Rain gardens: Part 2 - Rain garden plants

Rain gardens resemble regular perennial gardens and borders, but have a more important function in the landscape. Learn more about which plants to include in your family’s rain garden.

In Part 1 of this Michigan State University Extension series on rain gardens, I shared how rain gardens can be used to improve water quality for your family and community. In Part 2, I will explore the functions of rain garden plants.

The function of a rain garden is to absorb and filter run-off water from impervious surfaces, such as roofs and parking lots. In rain gardens, the rain water is specifically directed to the garden as this water would otherwise run down the storm drain and into the area’s fresh water supply.

In the center of the garden, there is a shallow dip that holds the water while it soaks into the ground. The garden does not form a pond, as the water soaks into the ground and filters though the soil. The water is then used by the plants and also helps to recharge the ground water supply.

Rain gardens resemble regular perennial gardens and borders, but have a more important function in the landscape. Rain gardens have beautiful trees, shrubs, and perennials; many are planted with native plants and are a beautiful addition to a home or commercial landscape.

The plants selected for the rain garden may be native or have extensive root systems that help the garden absorb the rain water. Native plants are often selected as they do not need special care, are resistant to most insects and diseases, and attract beneficial insects. Non-native plants can also be used, as long as they are not invasive.

When choosing plants for your rain garden, consider the plant’s height, bloom time, color and texture and the overall feel they will add to the garden. Using plants that have a variety of textures, bloom times and seasonal color changes will add interest to your garden. Clumping plants in groups of three or more will create a bolder statement, giving your garden strong visual interest. Remember seeds and seed pods add to winter interest and also provide food for wildlife, especially birds.

Consider how the garden will be viewed from your patio, street and even the view from inside your house. A well-plan garden will not only help filter run-off and be great from the environment, it will also add value to your home.

For a great instructional guide to building a rain garden, as well as a nice plant list, download Rain Gardens: A how-to manual for homeowners, developed by University of Wisconsin Extension and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. As spring approaches, consider using this guide to create a new, beautiful rain garden that can be enjoyed by your whole family.

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