Rain gardens do more than just make your yard more attractive. They can reduce flooding caused by runoff from your driveway or roof, and they provide habitats for insects, butterflies and animals. They are also beneficial to the environment because they reduce the amount of rainwater runoff from polluted residential areas that can reach Illinois rivers, lakes and streams.
How does a rain garden work?
A rain garden is a shallow flat-bottomed depression for planting. When it rains, water collects temporarily in the rain garden, where it seeps gradually into the ground. Rainwater is filtered as it makes its way into the soil.
The University of Illinois Extension service states that the best plants to grow in a rain garden are perennial deep-rooted plants that are native to Illinois. These types of plants include Blue Flag Iris, Cardinal Flower, Sunflower, Golden Alexander, Liatris and Black-eyed Susan. Grasses do well in a rain garden environment as well, because they tolerate having their roots sit in water for a while.
Care and Expense
If you plan a rain garden that is reasonable in size, you can do the digging yourself. The only expense for your rain garden will be for plants. You may be able to save money if you have plantings elsewhere in the yard that can be thinned and moved to your rain garden. Just make sure they can stand to get their feet wet.
Rain gardens need the same care as a perennial garden. It will take a year or two for plantings to begin to fill in. During that time you will need to keep the area weeded, and you will need to keep the plantings watered until established. After a couple of years, when plantings become too dense, you should thin them.
You will need to plan out where to put your rain garden. You will also have to figure out how large to make your rain garden. The University of Wisconsin Extension service has an online manual called Rain Gardens: A How-to Manual for Homeowners that gives you all the information you need to plan and create your rain garden.
A rain garden is best placed in an area with partial to full sun. Areas with well-drained or sandy soils are best. To see what kind of soil you have, dig a hole one foot deep in the rain garden site. Fill the hole with water. If the water has not drained from the hole within two days (provided it has not rained), the location is not suitable for a rain garden.