Using natives such as cup plant, black-eyed susan, bee balm, cardinal flower, orange milkweed and more, rain gardens conserve and filter rainwater runoff naturally, preventing harmful chemicals from reaching area waterways. / Rob Zimmer/Post-Crescent Media
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WHAT TO PLANT
The following, in order of bloom time, are examples of native plants suitable for rain gardens: Blue flag iris, Columbine, Golden Alexander, Wild Strawberry, Lupine, Orange milkweed, Queen of the Prairie, Black-eyed Susan, Purple Coneflower, Prairie blazing star, Blue Hyssop, Lead Plant, Wild Indigo, Purple Prairie Clover, Beardtongue, Prairie Nodding Onion, Snakeroot, Swamp Milkweed, Boneset, Blue Vervain, Joe-pye Weed, Ironweed, Stiff Goldenrod, Cardinal Flower, Great Blue Lobelia, Turtlehead, New England Aster, Bottle Gentian
COMING NEXT WEEK
It’s the Year of the Gerbera Daisy! Find out all about this colorful, festive favorite flower and how you can use them in new ways in your yard and garden.
They are popping up everywhere, from backyards to businesses, schools to churches. They are colorful, beautiful and vibrant. They also serve a vital purpose as attention turns again to the health and cleanliness of our local waterways. They are rain gardens.
Every household, business and organization can easily create one, in addition to public parks and trail ways.
Many gardeners have heard the term “rain garden” but are still not familiar with the usefulness and benefits these easy-to-create, colorful gardens provide. Not only are rain gardens beneficial to the property owner, but to our natural streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands as well.
Landscaping for the future
Chad Casper, with the Winnebago County Land and Water Conservation Department, helps property owners realize the value of water conservation, as well as the other benefits rain gardens provide. He said that continued development of our land results in more untreated water being fed into our streams, rivers and lakes.
“Development continues every year, which results in more buildings, more concrete and other impervious surfaces” Casper said. “This results in more runoff and pollution from rainwater not being able to infiltrate into the ground.
“One practice that can help is a rain garden. Rain gardens use the natural rainfall as their source of water. This water will then stay on site and infiltrate into the ground before running onto our streets and collecting pollutants. The water that enters a storm sewer is not treated and goes directly to our lakes and streams.”
In addition to the filtering and cleansing effects of a rain garden, there are other benefits.
“The rain gardens not only help clean the water, they also decrease the amount of water stressing our storm sewers” Casper said. “This will decrease the chances of flooding in urban areas. They also create a small area of habitat for birds and butterflies. A rain garden can be designed to have wildflowers bloom throughout the year, creating a fireworks display.”
In addition, rain gardens are low maintenance, requiring little care once established.
“The native plants in rain gardens do not need any fertilizers and little watering once established,” Casper said. “One rain garden will not solve all our problems, but collectively, they can have a huge impact on protecting the environment.”
Planning for rain
Designed to collect and absorb rainwater runoff from buildings, driveways, parking lots or sloping hillsides, rain gardens are simply shallow basins in the soil planted with native plants, or a combination of native and your favorite perennials, especially those that love water.
In the rain garden, water may collect temporarily after a summer storm or after the snow melts in spring. Here, the water is naturally filtered into the soil, rather than simply flowing across a concrete or blacktop surface and collecting harmful pollutants. Holding back the runoff helps prevent these pollutants from reaching into our natural waterways.
To plan for a rain garden on your property, first determine the location where the garden should be created.
Typically, a rain garden is placed to receive water from the rooftop exiting the downspout. A slight slope helps to ensure that water from the downspout flows into the garden. The middle of the rain garden will hold water during heavy rain. Rain gardens can also be created along the sides and within roadside ditches and other sloping areas.
Soil is tilled to a depth of 3 to 6 inches, with care to make the bottom of the garden as level as possible.
Once the soil is prepared, these downspout or ditch plantings are ready to be planted.
What to plant
Rain gardens are created using native plants to our area. Because natives are well adapted to our area, they are low maintenance, colorful, offering tremendous variety and season-long beauty.
Because this is a garden, often situated in a highly visible spot, be generous with the native wildflowers you will be including. Once you begin exploring the world of native plants for rain gardens, you may find yourself addicted.
In the garden, plants located in the center of the garden will receive the greatest amount of moisture, while those along the edge may remain dry throughout the season. Because of this, plants located toward the center should be natives that tolerate wet, clay soils.
In areas where soils are especially heavy with clay, another option is to simply replace sections of turf with these native plants. These plants will improve the clay by making the best use of their new environment, actually improving the soil on their own in the long run.
—Rob Zimmer: 920-993-1000, ext. 7154, or firstname.lastname@example.org