When my husband and I moved into our home a couple of years ago, I had a grand idea on what I wanted to do to our backyard. I was going to plant a garden over here and put my son’s playset over there. In the flower beds, I was going to plant pretty flowers and make our patio a colorful oasis. The furthest I’ve gotten in my wonderful plan is putting mulch down and cleaning up the rock garden. Oh wait! I also figured out where to put my son’s pool, progress, right????? I had it all figured out and then I heard of the wonderful idea of creating a rain garden. What’s that? I’m glad you asked. A rain garden is basically a plant pond, or rather, is a garden that you plant with special deep-rooted plants. When it rains, you can direct the rainwater from your home’s downspouts to your garden through the use of a swale (stone channel) or plastic piping. The garden will capture the water via the deep-rooted plants, and when properly designed, will drain the water into the soil within a day. Let’s begin on planning a rain garden!
Step One: Find a Location
When you are looking at locations for your rain garden, you’ll want to look for a location that is at least 10 feet away from your home to prevent rainwater from flooding your house. Another location to steer clear of is directly over a septic field. When scouting a location for your garden, you should try to choose a naturally occurring low spot in your yard. Another viable location would be where your downspouts or sump pump outlet can be used to direct rainwater into your garden. Regardless of where you end up placing your garden, you’ll want to choose a spot that is either fully or partially in the sun.
Step Two: Measure Drainage Area
If you are capturing runoff from a roof or other hard surface, you’ll need to measure the specific drainage area of that surface and multiply by the number associated with the type of soil you have. For example, if you have sandy soil, you’ll multiply the surface area by 20%. If you have loam, you’ll want to choose a number between 30-35%, and for clay, you’ll want to use a number between 45-60%. Keep in mind that these numbers are somewhat inflated, but they will help ensure that the garden holds as much water as possible. Note: If you are building your rain garden in a low spot of your yard, you don’t need to measure the drainage area. You just want to make sure that the area you are choosing receives water regularly during a storm.
Step Three: Create Your Design and Choose Your Plants
When I was planning the garden that I wanted to build in my backyard, I never thought about design. My plan was to plant a cucumber seed here, a strawberry seed there….maybe throw a little bit of carrot seed over here for good measure. I’m a free spirit, what can I say. My point is, don’t be like me and just think that you’re going to dig a hole for your garden and all will be well. Get creative and plan carefully! By sitting down and planning out your garden, you’ll know exactly what is needed which will help cut down on unnecessary trips to the home improvement stores. Yes, to all you husbands out there, I just called you out. Tip: When you are choosing your plants, you’ll want to choose plants that are suggested for the Texas climate which has two seasons – hot and hotter. You will also want to choose plants that will grow well in both wet and dry conditions.
Step Four: Lay out Your Garden
Remember when I said to get creative in your design? Well now, you’re going to make that creation come to life! Begin by laying out your rocks/boundary and work on getting your shape just right before you proceed to start digging. This is also a great time to check in with your local utility companies to make sure that when you dig, you aren’t hitting any gas or utility lines.
Step Five: Dig Your Garden and Prepare Your Soil
Once you have confirmation that the planned area for your garden is safe, you’re ready to start digging! Again, and I can’t stress this enough, be sure to contact your gas and utility companies BEFORE you dig to make sure you aren’t going to hit any lines when you dig. Remove the turf grass and dig your garden approximately 4-8” deep. If needed, use the soil that you have dug up to create a berm around the garden edges. After you are done digging, you’ll want to amend the soil with approximately 2-3” of compost. Be sure to mix in well!
Step Six: Plant Your Flowers and Grasses
Following the design that you created, begin placing your plants in their approximate positions. Step back and inspect both your garden and design to make any changes necessary. Tip: Your plants should be placed about a foot apart from each other.
Step Seven: Mulch Your Garden
To lock in moisture, you’ll want to place mulch in your garden using coarse, fibrous, shredded wood chips that won’t float or blow away easily. Apply the mulch approximately 2-3” deep as this will help to keep the moisture in and the weeds out.
Step Eight: Water and Arrange Downspouts
After you have completed the planting of your garden, you’ll want to water every other day for two weeks (unless it rains) until your garden looks as if it’s flourishing on its own. When it rains, inspect where your downspouts are pointed and make adjustments if needed so that water will be directed into your rain garden. Remember that good water techniques and maintenance are the key ingredients to having a quality rain garden.
There you have it! You now have a nice rain garden and something to show off to your friends and neighbors when they visit your home. As promised last week, next week we will begin sharing water rebate programs and other money saving tips offered by each city that we service. Next week, our focus will be on McKinney. We hope that you have enjoyed learning how to make your own rain garden, and we invite you to share pictures of your gardens with us on Facebook and Twitter. Until next time, have a great week and stay cool!