Rain Gardens: a beautiful way to keep the rain from the drain

By: Heather Desko, New Jersey Water Supply Authority.

In recent years, I hear more and more people striving to be “green” and do their part for the environment—I love it! They drive hybrid cars to use less fossil fuel, they use reusable shopping bags to use less plastic, and they use energy- and water-efficient appliances to use less electricity and water. Here’s a new challenge: install a rain garden so less polluted runoff reaches our precious drinking water supplies.

Rain Garden in front of house. Photo by: Heather Desko, New Jersey Water Authority.

Rain Garden on the side of a residence.
Photo by: Heather Desko, New Jersey Water Supply Authority.

A rain garden is a landscaped, shallow depression that is designed to soak up rain water and runoff. As rain falls to the earth, some of it evaporates, some is used by plants, and some goes down into the soil. The rest of the rain flows across the land surface collecting pollutants and carrying them to rivers and reservoirs that are sources of our drinking water.

Rain gardens are designed to collect water primarily from rooftops, but also from driveways and patios. They look like regular flower gardens, but when it rains, a rain garden will hold a few inches of water and allow it to slowly filter into the ground instead of running into storm drains and streams. Native plants, especially ones that are used to being wet, are a great choice for rain gardens.

Rain gardens are not a good solution for areas that are always wet—that means the soil does not drain well. A rain garden should drain within 24-48 hours. If you have a basement, your rain garden should be at least 10 feet away from your house, and you should avoid your septic system (if you have one). Don’t forget to call to locate underground utility lines before you dig—NJ One Call Hotline 811.

If you are a Somerville, NJ resident and want to learn more about rain gardens, join us for informational workshops at Duke Farms on Thursday, August 22, 6-8pm and Saturday, August 24, 10am-12noon. Register here.

Visit the New Jersey Water Supply Authority’s rain garden webpage for more information about local rain gardens. You can download a free copy of the NJ Rain Garden Manual by the Native Plant Society of New Jersey and Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program.

Are you a Somerville resident? Then you are in luck: free workshops, free design consultations and rebates for installing a rain garden are available! To learn more about the rebate program, click here.

Happy planting!

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