It's been raining a lot this week. And my kids have been singing, "Rain, rain, go away. Come again another day."
But sitting here I realize that rain is the ultimate sensory experience - a melodic drip-drop-drip-drop. I listen to the trickle of the rain as I read a story on the Web about how emergency water restrictions can become permanent in San Diego.
Water - in some places in North America there is too little and in others there is too much. And when there's too much in the wrong spot, water can collect and sit stagnant as a mosquito breeding ground or runoff into places where you'd least like it … like the basement.
The new - and more aesthetically pleasing - answer to this problem? A rain garden.
A rain garden, as described by Davey's expert in this area, Natural Resource Consulting Project Manager Dave Riddell, is a manmade area that incorporates existing and imported soil types and substrates in combination with native vegetation to enhance storm water filtration and increase aesthetic value and wildlife habitat. That's a mouthful, but the goal is to capture or slow down rainwater runoff and allow it to percolate through the soil or be absorbed by water-loving plants and to prevent soil erosion from fast-moving water that often comes from gutter downspouts, French drain systems or impervious surfaces like driveways and roads.
For instance, if a landscape slopes toward a home and the basement regularly floods or if a backyard tends to flood during rainstorms in certain spots or collect puddles of water that don't disappear until a couple of days later, a properly created and maintained rain garden placed in the right spot in the landscape could solve the problem.
"A rain garden is designed to accept and drain water within 48 hours so it doesn't have standing water long enough to support mosquito breeding," Riddell explains.
Plus, a rain garden acts as a typical flower bed, but it sits a bit lower, incorporates gravel and other water filtering materials and usually houses more native plants. "Native plants, especially grasses, have deeper roots in general and will better tolerate drought years or increased rainfall," Riddell says.
Rain gardens can also incorporate trees. Ones that do well tend to like wet feet, such as a swamp white oak, a pin oak or a bald cypress.
But a rain garden is not a simple do-it-yourself project. "What we're seeing is a lot of people doing them incorrectly," Riddell says. "They often create spaces that hold too much water or select improper plants for the site conditions.. A lot can go wrong if it's not done the right way."
When preparing a space for a rain garden, Riddell watches the water flow and then uses a few calculations to determine how much rainfall comes from a certain area and what the size of the rain garden needs to be to handle that amount of water. Though people tend to think rain gardens are for larger properties, Riddell says a rain garden as small as 5 feet by 10 feet can be installed to help catch the water from one downspout.
Also, people typically want to put rain gardens in the lowest part of a property, but that isn't always the best place. "Up the slope a bit is usually better to catch the water before it reaches the lowest spot," he says, adding that rain gardens are also typically located at least 10 feet away from a home.
And though they can be low maintenance once established, they do still need some typical flower bed care, such as regular weeding, especially in the early months. The plants used in a rain garden should be a good mix of annual and perennial bloomers so that the annuals outcompete the weeds until the perennials have a chance to come in and crowd them out, Riddell advises.
Tired of watching the puddles collect in your yard? Try a rain garden, and then when you hear the familiar pitter patter of raindrops, it can be music to your ears vs. another verse of "Rain, Rain, Go Away."
"Think you're a big fan of trees? We'd love to hear about it. Send your thoughts to Dave or Daphne at firstname.lastname@example.org ."