Friday, August 7, 2009

Conserve Water With A Rain Garden

Water conservation has been on almost everyone's mind for many years. When I was a kid, my parents would remind me to "turn off the faucet all the way! Money doesn't grow on trees!" A more recent concern is that water may run off to where it isn't so easily accessible.

In an effort to help rain water soak into the ground instead of flowing from pavement to the sea, many municipalities require that new commercial developments construct "retention ponds." Intentions may be good, but those things are expensive, dangerous and ugly. Located on high-priced real estate and usually surrounded by chain link fences for safety/liability reasons, they look like marshy dumps filled with plastic bags, styrofoam cups, disposable diapers and whatever else is washed downhill.

How much better it would be for homeowners to take matters into their own hands and construct rain gardens. Rain gardens are nothing more than shallow depressions in the yard located near driveways or roofs to collect water runoff. Planted with moisture-loving plants, they become attractive features in the landscape that serve a good environmental purpose. They can even attract wildlife. Rain gardens are low-maintenance, too.

Here is how to go about it; you can begin any time of year. Choose a site where water would naturally shed: a bit downhill from a downspout or roof, air conditioning unit, driveway or walk. You may direct water in the right direction with drain tubing or a very shallow swale. In my opinion, rain gardens near homes should be 15 feet or more away from the foundation. Exposure to full sun is desirable, but not necessary.

Plan the size of the rain garden by drawing the contour of the area with marking paint. If you need to make changes, you can edit your work by erasing the marks with your foot when the paint has dried.

Size is not very important. Adapt it to the space available. Approximately 25 square feet is okay; 100 square feet is fine; larger is better.

When you are satisfied with the contour, remove the sod and construct a shallow depression. The sides should slope gradually. You may add a few inches of soil as a low berm around the edge of the down-hill side to prevent water from escaping.

Keep in mind that you aren't constructing a pond, so it need not be very deep; 6 inches to 8 inches deep is sufficient. You don't need to install a liner, either. The garden need not be constantly wet; the idea is for rain water to soak into the soil, not to stand indefinitely. If, however, you wish to form a bog garden, you can do that by digging the depression a bit deeper.

Choose plants that like moist soil. Native grasses, sedges, perennials and small woody shrubs are ideal. Many native plants are recognized for their ornamental value. Sometimes they even establish themselves naturally! But non-native plants are good, too. Whether to weed or not is your choice.

An added advantage of a rain garden is that it doesn't require mowing. HooRAY!!! That much less to do. Just mow around it and go on.

Maintenance is minimal. Trimming brown stalks in early spring will keep your garden tidy and allow new growth to sprout unhindered.

If you would like to see what a rain garden looks like before you begin construction, check with nearby nurseries, botanical gardens and nature centers. Since rain gardens are becoming quite popular lately, you shouldn't have far to travel. For more precise information, resources are available on the internet.

Your new rain garden will enable you to conserve water, enhance your gardening experience, beautify your home, provide habitat for wildlife, and maybe even reduce the time you spend maintaining your landscape. It's a great solution.

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