Rain Gardens: A Solution for Wet Yards

By Marsha Goldberg, Fairfax Master Gardener
A River Runs Through It, by Norman MacLean, is a great read, but it also aptly describes my yard during a rainstorm. Unfortunately, our house sits at the low end of the neighborhood. Every time it rains, water from our neighbors’ yards runs down a gentle slope until it ends at a storm drain near our home. Over the years, this water flow eroded more and more of our yard, resulting in a deep rut and washing away precious seeds and soil from the beds it encountered along the way. At first, the only approaches we could think of to fix the problem were expensive and/or labor intensive. But then I discovered rain gardens.

rain gardenBy definition, a rain garden is a landscaped area specifically designed to collect rainfall and storm-water runoff. A rain garden is not only beautiful but beneficial to the environment as well. In addition to causing damage to neighborhood backyards, rain runoff causes damage to our water supply. As runoff passes over sidewalks, streets and hardscapes, it picks up debris, such as gravel and motor oil. It sweeps up fertilizers, pesticides and pet waste from lawns, all of which then flow into storm drains and enter the local water system. Even runoff from roofs can contribute to this problem. In addition, the excess water flowing into streams causes their banks to erode.

Rain gardens help combat these problems. The plants and soil in rain gardens clean pollutants from the water as it seeps into the ground and evaporates back into the atmosphere. Rain gardens allow 30 percent more water to soak into the ground. Native plants are a smart choice for rain gardens because they can tolerate the wet conditions and local weather so, in addition, the native plants in a rain garden can beautify a yard and create a habitat for birds, butterflies and beneficial insects.

rain gardenIf rainwater runs through your yard, or if rain results in standing water, consider installing a rain garden. A professional can do it, or you can do it yourself, if you are willing to put in the labor required for digging and planting. Many state cooperative-extension agencies offer free publications that provide technical detai