Site Design - Rain Gardens
This educational article is brought to you by
Rochester Area Builders, Inc. with the support of Sargent's Landscape Nursery, Inc.
Working with Nature
Thoughtful stewardship is necessary for the sustainability of our ecosystem. With that in mind, homeowners are discovering a practical way to work with Nature to beautify their yards and greatly help the environment at the same time. The technical term for the benefits of natural processes is “ecosystem services.” This term encompasses several beneficial activities performed by plants. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants provide oxygen to the atmosphere. In addition, their root systems hold moisture in place, prevent erosion, filter out pollutants and improve soil quality. Plants also regulate temperature and provide habitat for many forms of wildlife. That is quite an accomplishment. And this whole process can be set in motion through the creation of one small, strategically placed rain garden.
What is a Rain Garden?
A rain garden is simply a bowl-like depression filled with soil that has been loosened to allow water to pass through it. The soil is typically covered with low-maintenance plants and flowers that are native to the area and, consequently, tolerate the seasonal changes that are likely to occur. Rain gardens are generally placed in close proximity to gutter downspouts or in areas of the yard that channel the flow of rainwater. This water is trapped within the rain garden itself, allowing the water to work its way into the subsoil. Rain gardens are unobtrusive and lovely to look at. They develop deep root systems and thwart the growth of unwanted weeds. With the thoughtful selection of colorful flowers, they become an irresistible temptation for wandering butterflies. And contrary to a commonly held belief, rain gardens are not swamps and do not become breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
Rain Gardens Protect the Environment and Save Money
A rain garden catches and holds water that normally flows quickly off the land, ending up as storm water runoff. On its rapid journey, runoff causes erosion, collects pollutants and deprives the soil of much needed moisture. This vast quantity of polluted water quickly makes its way into rivers and streams, subtly wreaking havoc within the ecosystem. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, storm water runoff is the number one threat to water quality in our lakes and streams. It has been estimated that the average combined value of all ecosystem services on the planet approaches $33 trillion. That, in itself, is an astronomical number. Though it is not all that obvious, the true dollar costs of water runoff are also significant. Individual actions can make beneficial contribution to maintaining a green planet. Every little bit helps, and every yard makes a difference. If a fair percentage of homeowners in the United States were to create small rain gardens in their yards, the ecosystem services savings would easily reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
In the forest, only about ten percent of annual rainfall ends up as surface runoff. But in residential neighborhoods, thousands upon thousands of gallons of rainwater run off roofs, flow through gutters, stream across lawns and pavement, are channeled through storm sewers, and finally end up being discharged into rivers. A small, thoughtfully located rain garden traps much of this misappropriated water and allows it to soak into the soil, eventually again becoming pristine groundwater.
The First Step
Although a rain garden is easy to create and maintain, a bit of knowledge and forethought are required. For this reason, those considering the idea should first do a little library research or consult landscape specialists in their area. And of course, make sure to check with the local utility company (or call Gopher One) before doing any digging in the yard. Once completed, the rain garden becomes a beautiful and useful addition to the yard.
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