How to Start Rainscaping Around Your New Home

Save Water Easily, Naturally and Beautifully

A rain garden with a variety of plants with a small depression to catch rain water and stones at the bottom to keep water in the garden. Photo courtesy of the University of Connecticut Center for Land Use Education and Research’s (CLEAR) NEMO Program’s Rain Gardens page.

This rain garden collects rain runoff and lets it not only water this collection of plants, it keeps rainwater from going into storm drains.

One of the most important, environmentally conscious trends for any home in 2018 is rainscaping.

Rainscaping manages storm water where it falls, rather than moving it somewhere else. The term can refer to many ways of using rainwater, including plantings, catch basins, permeable pavements and water features.

There are huge benefits to rainscaping. Soil is improved and storm water is absorbed slowly over time. Above ground, plants, basins and water features create incredible green spaces without the high financial and environmental costs of consistently watering the area through conventional means. Naturally reclaiming the rainwater also reduces stress on sewer systems and can make basement backups a thing of the past.

Planting a Rain Garden

As environmental concerns continue to take center stage in 2018, many homeowners are considering creating rain gardens. These landscaping water solutions can be as beautiful as they are useful.

Rain gardens are planted into shallow depressions meant to gather water during a storm, allowing it to slowly absorb into the ground as close to where it falls as possible. This keeps the water from running over the yard and falling into sewers and local waterways. This also helps to filter the water, so it can return to the water table without impurities or fewer impurities. To keep water away from your home, downspouts can direct water away from the house and into the rain garden’s basin, either from above ground or by burying the spout to direct its water into the basin under plants.

Rain gardens need little or no watering, which reduces costs and helps conserve water by saving the local water supply for drinking and bathing. Rain gardens also provide a beautiful habitat for birds, butterflies and beneficial insects.

Planning Your Own Rain Garden

Rain gardens are planted into shallow depressions meant to gather water during a storm, allowing it to slowly absorb into the ground as close to where it falls as possible.As you begin to design your rain garden, you’ll need to decide how big the space should be. The Missouri Botanical Garden suggests utilizing a five-to-one ratio. So, looking at your paved and impermeable space (like your roof, driveway, etc.), calculate the square footage of runoff-producing space that is uphill from your garden; your garden should be about half of that size.

Consider what kind of look you’d like and start to layout your garden accordingly. No one wants a giant puddle in their yard, so rain gardens often combine stonework with plants and compost to allow water to soak into the ground. A combination of gravel and boulders can give a nice visual look to the rain garden, while still allowing water to run around them and down into the ground, rather than across flat pavement into city drainage systems. Permeable pavers even create possibilities for patios that still allow water to soak right through.

Next, of course, you’ll need to choose your plants. Different parts of the rain garden will need different plants. Plants in the basin will need to tolerate very moist soil, while plants near the upper edge will enjoy better drained soil. You’ll also want to choose a variety of plants so that you’ll have plants blooming all year long.

Installing a Rain Barrel

Not sure you’re ready for a full-on rain garden? One easy piece of rainscaping that can add both function and an eco-friendly touch is a rain barrel. Rain barrels attach to the downspout of your home to collect water before it drains into the city system. You’ll want to find or purchase barrels that have lids to keep out mosquitos that lay eggs in open water.

Rain barrels save you money by providing water for your lawn and gardens, but they also help on a systematic level. When used consistently in a neighborhood, they limit the need for sewer expansion and decrease flooding by reducing the flow rates during the high points of storms.

Additional Strategies

Other strategies for preserving rainwater include dry wells, French drains and swales. These can be utilized as part of a rain garden or on their own.

Dry wells are installed undergrounds and receive storm water from a variety of pipes and channels, then slowly drain the water gathered directly into the ground through small exit openings.

French drains and swales are similar. Both are drains hidden under landscaping. French drains sit beneath a trench of gravel or rocks and collect water through a grate or filter fabric and then direct the collected water into a dry well or rain garden. Swales on the other hand use earthen channels covered in dense grass to collect rainwater.

Enjoying the Effects of Rainscaping

Once you’ve implemented your rainscaping strategy, you can’t help but enjoy the results. By creating sustainable gardens, you’ll be surrounded with vibrant, air-purifying plantings and the beautiful sounds of running water. And with a dry home and more money in your pocket as well, you’ll be glad you did!
Laurie Leiker is a published author, business coach and consumer advocate. She spent 10 years as producer and on-air investigator for the Troubleshooter Tom Martino radio show in Denver, Colo., where she helped consumers get back more than $2 million in one year.

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