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Diggin’ In: Creating a Rain Garden

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By Kathy Van Mullekom

rain_garden(MCT)—Rain is a natural resource for your yard.

Think of it as pennies from heaven — free moisture that nourishes your plants and nixes high water bills.

Ask a master gardener how best to access that rich resource and you are likely to hear “rain garden.”

A rain garden is also a fuss-free way to help clean up our environment.

When it rains, water falls on roofs, driveways, lawns, between houses, over parking lots and through storm drains. As stormwater travels over these surfaces, it collects pollutants, pesticides, herbicides, sediments and pet wastes. In undisturbed landscapes, such as woods and open field, there is very little stormwater runoff because rainwater filters through soil or evaporates into the atmosphere.

“Seventy percent of pollutants in our streams, rivers and lakes are carried there by stormwater,” says Carol Fyrer, a master gardener in Williamsburg, Va. She and other local master gardeners are using their skills to help homeowners develop rain gardens in places where erosion, water conservation and pollution control are concerns.

“Most people do not know that about half of the pollutants are caused by what we do in our gardens and yards.

“Planting a rain garden might seem like a small part of stormwater management, but if you calculate the amount of rain that runs off you roof, you might be very surprised. Water running off a house roof can be channeled into a rain garden, rather than heading into the street to a storm drain carrying pollutants with it.”

What is a rain garden?

A rain garden is an attractive landscape feature designed to capture, filter and infiltrate stormwater back into the soil — rather than rain running off your property or causing erosion, according to Carol.

“They are built as shallow depressions — basins — in the ground that are filled with good draining soil mix and beautiful plants that can tolerate wet soil and periods of drought,” she says.

As water collects in the rain garden, it is filtered and slowly absorbed by soil and plants. Soil and plant roots of the trees, shrubs and perennials planted in the rain garden filter pollutants, pesticides and herbicides from the rainwater. Well-designed rain gardens will hold water for no longer than 24-48 hours.

Why are rain gardens important?

Rain gardens have several advantages, according to Darl Fletcher, assistant horticulture curator at the Virginia Living Museum—www.thevlm.org—n Newport News, Va. The museum’s rain garden is located in front of the green roof of the Goodson Living Green House, and is planted with witch hazel, sweet pepperbush, strawberry bush, Virginia sweetspire and copper iris—native species that will be sold at its April plant.

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