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A Rain Garden to Solve Your Drainage Problems

Dec 1, 2020 | Services

Yard drainage problems can be caused by a number of issues, ranging from poorly-compacted soil to an improper slope. Regardless of the reason for your drainage problems, one of the most practical solutions is a rain garden. A rain garden is one that utilizes water runoff in its design to cultivate plants that enhance the landscape while also attracting birds and butterflies. Here are some things you should know about rain gardens that will help you with planning yours.

Rain Garden Location

The location of your rain garden is extremely important. Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing a spot:

  • Make sure your rain garden is away from your home, so that water runoff will not gather near its foundation. It should also be placed away from your septic system so as not to flood it.
  • Find a location that receives full sunlight for at least four to six hours each day. Adequate sunlight is necessary for the plants in your rain garden to thrive.
  • Your garden will need an adequate water supply, which means it should have access to a downspout or be located in an area where a great deal of runoff is present

Type of Rain Garden

After choosing a location for your garden, you’ll then need to decide which type is best. Rain gardens may be one of two types: under-drained or self-contained. Under-drained systems are typically used whenever:

  • You would like your rainwater to drain into a storm pipe
  • Preventing erosion is also a concern

A self-contained rain garden could be better whenever you prefer water to pond or stand on the surface rather than being drained.


Rain Garden Zones and Plant Selection

Once you have determined which type of rain garden is best suited for your property, the next step will be to divide the garden into zones.

Zone 1 will be the deepest and wettest section, and will normally hold standing water for up to 24 hours at a time. The plants you place in this zone must therefore be able to withstand heavy flooding. Some ideal choices include:

  • Shrubs such as black chokeberry, elderberry, spicebush, and swamp azalea
  • Perennials and ferns, a few of which may be blue flag iris, golden ragwort, cinnamon fern, royal fern and New York aster
  • Trees such as bald cypress, black gum, hemlock, and swamp oak

Zone 2 of your rain garden will drain sooner than Zone 1, but will nonetheless hold water for several hours. Ideal plants for this zone include:

  • Shrubs such as American beautyberry, meadowsweet, and inkberry
  • Perennial plants like blue false indigo, bottlebrush grass, and broomsedge
  • Trees such as paw paw, ninebark, or fringetree

Zone 3 is primarily a “transition zone” that sits between your rain garden and the rest of your lawn. It may periodically receive heavy water, but will typically drain quickly. You can place nearly any plant in this area; however, some of the most common plants used in Zone 3 include:

  • Witch hazel
  • John’s wort
  • Sweet pepperbush
  • Butterfly weed
  • Mistflower

Maintaining your Rain Garden

Just because you have a “rain garden” doesn’t mean you won’t have to water plants. You may need to frequently irrigate certain specimens if you do not receive adequate rainfall. Some weeding and mulching may also be needed to keep your garden in good shape. The good news is that most rain gardens require only minimal maintenance to keep them looking attractive. Building a rain garden is one of the best ways to solve yard drainage problems once and for all. Here at Johnson’s Landscaping, we can help you plan and design a rain garden that is right for your property, and invite you to contact us today to find out more.

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About the Author

Matt Johnson grew up in a family of landscapers and gardeners as the grandson of Raymond Johnson (Founder, 1933, Johnson's Florist and Garden Center) and son of James and Carol Johnson (Founders, 1960, Johnson's Landscaping Service, Inc.). Since 2007, he has led Johnson's Landscaping Service with his brother, Charlie.  Matt and his wife Jaime live in Petworth in Northwest DC with their 3 sons and 2 big dogs.


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