Although the rain has subsided for the year, all of us have probably seen low areas that held water for several days in-between rain storms. These areas are inappropriate for many plants as their roots actually drown and rot out. However, there are many plants that can tolerate and even thrive in or around low, seasonally wet areas. These sites can be developed into what are called rain gardens. As one of the principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ - specifically, #8: Reduce Stormwater Runoff - rain gardens filter water before it flows into the ground.
If you have a swale, as many of us do, you already have a rain garden. Swales are specifically designed to catch water, store if for a period of time and then filter it as it percolates through turf roots into the soil and eventually the aquifer. Other low areas in your yard can also be developed into rain gardens. A good place for a rain garden is where downspouts flow out into the yard. You do not want water collecting around your home’s foundation, so downspouts can be extended and directed further out into your landscape towards a depressed area. Rain water from any hard surface such as a driveway or sidewalk may also contribute to this.
Rain gardens are going to look very meadow-like, so plan carefully as you make your plant selection. Deep-rooted native grasses such as gulf muhlygrass or sand cordgrass are part of almost all rain gardens. Other sections may include wild flowers like golden cannas and Coreopsis, and native ferns such as leather ferns. Native shrubs that do well in a rain garden include cocoplum, beautyberry, Walter’s viburnum, and wax myrtle. Native trees such as dahoon holly, pond cypress, and red maple are also excellent selections for this type of planting. Keep in keep in mind the ultimate height and width of the plants selected. You can even design rain gardens to look like a creek bed with stones used to add eye appeal and texture in both the wet and dry seasons.
When designing a rain garden, make it between four to eight inches in depth. If the depression is greater than eight inches, it is likely to keep water standing too long.
If you wanted to see a real rain garden in our own community, there is a nice example at the front of the Murdock Administration Building at 18500 Murdock Circle in Port Charlotte. There is signage marking the rain garden with some explanation of the planting and how a rain garden works.
Take advantage of low spots with a beautiful and functional rain garden! For more information on all types of gardening topics, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area. Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf. I also want to direct you to our “ Master Gardener Speaker’s Bureau” at http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/2012%20Speakers%20Bureau%20Brochure.pdf where subject matter presentations can be scheduled for your group or organization.
Sachson, A. (2007) Create a rain garden. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Okeechobee County.
Post, A. (2010) Rain Gardens: Plant Selection and Maintenance. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Sarasota County.
Post, A. (2010) Rain Gardens: Function and Installation. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Sarasota County.
Badurek, T. (2010) Plant a Rain Garden for our Watershed. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Pinellas County.