A guide to how rain gardens reduce water pollution and how to build one

What’s a Rain Garden and How Do I Build One?

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What's a rain garden? Well, we're glad you asked! Rain gardens are not very well known but they are becoming more and more popular for their ability to reduce water pollution. The basic premise of a rain garden is that a basin filled with native plants captures water as it flows through your yard and filters out pollutants through the soil and plant roots before reentering the groundwater. Rain gardens are incredible, not only for being a great way to clean our water runoff, but they are aesthetically beautiful and create habitats for so much wildlife!

Keep reading to learn more about how rain gardens can purify water in your local ecosystem and how you can build one of your very own!

How Your Home Causes water pollution

When we think of water pollution we usually think of culprits like landfills, farming runoff, and industrial chemical waste. As it turns out, the runoff from different places at our homes are also a big part of the problem! Everytime it rains, water runs off surfaces like driveways, roofs, patios, and even our lawns. A lot of the time these surfaces can carry dirt particulates, chemicals, oils, garbage, and different types of bacteria and all of this can end up in our water. The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that pollutants carried by rainwater runoff accounts for 70% of all water pollution (1).

It's also important to mention that this water runoff from our homes and other areas can make its way into nearby streams, lakes, oceans, and even our drinking water reservoirs (3). This is a major problem for the health of the surrounding wildlife and even us humans. A lot of the pollutants that are running off our driveways, roads, and roofs are toxic industrial chemicals and heavy metals from cars, as well as agricultural pesticides and waste. When these chemicals get into our water systems and the surrounding vegetation, animals eat the plants or drink the water and are exposed to many harmful chemicals that can cause a variety of health problems (7). When it comes to humans, the safety of our drinking water is a major concern. Thankfully we have water treatment plants to clean out the harmful chemicals and materials, however, there are still some chemicals and pesticides that are tricky to remove from our water sources. Water treatment plants do the best they can to remove most of the pollutants, but it is not a perfect process (8). Because of this, we can be exposed to these nasty pollutants through drinking contaminated water or when we play in our local lakes, streams, and beaches.

The good news is that we have the power to reduce the amount of water pollution that comes from our homes by planting a rain garden!

So what exactly are rain gardens?

A rain garden is a depressed area in the landscape filled with grasses and native plants that works to collect the runoff from all of the areas on your property. Not only does a rain garden collect all of the water runoff, it also helps filter out the pollutants collected along the way. This filtration process is done by using the plants and soil in the garden. As the water moves farther into the ground more of the contaminants are removed by the soil and plant roots and eventually the water will be able to recharge ground water aquifers. Sounds like a win win situation (1)!

Some of the other benefits of rain gardens include protection against floods and the habitat they provide. Water collects in the rain garden due to its lower elevation and acts as a drainage site for the diverted water. The water is then rapidly absorbed by the plants dramatically reducing the amount of water in your yard more efficiently after a storm (3)! This is where the plants in your rain gardens might differ slightly from your average garden plants. The most common plants used in rain gardens are able to tolerate long wet periods and long drought periods to be able to survive when there is rain and when there isn't (9). The plants have an added function as habitat for beneficial wildlife such as butterflies, bees, birds, and other small animals (4). Rain gardens protect our environment, our homes, our drinking water, and wildlife! Who wouldn't want that?

So... Do you want to build a rain garden?

We know this might seem a little daunting, but we promise it's easier than it looks and will be so worth it!

  1. Find a Location

The first step in creating the perfect rain garden is the planning phase. To pick a location for the rain garden many people conduct a rainy day survey. Is there a part of your yard that always collects water after a storm or where the soil stays extra wet for longer? That's a good place to start. You can also draw a rough map of your home and landmarks like trees, patios, and driveways, as well as how the water flows through your property when it rains. Typically areas with slight slopes or near gutter drain pipes are great places to plant a rain garden.Once you have picked a location that you believe will capture the most water runoff the next step is to determine the size you want your garden to be. Most rain gardens range from 150 - 480 sq ft and are at least 6 inches deep. Rain gardens can be really big or really small; design them to fit your needs and how much space you have available.

2. Pick Your Plants

The final step for planning is to pick your plants! When picking the plants for your rain garden you want to look for native perennial flowers, grasses, and shrubs that will survive in the amount of sunlight your rain garden is exposed to and the different weather patterns of where you live. The most common layout for plants in a rain garden is to have perennial flowers and natives that can tolerate lots of water in the center. Then around the center you want plants that can sometimes tolerate standing water but usually prefer to be dry like grasses, and finally around the edges use plants that prefer mostly dry soil (12). Talking with people from your local plant nurseries or just searching for native plants in your area can help you determine which plants will be best suited for your needs! (2) Some helpful online resources for native plants in your area and good plants for rain gardens are linked here!

3. Plant Your Rain Garden

Once you have completed all of the planning and preparation, the next step is to start digging. As we mentioned, a rain garden should be at least 6 inches deep for optimal water capture and drainage. Once you dig out your area make sure to create a gentle slope from the top to the center to help hold the water in. Once the area is prepared place your plants in the soil and pack them in. After planting, it is recommended that you place mulch over the top of the exposed soil to prevent weeds and to help with water drainage. This will save you a lot of time and energy down the line! The final step is to add any design elements like rocks and stones to the garden and water all of your plants in. Voila, you have a beautiful rain garden (5)!

If you need a slightly more in depth look at how to build your rain garden and different designs, we have added some links to help you out. Check out these links:

  1. https://www.gardeners.com/how-to/rain-garden/5712.html
  2. https://www.lawnstarter.com/blog/landscaping/how-build-rain-garden/
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xuqmY7wzRc

References:

  1. https://www.groundwater.org/action/home/raingardens.html
  2. https://www.gardeners.com/how-to/rain-garden/5712.html
  3. https://thewatershed.org/green-infrastructure-rain-gardens/
  1. https://www.epa.gov/soakuptherain/soak-rain-rain-gardens
  2. https://www.lawnstarter.com/blog/landscaping/how-build-rain-garden/
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xuqmY7wzRc
  4. Gaffield, S. J., Goo, R. L., Richards, L. A., & Jackson, R. J. (2003). Public Health Effects of Inadequately Managed Stormwater Runoff. American Journal of Public Health, 93(9), 1527–1533. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.93.9.1527
  5. https://www.iwapublishing.com/news/distillation-treatment-and-removal-contaminants-drinking-water
  6. https://www.embassylandscape.com/blog/the-best-of-the-best-perennial-plants-for-rain-gardens
  7. https://www.nwf.org/NativePlantFinder/
  8. http://raingardenalliance.org/planting/plantlist
  9. https://www.almanac.com/content/rain-gardens-two-d...:~:text=Planting%20a%20Rain%20Garden&text=Most%20of%20the%20plants%20in,that%20tolerate%20occasional%20standing%20water.
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Grow Your Own Edible Flowers

Turn your backyard into a culinary paradise!

Gardening is very big right now thanks to COVID-19. We're all stuck in our house, looking for something to do. If you're looking for a productive garden that is also aesthetically appealing, try growing edible flowers! We love plants that will produce beautiful flowers we can enjoy in the garden and in the kitchen. These flowers will give your dishes a unique flavor and make you seem like a culinary genius.

These plants are all relatively easy to grow and produce flowers you can eat! Try using these beauties on top of cupcakes, as a cocktail garnish, or in a salad!


Pansy- These are one of the most popular edible flowers- for good reason! Their beautiful, bright blossoms will add that wow-factor to whatever you cook. We think pansies are especially impressive on top of cupcakes or cakes!

Nasturtium- These flowers pack a peppery punch and can bring extra flavor to your salads. Plus, the leaves are edible as well!

Lavender- We don't have to introduce you to this plant! Lavender is beautiful, smells amazing, and the small flowers will add a familiar floral note to many dishes. We like lavender baked into cookies or mixed into a latte!

Chamomile- Yes, like the tea! The dainty chamomile flower can also be used in salads.

Honeysuckle- Have you ever enjoyed honeysuckle nectar straight off the stem? It's delicious! These flowers smell and taste very sweet; it's the perfect garnish in a summer cocktail.

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Victory Garden Revival!

Easily grow produce at your home

We've got some free time on our hands now that we're staying at home all the time and going to the grocery store can be really stressful. Plus, many grocery stores have had trouble keeping fresh produce in stock during the pandemic. Why not start growing your own produce?!

We've seen a revival of "victory gardens" in recent months as a way to reliably get fruit and veggies. Growing your own produce is rewarding, fun, and a great educational tool for kids! Plus, a backyard garden is organic! You also don't have to have a large backyard to create your own victory garden. Many plants can be grown in containers. A lot of nurseries and gardening stores are still open during the pandemic. Make sure to call ahead to confirm store hours and see if you can do curbside delivery.

The Farmer's Almanac is a great, in-depth resource for all of your gardening needs. It's recent article on the revival of victory gardens in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic provides a lot of important information.

Below are some fruit and vegetables we wanted to highlight that are great for beginners. If you feel like you need some extra help, you can always contact your state's master gardener! Master gardeners are especially knowledgeable about what will grow in your area, how to keep your plants alive, and unique gardening challenges your area might face.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a hardy vegetable that love full sun. They're a super versatile ingredient used in so many different recipes. You can't go wrong with tomatoes! They're easy to grow in a container or in a sunny spot in your backyard with loamy soil. Tomatoes take about 60-80 days to mature, so plant in early spring! Read more about growing tomatoes here.

Herbs

A great option for apartment dwellers. You can grow herbs in small pots in a sunny windowsill. You can also plant herbs in containers and keep them on your porch. Growing your own herbs is super convenient when a recipe only calls for a few leaves or a small amount of an ingredient. You can just snip off what you need from your own plants instead of bulk buying at the grocery store! We love mint, chive, rosemary, or thyme. Check out more tips on growing herbs here.


Cucumbers

Another great container plant! We recommend getting a vining cucumber to plant in a container, just remember to also include a trellis! Cucumbers love hot weather and lots of water, and they'll grow quickly as long as they're receiving plenty of both! Cucumbers make a great addition to any salad or even as a cocktail garnish (we won't judge!). More info can be found here.


Green Beans

Like cucumbers, green beans are compact, productive, and easy to grow! Pole beans will need a trellis, but bush beans don't need extra support. Beans love full sun and will reach maturity in 50-65 days. Try green beans in a stir fry or as a tasty side dish! Get started growing green beans with this helpful guide.


Raspberries

Unlike many other plants, raspberries will do well in a partially-shady location. They need well-drained soil and protection from the elements to thrive. Water regularly and be prepared to eat some very tasty berries! We think home-grown berries taste exceptionally better than store bought berries. Learn more about growing raspberries here.


Strawberries

You'll be amazed by how much better home-grown strawberries taste than store bought. Strawberries are a little more finicky than other plants, but they'll thrive in full sun and well-drained soil. Check out this comprehensive guide to growing strawberries before your next gardening session!

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Grow Fresh Produce in Your Kitchen Using Food Scraps!

All you need is some water and a sunny window…

Fresh fruits and veggies are tasty, add flavor to any meal, and are an important part of a balanced diet. They can also help boost your immune system, which we're all about right now. But these days we're trying to limit trips to the grocery store as much as possible. So how do you keep a stash of produce available without having to leave your house? By planting food scraps! Yes, you read that correctly.



Growing produce from food scraps has a lot of benefits. It diverts food waste from your trash or compost, it can teach young children about gardening, and it provides a relaxing project during these uncertain times. Plus, as long as you don't use any pesticides, everything you grow in your kitchen will be organic! Below are some types of food scraps that will grow into new produce with minimal effort on your part.

Lemongrass- this citrusy herb is easy to grow and will up the flavor profile of any dish! Put the bottom 2-3 inches of lemongrass in a half inch of water and keep in a sunny window. Change the water every few days. New growth will sprout from the center.

Celery- Put the bottom 2 inches of a celery stalk in a shallow bowl of water and place in a sunny window. Replace the water daily. New growth will appear within a few days. It might take a while for a full stalk to grow, but you can use the small growth to flavor dishes or to make your own celery powder!

Green onion- This is one of the easiest things to grow in your kitchen! Keep the white part of the onion in a small glass of water. Green onions will grow really fast in a sunny spot- you could have fresh onions in about one week!

Lettuce- place the bottom portion of a head of lettuce in a shallow bowl of water in a sunny window (you know the drill by now). New lettuce will start sprouting in a few days and you'll have about ½ of a head of lettuce in two weeks. That's the perfect amount for a sandwich or a burger!

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9 Veggies You Can Grow Indoors

Gourmet dinners with fresh veggies and no more plastic herb packets are in your future

What's better than having an indoor plant baby? How about one that gives you food? Since we are all spending more time at home these days and making less trips to the grocery store, it's a perfect time to try your hand at some indoor veggies that you can grow in your windowsill. Plus this is a great project to do with kids if you are homeschooling them due to COVID-19 school closures. Some ideas include helping plant and water the seeds, writing down weekly observations, measuring and drawing the vegetables as they grow, and finally learning to cook with them. Here are our suggestions for 9 veggies and herbs that are easy to grow inside and are useful to have on hand.

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Why You Should Care About Soil Contamination If You're Starting a Garden in Your Backyard

Here's the dirt-y details you're going to want to know and what to do about it

Dreary winter blues might have you dreaming of blue skies, warm weather and some home grown vegetables. But before you go jetting off to your nearest Home Depot or nursery, you might want to take a second and get to know your soil. We're serious! No, not the hello, my name is ____, more like the hey, what's in my soil? Not all soils are created equally and trust us when we say that you'll definitely want to make sure the soil you're using for growing food to eat is top notch!
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