yard or driveway. You should also make sure to keep rain gardens at least 10 feet away from buildings, 35 feet from septic drain fields, and 50 feet from wells.
So, what’s the point of putting time, money and energy into rain gardens? They help protect and restore water’s natural ability to become groundwater and trap pollutants in runoff. They can be built to fit almost any location and are of great benefit to birds, butterflies, and other pollinators. The gardens add beauty to your yard and neighborhood while requiring very little fertilizer and pesticides. And here’s maybe the best part: once established, rain gardens need no watering and very little maintenance.
If you are interested in learning more about rain gardens, or anything else in your backyard, contact a Wright County Extension Master Gardener at (763) 684-8489.