By: Lisa Briggs | Thursday, July 30th
No one can deny that we have experienced some wet springs to mid-summers. Official totals of rain and from April 1st through Monday add up to 20.12 inches! Compare that to the area’s average of 14.58 inches over the same time frame. We hope that your gardens haven’t suffered too much damage and that your basements and garages have stayed dry. But given that the thunder will roll and the skies will darken, what can you do as a gardener to mitigate the damage of all of this moisture?
One thing to do is to divert the water from your roof and paved areas into a rain garden. There are misconceptions about what a rain garden does. Basically, it redirects rainwater from a downspout or driveway into a garden where the excess water can soak into the soil instead of seeping into your basement or running into the street.
The first step is to find the best site for your rain garden. It should be located at least 10 feet from your house and ideally in a low spot at the edge of your yard. Next, calculate how big the garden should be. For soils in our area, count on at least 30% of the roof area that will drain into the garden. Using an old hose or some marking paint, delineate a curvilinear shape that is equal to or greater than that square footage.
What you will do next is to create the opposite of building a berm. Once the sod is removed, dig down 3 to 6 inches, using some of the soil to create a low wall at the bottom edges. Then spread and dig some compost into the soil.
Step two is more fun and less labor intensive-plant selection. A third to half of the plants should be sedges. Carex or Scripus are grass look-alikes that don’t mind wet roots. The rest of the plants can be forbs, which are herbaceous, non-grass, flowering plants. There are lots of natives that will be great for this. A few favorites are Milkweed, Beebalm, and Blazingstar. If your garden is very large, you can use a few shrubs or small trees as well. Serviceberry, Black Chokeberry, and Ninebark are all suitable. Plant a little more densely than usual.
When everything is planted, apply a thick layer of shredded bark mulch. And like any other garden, this one will need to be watered for the first couple of years. Weed as needed until the plants fill in and do your clean-up in the spring instead of the fall.
A rain garden isn’t a pond. It isn’t a bog. It is simply a beautiful garden that serves an important purpose. And it proves that form and function can both be stars in your landscape.