A rain garden can be a beautiful solution to a not-so-beautiful eyesore in your yard. Do you have a low-lying area in your landscape — one where rainwater collects into a big puddle and takes forever to drain? Or even a level area that stays soggier than the rest of your yard after rainstorms? How about the area around a downspout where the soil simply doesn’t absorb diverted rainwater quickly enough? If you have any of these problem spots in your yard, make a rain garden your next landscaping project!
So What Exactly IS a Rain Garden?
It’s a place for plants that can tolerate flooding conditions that result in standing water in slow-draining areas. A rain garden should only detain water temporarily (typically up to 24 hours), not retain it indefinitely. But since most plants cannot handle having “wet feet” in soggy soil without suffering root rot, creating a rain garden means choosing plants that can handle these conditions. Tip: Locate your rain garden at least 10 feet away from your home’s foundation.
Perfect Plants for a Rainy Day
You’ll find many native plants on the list of recommended rain-garden choices, although some non-natives are also adapted to the fluctuations of soil flooding conditions.
- American Red Maple (Acer rubrum). A colorful addition to your rain garden, the American Red Maple is a native tree that really lights up a landscape in autumn when its leaves turn fiery red. Mature height: to 100 feet.
- Dogwood (Cornus florida). Among different species of dogwood, it’s our native species that excels in a rain garden. Choose your favorite color traditional white, soft pink or deep rose-red to complement your landscape design. Mature height: to 30 feet.
- American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). A third native tree recommended for your rain garden is the American Sycamore. Not only does this tree’s leaves turn a lovely shade of yellow in fall, but its exfoliating outer bark reveals white inner bark for year-round appeal. Mature height: to 100 feet.
- Tricolor Willow (Salix integra ‘Hakuro-nashiki’). Many species of willow are perfectly at home in a rain garden. But it’s the outstanding foliage of Tricolor Willow that makes this plant a standout among its willow relatives. In spring, when the new growth makes its appearance, you’ll see why tricolor willow is so-named — delightful pink splashes adorn green-and-white variegated leaves are a landscape designer’s dream! Mature height: to 6 feet.
- American Holly (Ilex opaca). Alternately classified as a small tree or large shrub, American holly suits each purpose. This evergreen plant is the traditional “holiday holly” — red berries on lustrous green leaves. Mature height: to 30 feet.
- Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). Other hydrangea species may flounder in waterlogged soil, but not the native Oakleaf Hydrangea. It prospers in moist areas and can handle periodic flooding and draining events. The deciduous Oakleaf Hydrangea bears conical-shaped flowers in summer that gradually fade from white to shades of pink, and its oakleaf-shaped foliage turns brilliant shades of orange, red and yellow in autumn. Mature height: To 8 feet.
Happy Returns Daylily (Hemerocallis ‘Happy Returns’). The cheerful yellow flowers of Happy Returns Daylily brighten any rain garden. Use this clumping plant as a grasslike border around your rain garden or interplanted with other perennials to fill in bare areas. Mature height: to 2 feet.
- Soulmate Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata ‘Soulmate’). A cultivar of the native milkweed species, Soulmate Milkweed turns your rain garden into a butterfly habitat. This fragrant wildflower is a host plant for Monarch butterflies — the butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves, feed on the flowers’ nectar and the emerging caterpillars feast on the leaves! Mature height: to 4 feet.
- Blazing Star Liatris (Liatris spicata). Another native plant, Blazing Star Liatris is not only a suitable addition to your rain garden, but its purplish-violet flowers are irresistible to hummingbirds and butterflies! Paired with Soulmate Milkweed, Blazing Star Liatris is a must-have to turn your rain garden into a wildlife habitat.
Will a Rain Garden Become a Breeding Ground for Mosquitoes?
We’re glad you asked! You may think that the standing water in a rain garden will turn your yard into mosquito central. But a rain garden is not a bog or water garden, which are permanent reservoirs for standing water. A rain garden should drain within 24 hours or less, so it cannot support the 7 to 10 days required for mosquito eggs to hatch. But a rain garden will attract dragonflies, which is a plus. Harmless to people and pets, dragonflies are natural predators of the mosquitoes in your yard!
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