Why Rain Gardens?
Centuries ago, a Missouri rain storm wasn’t much to fret about. As rain fell on forests, grasslands and wetlands, it percolated through the soil and slowly made its way to the nearest stream. Oh, how times have changed! A rain drop now is many times more likely to fall instead on impervious surfaces like parking lots, driveways and roof tops. Water that cannot find its way into the soil instead runs into storm drains. Contrary to popular belief, storm drains lead directly into our beloved streams and rivers, NOT to a water treatment facility!
As rainwater passes over our streets and lawns, it picks up pollutants: fertilizer residues, oil from vehicles and many others. Even more pollutants are added to the mix when well-meaning citizens put yard waste or even pet waste down the storm drains. Once the rain begins to fall, it all gets washed into our streams. Just a few inches of rainfall in an urban area can lead to a large volume of stormwater runoff entering a stream. This can cause severe erosion and flooding.
The average citizen may seem helpless to fight such a widespread problem, but in fact, it is at the level of the average citizen that effective changes can be implemented! By constructing a rain garden on your property, you can take responsibility for the stormwater that runs off from your own impervious surfaces!
What is a Rain Garden?
Simply defined, a rain garden is a planted depression that collects runoff from an impervious surface. Whereas for a traditional garden you often raise the planting area, for a rain garden the goal is to create a basin that will capture and hold rainwater. The larger the basin you create, the more water you can prevent from running into the streams, while also allowing pollutants and sediment to settle out. That wet spot in your yard where water already pools is often a good place to start as you will not have to divert the flow- it has already found its way!
A rain garden can be designed to hold water for just a few days (called a dry rain garden), or it can be a permanent pool (a wet rain garden). Either way your rain garden should NOT become a mosquito haven! Many homeowners fret that a rain garden is an open invitation to mosquitoes, but a dry rain garden will drain before any mosquito larvae can hatch and grow. A wet rain garden presents a different defense; predators such as frogs, dragonflies and even small fish (if introduced) will relish the free meals of mosquito eggs and larvae!
Selecting the right plants ensures that your rain garden is both functional and beautiful. The most important thing to keep in mind is to always go native! If you choose to plant non-natives, heavy rain will uproot them and drought will kill them. Missouri plants, on the other hand, will develop deep root systems that will stabilize the soil and allow the plant to survive during dry spells. You will still want to ensure that the plants you choose can handle constant moisture; sometimes even wetland plants are well-suited for rain gardens.
Once you are focused on water-loving natives, plants can help you define the greater vision for your rain garden. Do you want to look out upon beautiful, blooming flowers? Select plants for their color, and intermix spring, summer and fall plants so there is always something in bloom! Or are you an avid bird and wildlife watcher? Select plants that provide cover and food for native species. There are many ways that you can personalize your new space!
Not feeling quite ready to run into the backyard with a shovel? No problem! Those of us at Missouri River Communities Network are here to answer your questions and point you in the right direction! If you live in Boone County, we can even schedule a visit to your home for on-site consultation. Give us a call at (573)256-2602 or shoot us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.