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Rain Gardens as an Eco-friendly Landscaping Alternative

Most homes look that much better with a number of cultivated plants in and around them. Homes with attractive landscaping have a higher resale value than those without. So, if by adding a garden, you can add to your home’s attractiveness, increase the resale value and get an “eco-friendly” boost, wouldn’t you do it? Rain gardens are one of the latest strategies to combat flooding and pollution, and they can be exceptionally attractive.

A rain garden is basically a sunken garden designed to capture rainwater runoff. By allowing rainwater to gather in the garden’s depression, pollutants are kept away from storm drains and, thusly, from the watershed system. This also aids in preventing the flooding that can occur when excessive rainfall or other factors cause runoff to accumulate too quickly for the community’s drainage system to take care of it effectively.

It may be prudent for you to consult with a landscaping professional as to the best place for this feature. The placement is important, so that the maximum amount of runoff flows into the garden. The lowest point on your property is usually the best. You should be on the lookout for man made structures, such as foundation and utilities.

Check into your soil. Sand, loam and clay are the three main types. The type of soil you have will determine how big your garden needs to be. First you need to measure the hard surface that your runoff is going to come from. This includes your roof, driveway, porch and anything else where rainwater “runs off” instead of being absorbed. Then you multiply the area you measured (in square feet) by the following percentage. According to Jason Pelletier of Low Impact Living ( “How To Tuesday: Build A Rain Garden), multiply your hard surface area by 20% for sandy soils, 30% for loam and 50% for clay soils. Sandy and loam soils drain faster than clay, which is why a clay soil garden will require a greater area. You can also consult with your local nursery for advice on adding soil and drainage to your garden.

Local varieties of plant are usually the best for this feature, as they are already adapted to the rainfall patterns of the area. Choose plants that can take a serious soaking on a regular or seasonal basis. Consult your local nursery or see if there is an organization in the area that promotes the preservation of wild/indigenous plants.

The design need not be one giant rain garden. You can place gardens in different areas, in patterns and around areas that you want emphasized. You can take advantage of things like rain chains to decoratively direct rainwater flow to your gardens. You can even incorporate features that become water features during rainstorms; for instance, decorative water paths down a hill or slope that channels your rainwater right where you want it. There are many rain garden designs on the Internet if you need help figuring out what would look best.

Dig the garden so it’s between 8 and 12 inches deep. Add a layer of compost and mix it with your soil. Heavy clay soils may need as much as another 12 inches dug out and replaced with a sand/topsoil/compost mix. It may help to use string or tape to divide up areas so that you know how much to plant in each part of the garden. Once you’ve planted, ensure that the plants have enough water to start taking hold on the soil. If it doesn’t rain, the plants should be watered deeply at least 2 times a week for a month.

Your rain garden should not require any special maintenance past the initial beginnings. Using local plants cuts down significantly on the need for human interference. Some pruning may encourage some of your plants to bloom more extravagantly or for longer; consult with an expert to find out what can make your garden look its best. Otherwise, sit back and watch your garden beautify your home and protect your environment.

By: Christian Jacobsen

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