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---- Rain Gardens ----
Gardening with Water Quality in Mind

Click Here to Learn of Rain Garden Related Classes & Presentations in the Minneapolis St Paul, Mn Area

When you make a garden a "rain garden" you can improve local water quality while creating a beautiful natural area that will attract
birds and butterflies. Rain gardens allow rain and snowmelt to seep naturally into the ground. This helps recharge our groundwater supply, and prevents a water quality problem called polluted runoff. Rain gardens are an important way to make our cities more attractive places to live while building urban ecological health.

What makes a garden a rain garden? All it takes is a few simple steps in the following three areas:

(1) Landscaping:
Rain gardens are designed with a dip at the center to collect rain and snow melt. Any degree of indentation is useful, from slight dips made with your garden trowel to large swales created by professional landscapers. Neatly trimmed shrubs, a crisp edge of lawn, stone retaining walls and other devices can be used to keep garden edges neat and visually appealing.
(2) Location:
Strategic placement next to hard surfaces such as alleys, sidewalks, driveways and under gutters makes your rain garden effective. Following you will find descriptions for how rain gardens can work in the front, side and back sections of your property.

(3) Plant choices:
Hardy native species that thrive in our ecosystem without chemical fertilizers and pesticides are the best choices. Many rain gardens feature shrubs as well as wild flowers and grasses. As a rule, the less "turf" on lawns, the better it is from a water quality stand point -- turf-style lawns create a harder surface which does not absorb water as readily as garden areas. Also, turf-style lawns often require chemical treatments and extra water to look uniform. Yards that feature native plants, grasses and shrubs are much easier to maintain.

Provide for overflow from heavy rains. A small culvert or swale may be used to move excess water to another raingarden. There may even be a community raingarden that receives water from a number of nearby properties. Loosening compacted soil will increase infiltration. Infiltration will also increase with addition of humus, or a mix of humus and sand.

Front yard gardens can be created: -- At the end of the roof gutter to capture run off from the roof; -- Along front walkway to keep runoff from traveling down the sidewalk and into the storm sewer; -- Along the city sidewalk to act as a buffer between your lawn and the street; -- On the city-owned boulevard to stop runoff from entering the street.

Property owners with front yards that slope to the sidewalk may choose to incorporate stone walls. With the addition of wall features, collection points can become deeper and more useful from a water filtration stand point. If the wall is decorative and combined with neatly edged turf, the area will be beautiful throughout the year.

Side yard gardens:
Gardens along the side of your home or business can catch runoff from your roof, create a "living fence" between properties and channel runoff to front or back yard gardens. Some homeowners create wide side yard gardens that become wider still in the back yard. This style of garden can minimize the amount of "turf" in your back yard that needs to be mowed. Creating wild areas along the side of your house ensures that you can look out your window and see beautiful plants, birds and butterflies. Don't plant tall shrubs right next to your windows if you are concerned about people hiding there. Also, make sure dips for capturing runoff channel water away from your house to avoid basement flooding problems.
Back yard gardens:
Back yard gardens can keep water from running down the alley and into storm sewers. Like side yard gardens, back yard gardens can also help minimize the amount of high-maintenance turf-style lawn on your property. Most people place their largest gardens in the back yard. If you already have a large back yard garden, you can easily add a water filtration component by creating dips that will hold and filter water. In any location, a rain garden's basic feature is a dip or swale. Shrubs are often planted at the center and surrounded by wild flowers

What is polluted runoff?
Polluted runoff is a big problem in urban areas where much of the ground is covered with hard surfaces such as roofs, streets, parking lots and sidewalks. Before development, rain and snow melt seeped slowly into the earth. Now water flows quickly across hard surfaces, picking up pollutants -- from organic particles, pesticides, fertilizers, gas, oil and other types of residue -- before dumping into storm drains. Once in the storm sewer system the water flows into local lakes and streams. In most cases it is not treated or cleaned in any way. Here in the Twin Cities almost all storm water eventually ends up in the Mississippi River -- our precious, world-class resource that is also the source of much of our drinking water.

Q: - How do I turn a section of my yard into a rain garden?
A: - Simply dig a shallow depression and plant with perennials - see a list below of some good raingarden native plants.

Q: - Don't rain gardens attract a lot of mosquitoes?
A: - No. For reproduction, mosquitoes require a number of days in standing water. Most urban mosquitoes breed in places like junk-piles where there are old tires or tin cans. There is rarely standing water long enough for mosquito reproduction in a well-designed rain garden.

Q: - Can I create a rain garden that doesn't look too wild or messy?
A: - The way to make a rain garden, or any garden, appear 'well kept' is to keep the edges tidy. Tall plants and grasses tend to "flop-over" so if you want a neat silhouette, you will want to stick with short species. To keep native plants from growing too large, remember not to water them!

Q: - What happens to water-tolerant plants when we have a dry spell?
A: - Native plants can withstand a range of weather conditions. Native plants that do well in poorly drained soil will be fine during dry weather.

Q: - How large must a rain garden be to be worthwhile?
A: - Any water that seeps into the ground instead of running into a storm sewer helps water quality. A rain garden of any size has a positive impact.

A neighborhood raingarden can become a community building project. Neighborhood raingardens also can provide recreation opportunities, re-create wetlands, add aesthetic value, and add restorative natural greenspace to our urban landscape.

Neighborhood Projects:
The overall landscape pattern of our cities includes easements and small public properties. These areas are ideal for gardens that improve the ecological functioning and the aesthetic value of our communities. In the Twin Cities, our proximity to the Mississippi River and its network of tributary creeks and streams provides many opportunities for protecting this great waterway through restoration of former natural areas.

Across the country, urban communities are realizing the economic, social and environmental benefits of creating stormwater filtration projects and restoring native vegetation. Twin City based efforts include work in the neighborhoods surrounding St. Paul's Lower Phalen Creek and Minneapolis' Bassett Creek -- Mississippi River tributaries that have been degraded and partially buried as storm sewers.

Residents, businesses, employees and government agencies are working together to recreate natural areas and improve water quality in Lower Phalen Creek and Bassett Creek. Efforts, which are spearheaded by St. Paul's Friends of Swede Hollow and Minneapolis' Friends of Bassett Creek, include promoting rain gardens as well as:

Rain gardens in action!
There are a number of sites where rain gardens are being installed to add beauty to our cities while capturing and filtering stormwater. Friends of Swede Hollow and the City of St. Paul have installed a rain garden demonstration site on Seventh Street near the Swede Hollow Cafe. The St. Paul Neighborhood Energy Consortium is building a rain garden at their new site on Selby and Dale. Through this project, an existing parking lot's impervious surfaces are being reduced by about 17 percent. To see a residential rain garden, take a look at the yard on 118 Virginia Street (one half block north of Summit Avenue, near Western in St. Paul). The rain garden is visible from the sidewalk.

Native Plants for Rain Gardens
Fred Rozumalski has provided this list of native plant and shrub options for wet soils in the center of rain gardens:
- - - - - - - - - *Likely to grow taller than three feet.

Native Plants for Wet Soils --- Sunny Areas:
  • Sweet Flag - - - - - - - - (Acorus calamus)
  • Giant Hyssop* - - - - - - (Agastache foeniculum)
  • Canada Anemone - - - - (Anemone canadensis)
  • Marsh Milkweed* - - - - (Asclepias incarnata)
  • New England Aster* - - (Aster novae-angliae)
  • Marsh Marigold - - - - (Caltha palustis)
  • Tussock Sedge - - - - (Carex stricta)
  • Turtlehead* - - - - - - (Chelone glabra)
  • Joe Pye Weed* - - - - - (Eupatorium maculatum)
  • Boneset - - - - - - - - (Eupatorium perfoliatum)
  • Queen of the Prairie* - (Filipendula rubra) -
  • Sneezeweed - - - - - - (Helenium autumnale)
  • Blueflag Iris - - - - - - (Iris versicolor)
  • Soft Rush - - - - - - - (Juncus effusus)
  • Great Blue Lobelia - - (Lobelia siphilitica)
  • Switchgrass* - - - - - - (Panicum virgatum)
  • Prairie Phlox - - - - - - (Phlox pilosa)
  • Mountain Mint - - - - - (Pycnanthemum virginianum)
  • River Bulrush - - - - - (Scirpus fluviatilis)
  • Softstem Bulrush - - - (Scirpus validus)
  • Riddell's Goldenrod - - (Solidago riddellii)
  • Tall Meadow Rue* - - - (Thalictrum dasycarpum)
  • Culvers Root* - - - - - (Veronicastrum virginicum)
  • Golden Alexander - - - (Zizia aurea)
*Likely to grow taller than three feet

Native Plants for Wet Soils --- Shady Areas:

  • Caterpiller Sedge - - - (Carex crinita
  • Cardinal Flower* - - - - (Lobelia cardinalis)
  • Ostrich Fern* - - - - - (Matteuccia struthiopteris)
  • Virginia Bluebells - - - - - - (Mertensia virginica)
  • Sensitive Fern - - - - - (Onoclea sensibilis)

Shrubs --- Sunny or Shady Areas:

  • Black Chokeberry - - - (Aronia melanocarpa)
  • Red Osier Dogwood - - (Cornus serecia)
  • Low Bush Honeysuckle - (Diervilla lonicera)
  • Pussy Willow - - - - - (Salix caprea)
  • Blue Arctic Willow - - - (Salix purpurea 'Nanna')

Shrubs --- Sunny Areas Only:

  • Meadow Sweet - - - - (Spiraea alba)
  • Steeplebush - - - - - - (Spiraea tomentosa)
  • High Bush Cranberry - (Viburnum trilobum)

Some Native Plant and Seed Sources:

Links - to Some Raingarden resources on the Web , (click here)

PDF Version of this Rain Garden Pamphlet. (printer friendly) , (1.2m) , (click here)

Some Rain Garden Designers and Installers, (click here)

For information on gardening with native plants, runoff pollution prevention and workshop opportunities, call the St Paul Neighborhood Energy Consortium: 651--644-7678. For information on native plant demonstration sites, classes, youth gardening projects or starting a community garden, call the Sustainable Resources Center Urban Lands Program: 612--872-3288

This raingarden pamphlet written primarily by Amy Middleton and Sarah Clark.  This raingarden pamphlet funded mainly by: Mcknight Foundation, Mn DNR, Mn Office of Env. Assistance. Illustrations reprinted courtesy UM Dept of Landscape Architecture. This raingarden webpage originally created by Gabe Ormsby. Content © Friends of Bassett Creek.. Email with questions, comments on webpage.  A cookie-free, non-invasive, non-tracking website.  last update 007-mar-22
Friends of Bassett Creek | Living Water Gardens | Environmental Events Calendars