In these hot, dry summer months, you may be looking for a way to conserve water and cut down on your bills without neglecting your plants. We don’t blame you. Water bills are expensive and manual watering is time-consuming. If you are looking for an alternative, building a rain garden in your backyard conserves rain water while also helping the environment. It’s a win win!
What are Rain Gardens?
Rain gardens serve a couple main purposes: for one, they funnel rainwater runoff from downspouts into planting beds and surrounding areas of soil. They also filter water runoff, sponging out harmful chemicals. Typically, when water comes off a downspout, it travels through your yard, oftentimes picking up pesticides and fertilizers on the way. Then, it goes into a storm drown that eventually dumps it into rivers and streams, where chemical pollutants in the water can hurt native plant and animal species. Polluted runoff is bad news for ecosystems, and installing a rain garden is one way of combatting its negative effects.
How Do I Build One?
First, you want to find a place to put your rain garden. You should chose an area at least 10 feet from your house, away from septic systems or significant slopes. You should then test the area’s absorbency capabilities. To do this, you can dig a hole approximately 2 ft deep and fill it with eight inches of water. You want the water to be fully absorbed in twelve hours or less. If water is still sitting after 12 hours, this area may not be suitable for a rain garden. Remember, before you dig, you should call your local utilities department to make sure your dig spot is safe and away from utility lines.
After choosing placement, you should decide on size. Rain gardens can be up to 150 square feet (or bigger) if you have the room, but even a small rain garden can help manage your runoff considerably. When you are marking the size of your garden, you should also take into account where the water will flow in to the garden and where it will flow out.
Next, strip away the lawn on top of where your garden will be by slicing off grass roots with a sharp spade or a sod cutter, which you can rent from most hardware stores.
After that—and this is the hardest part—you are going to have to do a lot of digging. You will probably want help, or you can consider hiring an excavator operator for a quicker job. You’re going to want to dig out the entire interior of your rain garden about 18 inches deep. If your garden is slightly sloped, you may want to install a berm soil wall on the lower side—about two feet wide at the base and one foot wide at the top.
You will also need to dig a trench than can carry rain water from downspouts to the rain garden. Within the trenches, you will need to install piping. Corrugated tubing is easy to work with, just make sure to get the kind without perforations. The pipe should reach about a foot into the rain garden basin. For extra durability, you can put stones over and around the pipe. Once the piping is down, fill in the trenches with soil.
You’re then going to fill back in the basin. You want all but the top ~six inches to be filled with rain garden soil (approx. 60% native soil and 40% compost). The sides should be slightly sloped, and stones can be packed around the edges to decrease the chance of erosion.
Then you can start planting! Group plants by their water tolerance levels. Plants that do well in wet environments can go towards the center, plants that can handle standing water should go towards the sloped sides, and plants that like drier conditions can go on the outer edge. Once plants are planted, be sure to mulch and water regularly until they are well-established.
After your plants are thriving, your rain garden is complete! The plants will filter the water through their roots and release clean water slowly into the surrounding yard. You yard will stay hydrated via the recycled storm water and you won’t have to worry about dangerous runoff! It’s a big pay-off for about a week of work.
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