For gardeners who love the earth, nature, and the glorious abundance of trees, flowers and plants, one of the most earth-friendly things to do is to create a rain garden. A rain garden is a shallow-depression, filled with native plants, which captures rainwater run-off and gently filters that rainwater back into the earth instead of allowing the water to enter the sewer system.
Although the rain garden requires some manual labor and some maintenance, it’s well-worth the effort. Start by digging a shallow depression, 6 to 8 inches deep, with as much surface area as needed to hold the rainwater collected. Place the rain garden in a naturally low-lying area of the lawn, or use gutters and downspouts to capture and direct the rainwater to the garden. An area with abundant sunshine is ideal.
After the garden has been dug, amend the soil with several inches of compost to provide needed micro-nutrients and to improve drainage. Then, plant the area with native plants. Using native plants is best because these plants are able to sustain both dry and wet periods. The following websites have excellent “plant selector” areas to assist you: Texas SmartScape or Urban Landscape Guide
After planting, mulch the garden and water the plants just as you would with any new garden. Once established, the rain garden will mostly thrive on its own using the collected rainwater for irrigation. The depression will hold the rainwater for a short period and then allow the water to slowly seep back into the soil. The process is usually completed within one or two hours.
Rain gardens are a beautiful, low-tech, simple way for the homeowner/gardener to participate in water-conservation efforts. With our drought this garden can both conserve water and be beautiful.
More in-depth information on rain gardens can be found at www.raingardennetwork.com.
Susan Stone, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service