Rain gardens part 2 – rain garden plants

Rain gardens resemble regular perennial gardens and borders but have a more important function in the landscape. Learn more about which plants to include in your family’s rain garden.

A puddle of water on the ground that is surrounded by plants used as a rain garden.
Rain Garden at MSU Plant and Soil Sciences Building. Photo by Dixie Sandborn.

Rain gardens can be used to improve water quality for your family and community.

The function of a rain garden is to absorb and filter run-off water from impervious surfaces, such as roofs and parking lots. In rain gardens, the rainwater is specifically directed to the garden as this water would otherwise run down the storm drain and into the area’s fresh water supply. What pollution might be on a parking lot? Think about salt, oil and gasoline, litter, sediment and all the other things that collect that would be a problem if it reached our waterways.

In the center of the garden, there is a shallow dip that holds the water while it soaks into the ground. The garden does not form a pond, as the water soaks into the ground and filters though the soil. The water is then used by the plants and helps to recharge the ground water supply.

Rain gardens resemble regular perennial gardens and borders but have a more important function in the landscape. Rain gardens have beautiful trees, shrubs, and perennials; many are planted with native plants and are a beautiful addition to a home or commercial landscape.

The plants selected for the rain garden may be native or have extensive root systems that help the garden absorb the rainwater. Native plants are often selected as they do not need special care, are resistant to most insects and diseases, and attract beneficial insects. Non-native plants can also be used if they are not invasive.

When choosing plants for your rain garden, consider the plant’s height, bloom time, color and texture and the overall feel they will add to the garden. Using plants that have a variety of textures, bloom times and seasonal color changes will add interest to your garden. Clumping plants in groups of three or more will create a bolder statement, giving your garden strong visual interest. Remember seeds and seed pods add to winter interest while providing food for wildlife, especially birds.

Consider how the garden will be viewed from your patio, street and even the view from inside your house. A well-planned garden will not only help filter run-off and be great for the environment, but also add value to your home.

For a great instructional guide to building a rain garden, as well as a nice plant list, download Rain Gardens: A how-to manual for homeowners, developed by University of Wisconsin Extension and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Michigan State University Extension also has some great information for rain gardens on their Smart Gardening site. As spring approaches, consider using this guide to create a new, beautiful rain garden that can be enjoyed by your whole family.

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