What is a rain garden? Soak up and slow down water in a shallow bowl-shaped garden specifically designed to take advantage of where water naturally drains on your property. In our dry summers, this extra water allows a wider variety of plants to be grown.
Rain gardens can be planned to sensibly direct water away from home foundations or use low marshy spots that collect too much moisture during rains. The idea is to capture and soak up gushing storm water where it can be used in your garden, without having to set up an elaborate rain barrel system.
Rains gardens can lessen soil erosion around your home, allowing rain water to soak into the ground water supplies and control flooding. The added moisture collected will attract wildlife, reduce hand watering and act as an attractive garden feature when used in place of high maintenance lawn areas.
A rain garden should be at least 10 feet from your house, 15 feet from any septic system and 25 feet away from well water supply. If you have oaks, remember to keep your rain garden 6-10 feet away, which will also place your rain garden in sun or part sun. The easiest place to construct a rain garden is at the end of your drainage pipes leading from your homes downspouts.
My garden is on a steep slope and there are three downspouts extending down that outlet about 15 feet away from the house at each back corner and in the center. I now had three new areas where moisture-loving plants could survive a bit better.
Dig your wide shallow area in the soil, a depression, really, and edge it with rocks or stones. Plant around the inner edges of your new garden with moisture loving plants. Plan to fill the area with some extra planter mix and manure that will nourish your new plants as the water soaks in. Around the edges plant water loving plants like Iris, Red twig Dogwood, Ferns, Azaleas and Rhododendrons. More ideal plants for a Sierra foothill garden are Columbine, Penstemon, Bee Balm, Ajuga, and Veronica.
One rain garden I have turned out to be the perfect project for a young boy visiting, who just happens to be related. Digging the wide hole, about six feet in diameter, and filling it with all my extra garden soil, manure and fertilizer completed his part of the job. Together, we then filled it with water to test the drainage and small leaks were plugged.
After his interest waned, I planted a Witch Hazel tree, a Bird’s nest Spruce and Germander by one rain garden, shown, Rhododendron, Azaleas, Columbine, Cranesbill Geranium, and native Bush Anemone in the center rain garden and at the other corner, Blue-eyed Grass, Redtwig Dogwood and Penstemon. All thrive and bloom beautifully on the little extra water that a rain garden provides.
If you have natural water runoff from a slope, another solution is to design a dry creek bed leading to the rain garden. A shallow trench lined with rocks can be made to look very natural and if kept weed free, beautiful and useful. You may have a natural area that always remains wet and if it is in a desirable spot can simply plant around it.
If you do have downspouts or marshy flooding areas at your place, you might as well use them to widen the selection of plants you can grow! Try a rain garden.