Building a rain garden

Too Much Water Can Undermine Your Home

If you worry about a wet or damp basement, a busy sump pump, or muddy puddles in your yard after a heavy rainfall, this story is for you. We want to introduce you to a new tool to improve drainage— a rain garden.

A rain garden is basically a plant pond, that is, a garden bed that you plant with special deep-rooted species. These plants help the water rapidly seep into the soil, away from your house and out of your hair. You direct the rainwater from the downspouts to the garden via a swale (a stone channel) or plastic piping. The garden captures the water and, when properly designed, drains it into the soil within a day. You don’t have to worry about creating a mosquito haven; the water drains before mosquitoes even have time to breed.

If there’s an especially heavy rainfall, excess water may overflow the rain garden and run into the storm sewer system. Even so, the rain garden will have done its job. It will have channeled water away from your foundation and reduced the load on the sewer system. A rain garden also reduces the amount of lawn chemicals and pet wastes that may otherwise run off into local lakes and rivers. In some communities, the runoff problem is so big that homes with rain gardens qualify for a tax break! Call your municipality to learn your local policy.

In this article, we’ll tell you how to design, build and plant a rain garden suitable for your yard. We’ve condensed it to a few handy guidelines. You won’t need any special tools or equipment. A shovel and a level will do. But expect to sweat through some heavy digging!

As soon as it starts raining, I can’t help but think of all the ways I should be saving this precious resource. My son always suggests we catch the water by putting out a bunch of buckets, and I politely tell him that while that is a solution, there are more effective ways to use and save the water—and one of those is with a rain garden. Harvesting rainwater is a wise technique used for centuries, and as our water supply becomes increasingly vulnerable, we need to be thinking in these conservational, sustainable ways.

Please keep reading to learn if a rain garden could be a smart addition to your landscape:

What exactly is a rain garden?

Above: Landscape architect Christine Ten Eyck turned to an ancient technique for conserving water when she built check dams in tiered garden beds (shown) that are equipped to retain rain water and slow the flow of storm water. Photograph by Matthew Williams, from Curb Appeal: 10 Landscaping Ideas for a Low-Water Garden.

Rainwater infiltration gardens—also known as “rain gardens”—are a bit like a plant pond, or rather a bowl-like depression created in the landscape that slows storm water runoff and effectively collects it from impervious area, like roofs, driveways, and patios and then gives it the chance to be cleaned and slowly absorbed into the soil. Besides acting like a living sponge, a rainwater system also helps divert excess water from vulnerable building foundations. There are many designs possible but they all do the same action of capturing, channeling, and diverting water. And of course when it’s not raining, the garden can be a hub for wetland plants and pollinators, plus stones and rocks will suggest a peaceful, watery scene.

How hard is it to install a rain garden?

Above: Photograph via Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District.

Installing a rain garden isn’t difficult if you’re willing to get digging or you bring in machines to help. Most rain gardens are 8-inches deep but this depends on soil type and size of the garden. Also, doing some homework before the digging begins is essential. Start by asking your local Cooperative Extension Office for specifics about rain fall patterns, soil mixes, garden size, and native plants. Design tip: Ovals, kidneys, and amoeba shapes look and function best, but rain gardens can also be long and skinny if your site dictates that. Use a garden hose or rope to lay out possible shapes, and always keep your rain garden at least 10 feet away from foundations to avoid unwanted water collecting.

What plants are best in a rain garden?

Above: Some Carex species (sedges) require damp or wet conditions while others are relatively drought-tolerant. Carex appalachica, above, is native to woodlands in the eastern United States. Photograph courtesy of Hoffman Nursery, from Gardening 101: Carex

Ideally, choose plants native to your area, especially those found naturally occurring near creeks, in swamps, and in prairies that occasionally have to contend with flooding and droughts. Natives are adapted to local erratic water cycles and fortunately don’t crave fertilizers. Basically you want to create three zones: Zone one is the center part of the ring, perfect for a collection of plants that help take up excess water and accept standing water for a longer period of time: plants like native sedges, ferns, or here in California yellow monkey flower (Mimulus guttatus). Zone two is for plants that can stand occasional standing water like wild ginger (Asarum caudatum), and zone three is for plants that prefer drier feet like drought tolerant Salvias, Ceanothus, and Lupine. Remember to choose plants that bloom at different times and attract pollinators, and select a variety of plants to ensure a dynamic, attractive, and diverse rain garden.

How much maintenance do rain gardens take?

Above: A curbside swale captures rainwater in Portland, Oregon. Photograph landscape designer Kristien Forness, from Every Garden Needs a Wetland (Well, at Least in Rainy Cities).

The good news is that rain gardens are less maintenance than vegetable gardens, perennial beds, and lawns. Your time spent will mainly be on weeding, pruning ,and adding more nutrient rich compost to conserve moisture and suppress weeds. Tip: When doing maintenance in the basin, make sure to walk lightly to avoid soil compaction which inhibits proper filtering. Of course you will also need to monitor the nuts and bolts of the system: the downspouts, gutters, inlets (directs water from incoming runoff into the garden), outlets (controls water level in the rain garden and redirects overflow) to make sure nothing has disconnected or become clogged with dirt or leaf litter. A great time to do this is before and after each rainy season. The goal is to reduce your workload, not increase it.

Why are rain gardens important?

Truthfully, a rain garden will not miraculously solve every water issue you might have, but it is an effective and attractive method of managing and saving rainfall. And the benefits are numerous: The filtration action—thanks to plant roots and soil—improves water quality in nearby bodies of water and makes sure that rainwater soaks into the ground and becomes available for plants as groundwater rather than being sent through storm water drains straight out to sea. This process cuts down on pollutants reaching creeks and streams. Rain gardens can also be a cost-effective and beautiful way to reduce runoff, and prevent erosion and flooding of your property. And, of course, when planted properly, rain gardens can create excellent natural habitats for birds, butterflies and pollinators.

For more on water conservation, see:

  • Hardscaping 101: Rain Chains
  • 10 Easy Pieces: Rain Barrels
  • The Garden Decoder: What Is ‘Xeriscaping’?

Rain Garden Instructions: What Is A Rain Garden And Rain Garden Plants

Rain gardens are quickly becoming popular in the home garden. A pretty alternative to more conventional methods of improving yard drainage, a rain garden in your yard not only provides a unique and lovely feature, but can also help the environment. Making a rain garden design for your yard is not hard. Once you know how to build a rain garden and how to choose rain garden plants, you can be well on your way to having one of these unique features in your yard.

Basics of Rain Garden Design

Before you build a rain garden, you need to decide where you will be placing your rain garden. Where to place your rain garden is as important as how to build a rain garden. There are a few things to keep in mind when deciding where your rain garden will go.

  • Away from the house – While rain gardens are lovely, the point of them is to help draw away water runoff. You do not want to draw water to your foundation. It is best to place rain gardens at least 15 feet away from your home.
  • Away from your septic system – A rain garden can interfere with how your septic system operates, so it is best to locate it at least 10 feet from a septic system.
  • In full or part sun – Put your rain garden in full or part sun. Many rain garden plants work best in these conditions, and full sun will also help water move on from the garden.
  • Access to a downspout – While you should not place your rain garden near the foundation, it is helpful for water collection if you place it where you can extend a downspout out to it. This is not required, but is helpful.

How to Build a Rain Garden

Once you have decided on a location for your rain garden, you are ready to build it. Your first step after deciding where to build is how big to build. The size of your rain garden is entirely up to you, but the larger a rain garden is, the more runoff water it can hold and the more space for different rain garden plants you will have.

The next step in rain garden design is to dig out your rain garden. Rain garden instructions normally suggest making it between 4 inches and 10 inches deep. How deep you make yours depends on the following:

  • what kind of holding capacity you need your rain garden to have
  • how wide your rain garden will be
  • the type of soil you have

Rain gardens that are not wide but need to have a larger holding capacity, particularly in clay soil, will need to be deeper. Rain gardens that are wider, with smaller needed holding capacity in sandy soil, can be more shallow.

Keep in mind when determining the depth of your rain garden that the depth starts at the lowest edge of the garden. If you are building on a slope, the lower end of the slope is the starting point for measuring the depth. The rain garden should be level across the bottom of the bed.

Once width and depth are determined, you can dig. Depending on the size of the rain garden, you can hand dig or rent a back hoe. Soil removed from the rain garden can be mounded up around 3/4 of the bed. If on a slope, this berm goes on the lower end of the slope.

After the rain garden is dug, if possible, connect a downspout to the rain garden. This can be done with a swale, an extension on the spout or through an underground pipe.

Rain Garden Plantings

There are many plants you can use for rain garden plantings. The list below of rain garden plants is just a sample.

Rain Garden Plants

  • Blue flag iris
  • Bushy aster
  • Cardinal flower
  • Cinnamon fern
  • Sedge
  • Dwarf cornel
  • False aster
  • Fox sedge
  • Glade-fern
  • Grass-leaved goldenrod
  • Heath aster
  • Interrupted fern
  • Ironweed
  • Jack-in-the-pulpit
  • Lady fern
  • New England aster
  • New York fern
  • Nodding pink onion
  • Maidenhair Fern
  • Ohio goldenrod
  • Prairie blazingstar (Liatris)
  • Milkweed
  • Rough goldenrod
  • Royal fern
  • Smooth penstemon
  • Stiff goldenrod
  • Black-eyed susan
  • Joe-pye weed
  • Switchgrass
  • Tufted hairgrass
  • Virginia mountain mint
  • White false indigo
  • White turtlehead
  • Wild columbine
  • Wild quinine
  • Wintergreen
  • Yellow coneflower

Build a Rain Garden

Building a rain garden can be an easy and fun project for your family or your community. We’ve assembled information here to help you with the planning process, as well as additional resources to help you with building your rain garden.

We recommend attending an in person rain garden workshop and reading the Washington State University Rain Garden Handbook for Homeowners. You can also watch a video prepared by WSU below.

Getting Started With Your Rain Garden Design

Before your start to dig, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got the following questions answered:

  • How much impervious surface do you have, and how much water do you want to manage
  • Where will you build your rain garden
  • How big will your rain garden need to be
  • What plants will work best in your rain garden

You’ll learn how to answer these questions in the rain garden workshop, or by reviewing the handbook and video above. You will also want to do a percolation test to make sure the soils surround your rain garden plants can soak up the water.

Then you can develop your rain garden construction plan to ensure that building your rain garden goes smoothly and according to plan.

Learning to Maintain Your Rain Garden

Like any living thing, from a houseplant to your existing landscaping, rain gardens take some maintenance, and it might be a little different than what you are used to, but don’t worry, we are here to guide you. For basic care of rain gardens we developed a simple “Rain Garden Care Guide

For more technical, larger scale rain gardens, bioswales, and bioretention facilities, Oregon State University created an excellent and very thorough Field Guide: Maintaining Rain Gardens, Swales, and Stormwater Planters (2013).

Happy Rain Gardening!

How to Build a Rain Garden to Filter Run-Off

During a downpour at a typical house in many municipalities, water gushes out of downspouts, across lawns treated with pesticides and fertilizers, into an oily street, and, finally, down a storm drain that dumps that pollution along with the water into a stream, river, or bay. By building a rain garden, you can divert your gutter water into an attractive planting bed that works like a sponge and natural filter to clean the water and let it percolate slowly into the surrounding soil. Installing a rain garden isn’t difficult if you’re willing to dig or you bring in machines to help. Ask your local Cooperative Extension Office for specifics about soil mix, garden size, and plants for your area. Then you’re ready to build.

Step 1

How to Create a Rain Garden Overview

Illustration by Washington State University Rain Garden Handbook for Western Washington Homeowners

The plants and amended soil in a rain garden work together to filter runoff. Generally, a rain garden is comprised of three zones that correspond to the tolerance plants have to standing water; the better a plant can handle “wet feet,” the closer it is placed to the center of the garden. Whenever possible, shop for native and drought-tolerant plants, keeping in mind that parts of a rain garden remain wet for long periods of time, while others are drier. Zone 1, the centermost ring of the rain garden, should be stocked with plants that like standing water for long periods of time, such as Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina). The middle ring, Zone 2, should have plants that can tolerate occasional standing water, like Snowberries (Symphoricarpos albus). The outermost ring, Zone 3, is rarely wet for any length of time and is best planted with species that prefer drier climates, such as western bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa).

For more information on building a rain garden, visit the Washington State University’s Extension website.

Step 2

Find A Site That Can Absorb Water

Photo by William Wright

Although a low-lying area might seem like a natural for a rain garden, you need a place that isn’t overly soggy already. Stay at least 10 feet from the house and at least 50 feet from a septic system or slopes greater than 15 percent. Call 811 to make sure underground utilities aren’t in the way. Once you have a tentative site, test the soil’s percolation rate. Dig a hole 2 feet deep and time how long it takes for 8 to 12 inches of water to disappear. For example, if 8 inches drains in 12 hours, the rate is 8 inches divided by 12 hours, or 0.67 inches per hour. A rate higher than 0.5 is great—your rain garden needs to be just 18 inches deep. If the rate is lower than 0.5 you’ll have to dig 30 inches deep. If the percolation rate is less than 0.1, the site isn’t suitable for a rain garden.

Step 3

Determine the Size and Shape

Photo by William Wright

Your local extension office may have information to help you size a rain garden to suit rainfall patterns typical in your area. The ideal size might be smaller than you expect. On well-draining soil in rainy western Washington, where this project took place, a rain garden just one-tenth the size of a roof handles 99 percent of its gutter water. But if you’re short on space or puzzled about how to calculate the size, you can always put in a small rain garden and figure that the good it does will at least be better than what’s happening now. If you want an impressive-looking garden, make it at least 150 square feet. Ovals, kidneys, and teardrops often look best, but rain gardens can also be long and skinny. Use a garden hose to test possible shapes.

Once you settle on a design, decide where the water will flow in and where any overflow will exit. Mark the shape with spray paint. On your lawn, mark 18 inches farther out for sod removal, since grass has a way of creeping into planting beds. Also mark any other areas you want to excavate. The outline of this rain garden juts out at the bottom to show the perimeter of a dry well, an optional underground storage basin for excess water when the rain garden overflows.

Step 4

Remove the Grass

Photo by William Wright

Strip away any lawn by slicing off the roots with a sharp spade directed at as low an angle as you can manage, or use a sod cutter, which you can rent for about $80 a day. You should be able to roll up sections of the stripped lawn as if they were pieces of carpet.

Step 5

Excavate the Basin

Photo by William Wright

Using a shovel or an excavator—you can rent one for about $230 a day or just hire an operator—dig down to the depth you need. Create a flat bottom so that water will percolate down evenly. If the rain garden is on a slope, you can pile some of the excavated soil into a berm on the low side to retain the water. For stability, stomp the berm soil down well and make the base at least 2 feet wide and the top at least 1 foot wide. The peak of the berm should be at least 6 inches higher than the water level when the rain garden is full. Also excavate for a dry well, if included; the one for this rain garden is about 2 feet square and 3 feet deep.

Step 6

Lay the Inlet Pipe

Photo by William Wright

Dig a trench for a pipe that will carry water from one or more gutter downspouts to the rain garden. (Note: If you can corral helpers, this can be done at the same time you excavate the rain garden.) Install the piping. Rigid piping with smooth walls is the most durable, but corrugated tubing is easier to work with; get the kind without perforations. Extend the piping into the rain garden basin by a foot or so. Line the area underneath with stones to prevent erosion. You can also place stones over and beside the pipe to hide it and to keep corrugated tubing from curling up. When all the piping is in place, fill in the rest of the trench with excavated soil.

Step 7

Fill the Basin

Photo by William Wright

Fill all but the top 6 to 12 inches of the excavated area with rain-garden soil. Slope the sides gently. If the soil you excavated is relatively free of clay, you can use a mixture of 65 percent native soil to 35 percent compost, or 2 scoops of soil for each scoop of compost. If you dug out clay soil, refill with a mixture of 60 percent screened sand and 40 percent compost. If you are creating a dry well, fill that with washed round stones 1½ to 2 inches in diameter. Also pack stones around the overflow area to prevent erosion.

Step 8

Add Plants

Photo by William Wright

Group plants in zones, based on how well they tolerate having “wet feet” (see Overview). Plants that thrive in the wettest environment go in the center of the rain garden; that area tends to stay wet the longest after a storm. Put plants that can handle standing water on the sloping sides, and those that are suited to drier conditions on the edges.

Step 9

Mulch Around the Plants

Photo by William Wright

Once the plants are in the ground, cover the inside of the rain garden with a 3-inch layer of mulch to keep the soil moist and to prevent weed seeds from sprouting. Until a rain garden’s plants are established, even drought-tolerant plants require supplemental watering to survive dry seasons. Check the mulch depth annually and replenish as necessary. Rain gardens don’t require fertilizers beyond the compost used in the soil mix. Weed and prune to keep the rain garden looking its best.

With a rain garden, use—don’t lose—all the rain water that falls on your paved areas and roof. Learn more about rain gardens—plus, here are two rain garden designs featuring plants for both sun and shade.

These designs come from The Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Guide. Get the latest edition here!

What is a Rain Garden?

A rain garden is a shallow, bowl-shape area that collects water runoff from impervious surfaces such as downspouts, sump pumps, paved areas, roofs, driveways, walkways, and lawns. Often, the heavy rain from a thunderstorm comes down so quickly that the water runs off rather than soaking into the ground.

Like a native forest, rain gardens use heavy rain to recharge the aquifer, support wildlife habitat, and also filter out toxic materials before they can pollute streams. Whether you deal with drought, the rising cost of municipal water, or simply want to make the best use of our water, Mother Nature is providing this precipitation for free.

Credit: WSU

Plants of all types and sizes help to manage storm water:

  • Trees and large shrubs deflect rainfall, slowing it down before it reaches the ground and allowing it to soak into the ground and not run off immediately.

  • Tall grasses and other perennials act as filters, sucking up water, trapping pollutants, and preventing silt from being carried off into ponds or rivers.

  • Well-established, deeply rooted plants hold soil and direct water into the subsoil.

See our lists of rain garden plants for sun and shade for more planting ideas, below.

5 Benefits of a Rain Garden

What do you gain when you catch the rain? Shower power! An inch of rain on a 100-square-foot surface results in 60 gallons of water!

Here are just five of the many benefits:

  1. Reduced risk of water in the basement
  2. Recharged groundwater supplies (a rain garden soaks up at least 30% more water than a lawn)
  3. A wildlife habitat (birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects will be drawn to the garden)
  4. Lower water bills
  5. A cleaner environment

Consider the Pollution

Storm water runoff, from flooding or even heavy rainfall, contains 70 percent of the pollution that flows into our lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams. Polluting sources include …

  • roads, parking lots, paved driveways, and sealed surfaces (including roofs) that contain oil and other contaminants
  • pesticides and lawn treatments that contain high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus
  • pet and other animal poop

Creating a Rain Garden

Creating a rain garden can be as simple as directing the flow of water from your roof to a spot that you’ve already planted with water-loving plants—or, you can start from scratch. The size of the garden depends on the size of the impermeable area draining into it. Aim to make the bed 20% to 30% the size of the roof or driveway from which the water is being funneled.

  • Create a basin by digging out dirt from a dry area at least 10 feet downhill from the water source. (Avoid directing runoff to a naturally low spot that is already saturated with water or to your septic system.)

  • Replace heavy soil with one-half sand, one-quarter compost, and one-quarter topsoil—a fast-draining mixture.

  • Pile stones and extra soil on the downhill side of the garden to act as a berm and create a bowl where water can pool to a depth of about 6 inches.

  • If water does not naturally flow to your rain garden, dig a shallow (3- to 4-inch-deep) trench from your downspout to the garden, line it with landscape fabric, and cover with stones to create a streambed effect.

Plant the center of the garden with perennials and native plants that tolerate wet feet. Around these, place plants that tolerate occasional standing water. At the outer edges, set plants that prefer drier soil. Mulch with compost or shredded hardwood (bark chips may float away in a heavy rain). If the water that flows into the garden washes out the mulch, break up the flow entering the basin with a well-placed rock or two.

Your rain garden functions like a living sponge of soil, plants, roots, and mulch. It should not become a breeding ground for mosquitoes: The water does not stand.

A rain garden not only is a beautiful addition to your landscape but also supports greater biodiversity and is environmentally sustainable.

Rain Garden Designs

Both of the below rain garden designs are meant for a 12 x 24-foot space but are adaptable to smaller areas.

Note: In below plant lists, some plants are linked to growing guides with pictures. Others can be easily found via Google.

Rain Garden for Sun

Plants set into a rain garden that gets full sun must be able to endure both occasional flooding and dry spells.

Sun Rain Garden Plant List

In the center, plant #1 to #6. For the drier, outer edge, plant #7 to #14.

  1. Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’), a woody shrub that bears fragrant, pink, bottlebrush flowers in the summer. 5 to 6 feet tall; Zones 4 to 9. One plant.
  2. Red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), which has white blossoms in spring and reddish-purple leaves in the fall—although its most attractive features are its red stems, which lend winter interest to the landscape. 6 to 10 feet tall; Zones 2 to 8. One plant.
  3. Blue flag iris (Iris versicolor), which brightens the rain garden with lavender-blue flowers in the spring. It looks very natural in a wet setting. Avoid the yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus), which is an invasive species that will take over. 2 to 4 feet tall; Zones 3 to 9. Four plants.
  4. Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum), which has purple flowers in late summer that butterflies can’t resist. 3 to 5 feet tall; Zones 3 to 7. Two plants.
  5. Astilbes (Astilbe), which are long-lived, moisture-loving perennials that will thrive in the sunny rain garden if planted where they get some afternoon shade from taller shrubs nearby. They bloom in summer and are available in pinks, reds, purple, and white. 1 to 3 feet tall; Zones 3 to 8. Three plants.
  6. Daylilies (Hemerocallis), which may not be natives but can keep your rain garden in bloom over a long season if you plant early, midseason, and late varieties. Assorted heights and a rainbow of colors are available. Zones 4 to 11. Five plants.
  7. Blueberries (Vaccinium), whether highbush (up to 5 feet tall) or lowbush (up to 2 feet tall) varieties, which add both a flowering shrub and an edible fruit to your landscape. Zones 3 to 8. Two plants.
  8. American cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon), which is a pretty, ground-covering shrub that also bears edible fruit. About 6 inches tall; Zones 2 to 7. Six plants.
  9. Bee balm (Monarda), which in summer features brilliant-red, pink, or white flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Look for a mildew-resistant variety. 3 feet tall and wide; Zones 3 to 9. Two plants.
  10. New England aster (Aster novae-angliae), which will carry the show into fall with its bright, violet-purple flowers. It gets quite tall but can be cut back to half its height in June to create a shorter and bushier plant, if desired. Up to 6 feet tall; Zones 4 to 8. Two plants.
  11. Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), which bears sunny yellow flowers in late summer. It is highly adaptable to wet or dry soil. 3 to 5 feet tall; Zones 4 to 8. One plant.
  12. Meadow anemone (Anemone canadensis), which is deer-resistant and salt-tolerant. This tough little perennial bears pure-white blossoms in late spring. 2 feet tall; Zones 2 to 9. Two plants.
  13. Blue cardinal flower (Lobelia siphilitica), which has spikes of true blue flowers in late summer. 2 to 4 feet tall; Zones 5 to 9. Six plants.
  14. Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), which features orange blossoms that provide excellent nectar for butterflies. In addition, the plants are an important larval food for monarch butterflies. 2 to 3 feet tall; Zones 4 to 9. Three plants

Rain Garden for Shade

Placing a rain garden in full shade is not recommended; partial shade is best.

Shade Rain Garden Plant List

In the center, plant #1 to #6. For the drier, outer edge, plant #7 to #14.

  1. Rhododendrons, especially cold-hardy native rhodora (Rhododendron canadense), which like damp soil and partial sun. They will bloom profusely in the spring. 2 to 4 feet tall and wide; Zones 3 to 6. Two plants.
  2. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), which needs one male plant to act as a pollinator, along with the females, if you want a crop of colorful red berries. For this garden size, choose from dwarf cultivars. 3 to 5 feet tall; Zones 3 to 9. Two plants.
  3. Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), which grows well in sun or partial shade. It has rich red flowers in late summer. 2 to 3 feet tall; Zones 3 to 9. Six plants.
  4. Pink turtlehead (Chelone lyonii), which is a trouble-free perennial that doesn’t mind wet feet. It blooms in the late summer to early fall. 2 to 4 feet tall; Zones 3 to 8. Seven plants.
  5. Purple meadow rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum), which loves a damp spot in partial shade. It can get quite tall and has clouds of purple-tinged white blossoms in summer. 3 to 6 feet tall; Zones 5 to 9. Two plants.
  6. Wild columbines (Aquilegia canadensis), which are an important source of nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies and thus will draw them to your rain garden. They produce their bicolor red and yellow blossoms in late spring. 1 to 3 feet tall; Zones 3 to 8. Five plants.
  7. Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), which is a nicely rounded shrub with glossy leaves and dark blue berries. It has creamywhite blossoms in late spring and colorful fall foliage. 6 to 10 feet tall and wide; Zones 3 to 8. One plant.
  8. Dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii), which has fragrant white flowers that appear before the plant leafs out in the spring. The foliage becomes a neat, crimson mound in the fall. 3 feet tall and wide; Zones 5 to 9. One plant.
  9. Common bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), which is a rugged evergreen ground cover in the heath family. It has white flowers in spring and red berries in late summer. 3 to 8 inches tall, spreading to between 2 and 4 feet wide; Zones 2 to 6. Five plants.
  10. Coral bells (Heuchera sanguinea), which are colorful foliage plants that send up tall spikes of tiny red, pink, or white flowers in late spring. 6 to 12 inches high and wide; Zones 3 to 8. Seven plants.
  11. Foam flower (Tiarella cordifolia), which is a deer-resistant plant with white flowers in spring. (Heuchera and Tiarella have been crossed to create a hybrid genus called Heucherella which combines the gorgeous foliage of heucheras with the showy flowers of tiarellas—look for this one!) 5 to 12 inches tall; Zones 3 to 7. Five plants.
  12. Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium reptans), which is a low-growing, spreading perennial with clusters of light-blue flowers. 8 to 12 inches tall; Zones 3 to 8. Three plants.
  13. Zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis), which bears golden yellow flowers in the fall. 2 feet tall and wide; Zones 3 to 8. Three plants.
  14. Spotted geranium (Geranium maculatum), which has dainty, pinkish-purple flowers that bloom above the mound of lobed leaves in the spring and often again in the fall. 1 to 2 feet tall; Zones 4 to 8. Six plants.

Click here to download the rain garden plans (PDFs) to your computer.

Learn More

Want to catch more rain? Learn how to incorporate a rain barrel into your gardening.

Here are 10 great tips for an eco-friendly garden.

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