A Functional Ornament: Why You Should Plant a Rain Garden This Year

Planting a Rain Garden

With the suddenly warm weather and the bright, sunny skies, you may be itching to get out of the house and start working on your yard. There is so much to do: seeds to sow, grass to fertilize, garden beds to mulch and compost to turn over… but have you given thought to what happens to the rain that will fall for the rest of the Spring and into the Summer? The rain water that runs off your yard and driveway is likely full of pesticides, weed killers, fertilizers and other chemicals. It then heads down the nearest storm drain. In many towns around our state, water that goes down the storm drain doesn’t go to a treatment plant; it goes directly into local rivers, streams, lakes and major water ways. Planting a rain garden this summer is a beautiful, environmentally friendly way to prevent the passive pollution of our waters.

Planting a Rain Garden

What is a Rain Garden? Why should I plant one?

Rain gardens are purposefully placed and landscaped areas of a yard designed to collect storm water and filter out the harmful pollutants that it may contain. Essentially, a rain garden is a small, shallow basin in your yard where runoff water pools and slowly soaks into the ground. Meant to be attractive as well as functional, plants are sown into the soil of the basin to help with filtering the water that is collected. While a rain garden has an area where water collects, it’s not a pond. The water is meant to absorb over time.

Starting a rain garden provides benefits to the local habitat as well as to the homeowner. Capturing water prevents pollutants from getting into essential water resources. Water absorbed and filtered through the ground contributes to underground aquafers. Carefully chosen and cultivated plants provide habitats for birds and butterflies. Best of all, as an enduring and beautiful feature of your yard, a rain garden can add curb appeal and value to your real estate.

What is a rain garden?

What to Think About Before Starting:

When the rains of Spring return, put on your rain gear and spend a little time observing your yard. Where does water pool on its own? Where does it flow downhill and what happens to it when it leaves your yard? The best source of rain runoff for your home is your roof and downspouts. Driveways and patios are also good places to watch, as well as the natural slopes your yard may have.

There is a bit of flexibility with the location of your garden. However, it’s important to plant them at least ten feet from any structures, away from large trees and away from septic systems and drain fields. Shady spots are ok, but a sunny or partially sunny spot is ideal. Good drainage and amicable soil are a must, of course. Sandy soil drains well, while clay and impermeable soil does not.

Planning and Execution

There are many resources out there to help you plan and plant your rain garden. The UMass Amherst Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment is a great place to start if you want a list of suggested plants and design options. For the best local tips on planting and nurturing a garden in Massachusetts, UMass should be your first stop!

Small Stuff for Big Impact

Planting a rain garden is a seemingly small project with limited impact on the grand scheme of things. However, being the first in your neighborhood to start one sets the tone and inspires your neighbors and community to follow. Protecting our water is a community effort, and every individual plays a part. So, look at your yard, put your hands in the soil and make a more beautiful world this summer!

Want to learn more about how small changes can make big differences? Read our post on Spring Cleaning tips.

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