The abundant benefits of rain gardens

By: Katia Huszka, Communications Assistant

Installing a rain garden outside of your home is not only rain smart for its environmental benefits, but it will make your yard the talk of the town! Installing a rain garden can increase the amount of wildlife found in your yard, and will enhance its natural beauty. If you have ever considered installing a rain garden, here are some advantages and considerations for doing so that should help you with your decision.

What is a rain garden?

When it rains, storm water runs off of roofs and paved surfaces into storm drains and, ultimately, into streams and lakes. This contributes pollution to these areas, and causes flooding from the excessive amount of runoff. Rain gardens offer a relatively inexpensive solution to homeowners to help reduce these environmental impacts. The solution is simple!

First, a location must be chosen. Rain gardens should be located at least 10 feet away from your home’s foundation. Choose a spot that slopes away from your house so that water that isn’t captured by your rain garden will flow away from your home. More considerations on areas to avoid are discussed below.

After this, a source of water is required. Water can be conveyed into a rain garden by an extension of a downspout, through an infiltration trench or through an overflow hose from your rain barrel. Next, the garden must be installed by digging a shallow depression and adding a mixture of compost, sand and soil that creates an environment that naturally filters the runoff. Finally, native plants allow the water to be taken up by their deep roots and have the added benefit of attracting wildlife, such as butterflies, into the garden.

Versatility of Rain Gardens

One of the biggest advantages to creating a rain garden is that they can come in a variety of styles and sizes. If you enjoy the look of your current style of flower bed, not a problem. It may be able to be incorporated into a rain garden! So long as it is at a lower point, not too close to buildings and there is a source of water to feed the garden, any casual or formal landscape can be converted into a rain garden.

Numerous ecological benefits

Rain gardens filter out many pollutants that would otherwise make their way into local water bodies. Local groundwater can be recharged through the water that will infiltrate slowly into the water table, versus where it would have gone – the stormwater drains.

Flood risk downstream is reduced from the decreased amount of water that is running off the property, since the water is instead seeping into the ground and recharging the local groundwater.

Rain gardens provide other environmental benefits such as an increase in habitat for wildlife, such as pollinators, like bees. Birds and butterflies also enjoy the native flowers that can be planted in rain gardens, which increase biodiversity, an important factor, especially for urban areas, where habitat for wildlife is limited.

Additional benefits

If the environmental advantages to rain gardens do not fully convince you to consider one, here are several other benefits that you will receive from the garden. Rain gardens require less regular garden maintenance than a typical lawn landscape. One reason for this is that the soil brought in will not require fertilizer since the soil purchased for the native plants will contain compost, which is full of nutrients for plants. Weeding is required once or twice a year, but since rain gardens generally contain good soil structure, weeds are easily pulled out. Finally, after two or three years, the native plants’ roots will be established and the rainwater that feeds the garden will be enough to support their growth and development, eliminating the need to irrigate.

By bringing, the water captured from around the home into the rain garden there will be a reduced risk for home flooding. This is a great benefit for those who have problems with water standing around the foundation of their home.

Reducing the standing water in your yard will leave less breeding grounds for mosquitoes, making your backyard a more comfortable and safe area to relax and enjoy. The native flowers that are planted also attract beneficial insects to the garden, which eliminate pest insects, allowing you to further enjoy the outdoors!

Considerations for a successful rain garden

  • A rain garden is best to locate in an area with a gentle slope (away from any buildings). If you have a steep hill, you may want to consider creating a stepped rain garden.
  • Rain gardens need to maintain loose soil in order to absorb rain water. Avoid putting a rain garden in a high traffic area where people or pets will walk on it and compact the soil.
  • If you have mature trees in your yard, you might want to avoid putting a rain garden too close to them as the root systems can be damaged when you dig it out.
  • If you have an area in your yard where you typically have standing water, it may indicate low permeability. The whole point of a rain garden is to let the water infiltrate into the ground, so you want an area with good drainage.

Make it fun!

Building a rain garden can be an opportunity for you and your family to showcase your creativity to the entire neighbourhood. From selecting native flowers to plant, to maintaining the garden, this is a fun project with an end result that increases curb appeal and garden enjoyment. Rain gardens can be a conversation starter with neighbours, and it will give you something to take pride in.

To find out more information about rain gardens, or to compare information about different rain smart solutions, attend one of our workshops, presentations or demonstrations.

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