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Create a Rain Garden

Plant a Lush Oasis and Stop Polluted Runoff

A close-up of fern fronds
Ferns are a great choice for a more
natural looking rain garden

Storm water running off rooftops, sidewalks, driveways, and streets washes pollutants into nearby streams. As if that weren't bad enough, as storm water rushes over these hard-or impervious-surfaces, it picks up speed and force, causing local flooding and erosion. Impervious surfaces also keep rain water and snowmelt from seeping into the soil and recharging groundwater aquifers.

A rain garden can change all that. Planted in a shallow depression with plants such as ferns, cardinal flower, swamp milkweed, turtlehead and others that don't mind occasional "wet feet," a lush and luxuriant rain garden captures runoff from impervious areas and allows it to seep slowly into the ground. Concerned about mosquitos? Rain gardens are designed to hold standing water for less than 24 hours so that mosquitos can't breed.

Close-up of purple milkweed flower
This purple milkweed will attract
monarch butterflies to your rain garden
(Photo courtesy North Creek Nurseries)

The New York State Stormwater Management Design Manual, Section 9.5 has detailed information on the design, installation and maintenance of a rain garden (see Important Links). See the Offsite links at the right for more about how to design and install a rain garden. Make sure the plants you choose are hardy in your zone.

Mini Rain Gardens

For situations where you can't have a full-size rain garden, consider a mini-rain garden in a planter. As with a full-size rain garden, use the plants and soil to absorb rainwater from your downspout. Placing them on or in lawn or soil will ensure the water is absorbed into the ground, but even on pavement they will still do some good. Both versions are illustrated in the diagrams below.

Mini Rain Garden in a Planter

Cross-sectional diagram of a rain garden in a planter
This type of mini rain garden can be placed on pavement or on
the grass. Note: there is no down spout connected to this
Cross-sectional diagram of how a mini rain garden in a container is built
This type of mini rain garden is connected to a down spout and
has taller walls to temporarily retain a large volume of water
coming from the roof. Be sure to select plants that can stand wet
or submerged conditions.