What is a Rain Garden? - Design, Benefits & Plants

Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

Protecting the environment and engaging with nature are just two features of a rain garden. In this lesson, you'll learn what a rain garden is, how to design one, the plants best fit for one, and the benefits of a rain garden.

What is A Rain Garden?

A rain garden at the Oregon Convention Center
rain garden

A rain garden is a garden that is built into a plot of land that is at a lower elevation than the rest of the yard or area. The idea is that the rain garden captures water runoff from rain in order to bring it back to the earth instead of allowing it to flow into storm drains. In this lesson, we are going to talk about design basics, the best places to plant a rain garden, what plants should be planted in a rain garden, and the overall benefits of having a rain garden.

How Do You Design a Rain Garden?

Liberty Lands Park Rain Garden
liberty lands

Before you begin your rain garden project it's important to contact your city's utilities companies to make sure that there are no buried utility lines and that it's ok to dig in your chosen rain garden section.

A rain garden needs to be positioned in the right spot to catch the runoff. Some of the best places to plant a rain garden are 10-30 feet from drainpipes coming from rooftop gutters, near driveways, or at least 10 feet from the home's perimeter. When a rain garden is planted to draw water away from a residence, the garden is planted away from the home, and the water is brought there through little creek beds that have start near the home by the gutters. The creeks can be layered with rover rocks to give it an aesthetic appearance.

For rain gardens planted alongside driveways, it is helpful that the land next to the driveway be lower than the driveway to allow the water to drain into the garden. If the land isn't already lower than the driveway, one could simply dig out the land a bit to force the water to go downhill into the garden. Sometimes, these rain gardens trenches look like little dry rivers alongside the driveway. No matter where the rain garden is, the garden must be lower than the areas surrounding it.

In addition to positioning, there should also be a determination about the size and shape of the garden. Rain gardens are typically long and narrow, but they can be shaped like an oval or kidney. The garden size and depth will depend on the estimated volume of water to be collected in a 24-hour period after a storm or heavy rainfall. It may be useful to test a potential spot to observe its absorbency. Ideally, the garden should align with the overall landscape of the area while serving the duty of collecting the overflow of water.

Soil Is Important

Rain gardens need to have porous soil. If the soil is stiff and suffers from poor drainage, then it should be removed and replaced. The replacement soil should have a high ratio of sand in comparison to the topsoil. Sand does a great job of draining. After the soil has been replaced, it needs to be covered with bark or another type of mulch.

Best Plants for a Rain Garden

Use native plants for a rain garden
rain garden

Native plants are the best choices for a rain garden. Native shrubs, bushes, and grasses work well because they have deep root systems that help suck up the water, and they make the rain garden more productive. Bamboo is also a great plant to choose for a rain garden because it can tolerate dry soil for long periods of time.

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