Choose a low or wet spot in your yard where water drains naturally. The closer to the street, the better the spot. Make sure it’s at least 15 feet from the foundation to avoid basement wetness.

Check the soil. Sand-based soil works well. Clay-soil gardens are not recommended.

Use a garden hose to outline the area. Any shape is fine.

Dig a shallow depression (after checking for underground power lines and other utilities!) with the center at a depth of 12 to 18 inches, feathering out to the perimeter.

Dig a shallow trench from the downspout or sump pump outlet to the garden.

Choose native plants and cultivars that tolerate drought and occasional drenching. As a general rule of thumb, plants should be about 18 inches apart, or one plant per 2.5 square feet.

Mow or remove the dead vegetation each spring, or burn it off if local ordinances allow. Weed three times per growing season. (Tree seedlings are usually the most abundant weeds.)

Good Rain Garden Choices

Shadier Sites

  • Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
  • Fringed Sedge (Carex crinita)
  • Ostrich fern (Matteuca struthiopteris)
  • Path Rush (Juncus tenuis) good for edging
  • Sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis)
  • Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

Sunnier sites

  • Blue flag iris (Iris versicolor or Iris virginica shrevei)
  • Blue Joint Grass (Calamagrostis canadensis)
  • Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum)
  • Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)
  • New England aster (Aster novae-angliae)
  • Porcupine Sedge (Carex hystericina)
  • Queen of the prairie (Filipendula rubra)
  • Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)
  • Swamp butterfly weed (Asclepias incarnata)
  • Wild Bergamot (Mondarda fistulosa)

There are lots of great resources on line about starting a rain garden, with lots more detail and how-tos. The Wisconsin DNRhas a page filled with helpful links. Or check out the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s particularly helpful how-to piece.

Photo credit: Photo by DASonnenfeld from the Wikimedia Commons. A rain garden at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, New York.