Rain gardens in action: what's the deal?

Red Stem Staff | 21 January, 2019

            Rain gardens in action: what's the deal?

We are often asked how a rain garden differs from any other garden. Is it a pond? Will it attract mosquitos? Will the plants in it be OK during those long stretches of dry weather? The answers are no, it’s not a pond; no, it won’t attract mosquitos, and yes—the garden will be fine when it’s dry.

A rain garden is a shallow basin—not as deep as a pond—carved into the soil that receives water from a source such as a downspout or sump pump, or from overground sheet flow. A well-planted, well-tended rain garden is a beautiful, colorful place full of plants that can handle inundation as well as dry periods while attracting butterflies, bees and even birds looking for seeds. It will not hold water long enough to breed mosquitos, but it will send water cleansed by roots to the water table below.

Here is a rain garden Red Stem Native Landscapes installed just a day before a deluge was caught on the homeowner’s phone.

Because this garden is small for the amount of water it receives, the first few months it acted more like a swale—moving water from a walkway that used to flood, into the garden but also to a driveway. By summer of the following year, with the roots of the sedges, grasses, and wildflowers filling the soil and pulling water down as well as up into the plants, rainwater is absorbed and no longer reaches the driveway; see the photo taken from the driveway side of the garden, below. The brick and stone structure of the garden, visible in spring, can barely be seen at the height of summer.

Another rain garden, below, is fed via an underground pipe from a downspout 30 feet away. Before the garden was installed, rain would form a swampy area near the house.

The rain garden captures stormwater that sinks into the ground rather than running off into the street and sewers.

In summer, the rain garden is clothed in the ever-changing colors and textures of native plants chosen for their place in the garden—some in wetter areas, others in dry, some in part shade and others in sunnier areas. The garden nurtures pollinators and brightens the landscape; see another view, below.