Rain Garden symbolA rain garden slows the flow of rainwater runoff by using elements similar to those that occur in nature: plants, stone, shallow swales and depressions that catch and hold rainwater rather than let it run off unhindered. Plants that offer a diversity of both deep and fibrous root systems help make the soil more permeable, sponge-like and able to absorb a large amount of rainfall. Native plants are preferred because they are well suited for local conditions and benefit wildlife. Water gathers temporarily in shallow depressions and is absorbed by the soil and plants as well as being filtered as it percolates through the soil horizon.

There are two major categories of rain garden design:

  • Native Soil Rain Garden
    Homeowners typically prefer this low cost option that can simply be installed with a shovel and wheel barrow. Soil structure and infiltration is gradually improved over time through the combined interactions of organic matter, plants, and microbes in the rhizosphere or root zone. Plants that are able to tolerate moist and clay (and sometimes dry) soils thrive best in these environments. A rain garden is not necessarily the right solution for your site, especially if your soil doesn't drain well or you are unable to locate the edge ten feet or more from any houses or buildings. For detailed guidance on where and how to install a native soil rain garden, as well as recommended alternatives to rain gardens under certain conditions, see How to Rainscape. For a comprehensive overview of rain garden design, check out this interactive pdf from the University of Nebraska–Extension.

  • Engineered Bioretention System
    Engineered bioretention may be a better choice for large applications. These commercially designed rain gardens require the removal of existing soil and replacement with a 60–80 percent sandy soil mix, typically along with a piped underdrain. Plants that are able to tolerate both dry and wet soils thrive best in these environments. For more information on how to design an engineered bioretention system download the MSD Landscape Guide for Stormwater Best Management Practices [pdf].

Click on a landscaping option from the graphic below to learn more about that topic:

RainScaping graphic

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