By M. L. Wells, Cornell University Cooperative Extension Master Gardener
During the morning of the blizzard, mid-March, the temperature was close to 30◦. I looked out into the fog and mist towards my full to overflowing ponds and wondered where the excess would go. Well, technically I do know: eventually to the Genesee, Lake Ontario, St. Lawrence and the North Atlantic! Quite the journey for those rain drops.
Which brings to mind the rain garden. Also the recent occurrence of the 100-year flood every decade or so. There are many reasons for floods: too much rain in a short time, sudden melt of a heavy snow pack, too many roads, parking lots and roof tops. The first two are mostly beyond our control but we could engineer our way out of the latter. Even we as individual gardeners can do a little something. Make a rain garden or a green roof. The first is easy, the second a major undertaking!
Most homes in suburbia or villages of 1000 ft² sit on a lot 50’ x 100’ or 5000 ft² 20% of the rain runs off your roof and goes where? The street, sewer, neighbor’s yard or a low spot in your yard to make a temporary pond?
Here is how a rain garden helps. Planted with proper plants, near the down spout or in the depression, rain gardens will absorb much of the excess water. Some plants love damp or even wet feet. Why not put them to work. Here are some plants which will thrive in such a setting. My plan is for a 10’ x 6’ rain garden. In a dry spell remove the sod and add 2” of soil or sand and dig or till in 6” deep. Plants in a rain garden should range in height and season of bloom for aesthetics. Some plants are free for the digging in local ditches or fields (yours or a friend’s.) Here is what I would plant.
Some are native, others are local and some you may even have to order from a supplier:
Joe Pye Weed grows to 4’ in wet places, rosy pink in August to September,
New England Aster grows 3’, purple in September to October,
Mallow grows 18”, pink, white in June to July,
Maiden Hair Fern, 12-18”
Wild Ginger, 4-6”
Blue Flagg Iris grows 30”, lavender in June,
Blazing Star Liastra grows 2’ to 3’ is rosy purple in July and August,
Monarda grows 2’ to 3’ is Lavendar-purple in July and August,
Other options include: Columbine, Cut-leaf Coneflower, Great Lobelia, Cardinal Flower, White Turtlehead, Beardtongue, Jack-in-the-pulpit, Virginia bluebells, bloodroot and Jacobs ladder.
This is just a few plants that can be used in a rain garden. Remember, even in a rain garden, some plants like the sun and some plants want only shade, so plant according to your sites features. Go online and check out Rain Garden Alliance for a list of other plants, trees and shrubs, confirm they will grow in our colder northern zones of 4 and 5, http://raingardenalliance.org/planting/plantlist. If you want a site that provides plans that are already laid out and the plants chosen for you, try this extension website, http://jade.coe.edu/~mstclair/RainGarden/rain_garden_plant_layouts-3.pdf. Put Mother Nature to work soaking up all that extra water and reduce the amount of runoff in our streams and lakes!