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Rain Gardens for Watershed Protection

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By Nancy Miller, TAPP Project Coordinator & Pam Sawyer, Master Gardener

Almost every home owner has occasionally been stumped about what to do with excess water washing across the yard during and after a rainstorm. Sometimes the water puddles in an inconvenient place beside the walkway or rushes off so fast that it carries the soil away with it. The moment has arrived to consider replacing some of that lawn with a rain garden.

A rain garden is a landscaped area designed to capture and hold excess water for a short period, allowing it to soak into the soil. The garden is planted with vegetation that prefers a slightly wetter environment, but can tolerate dry times, too. It is a place to grow some beautiful plants like blue-flag iris and black-eyed susans, and offers a break in the monotony of ordinary landscaping. Rain gardens are easy to maintain and many rain garden plants attract birds and other wildlife.

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As towns grow into cities with more and more roofs, driveways, lawns and highways, the water that once filtered down to underground water supplies now runs into the nearest storm drain. A typical city block absorbs five times LESS water than a wooded area of the same size. Water managers are concerned about replenishment of underground water supplies and increasing pollutants in stormwater runoff. Rain gardens are becoming more and more popular because they divert water away from streets and parking lots and provide a place for water to "rest" temporarily while it is absorbed and travels downward into the ground.

How do Rain Gardens Work?

Rainwater that falls on the roof, driveway and lawn is channeled into a low or excavated area of the yard where the rain garden is located. A healthy rain garden is composed of loose soil that is well mulched to create a dynamic system teeming with life. Water is absorbed by the plants or filtered into the soil where, over time, natural chemical and biological processes break down pollutants. A well-placed, carefully designed rain garden can capture virtually all of the stormwater runoff from the property in all but the heaviest storms. Instead of washing your soil and fertilizers to the nearest stream or lake, the water is utilized in an attractive garden which enhances the beauty of your yard while protecting your water.

  • Rain gardens capture the water and increase the amount that filters into the soil.
  • Limiting the volume of rainwater flow helps to reduce flooding and drainage problems in the community.
  • Lawn fertilizers, pesticides, oil and car fluids and other substances are captured and broken down instead of polluting nearby lakes and streams.
  • Slowing the flow of water helps to prevent the erosion of your valuable topsoil.
  • The beauty of the yard in enhanced with a low-maintenance bed.
  • Birds, butterflies and other wildlife are attracted to rain gardens.

Source: Think About Personal Pollution (TAPP), City of Tallahassee

Additional Resources:

TAPP - How to Plant a Rain Garden

TAPP - What to Plant in Your Rain Garden

Univ. of Florida/IFAS - Rain Gardens

Florida-Friendly Plant Database

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