Home & Garden

Guide for a rain garden

Editors note: Homeowner Linda Andrews, the subject of the story here, offers her own advice for building a rain garden.

Rain gardens provide a low-maintenance and wildlife-friendly solution to watershed protection for homeowners. And they are beautiful landscape features that are surprisingly drought tolerant.

As homes, roads and businesses replace forests, the land can’t absorb all the rain that falls during storms, increasing the risk of flooding. Storm water is also a concern because it sends pollution from chemicals, fertilizers and pet wastes directly into our waterways. Rain gardens mimic our natural forest hydrology, absorbing storm water locally, keeping it out of storm drains and allowing it time to infiltrate back into our groundwater while filtering out pollutants.


Location: Site your rain garden at least 10 feet away from your home’s foundation and away from steep slopes, the roots of large trees, underground utilities, and your well or septic system.

Fill: Dig a pond-like area 18-36” deep with a flat bottom. Fill it back in with a two thirds sandy topsoil and one third compost mixture. Leave six or more inches for pond depth.

Piping: Direct storm water runoff from downspouts into the rain garden via pipes or a rocky swale.

Grading: If possible, grade hardscape areas such as driveways or patios so that they will drain into the rain garden as well. Create a safe overflow for major storms.

Plants: Plant the garden densely with plants that can handle our dry summers and our wet winters. Native plants are an excellent choice. The plants in the bottom must be able to handle periods of time when they will be submerged in water.

Wood chips: Cover the soil with three to four inches of woodchips to suppress weeds and to conserve moisture. Weed early and often while the plants are maturing, and replenish mulch annually.

Maintenance: Water your plants as needed for one to two years. They shouldn’t require supplemental water after that.