Great Season for a Rain Garden

Lynn Barber

It’s that time of year, once again, where we are fortunate to receive rain frequently, sometimes daily! If you are looking for a way to capture rainfall, you may want to consider creating a rain garden in a particularly low area (shallow depression) in your landscape. The purpose of a rain/bog garden is to capture stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces, such as roofs, driveways, and sidewalks, and allow the captured runoff water to percolate through the soil.

Rain gardens are beneficial because they decrease flooding and erosion and attract wildlife and beneficial insects. Another benefit is filtering runoff that would otherwise carry pollutants (grass clippings, pet waste, fertilizer, etc.) to storm drains and ultimately into Tampa Bay, contributing to algae bloom and killing fish.

To create a rain garden, first, determine the size and location. The rain garden should be at least ten feet from your foundation, in an existing low area that drains quickly after a heavy rain, in full sun, not within 25 feet of a septic system or well, away from tree roots and within 30 feet of a water source.

Next is the construction phase. Before you start digging, be sure to call 811, Sunshine State One Call of Florida Inc., for underground utility marking. After that occurs, you can design the shape of your rain garden by laying out a garden hose in the manner you desire. Select plants that like wet feet and are drought tolerant for those times when we wish we had more rainfall. Some selections include: bald cypress, river birch, beautyberry, dwarf palmetto, Walter’s viburnum, swamp hibiscus, river oats, tickseed and muhly grass. As always, select plant materials after you have determined the site conditions which include sun, adequate space for mature height and spread and soil texture. If you install a rain garden in sandy soil, it will only hold water for a few hours. This will add to your maintenance duties which include watering until plants are established (60 days or so), weeding and using sphagnum moss to decrease weed growth, regulate soil temperature and retain moisture.

You can create your own mini rain garden using a shallow plastic pan, like a dishpan. Dig a hole in the ground the size of the container, add potting soil, cat litter and your favorite plants like those above.

For more information on creating a rain garden, stop by our office, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Hillsborough County Extension, 5339 County Road 579, Seffner 33547, 813-744-5519. You can pick up your own personal copy of Rain Gardens, A Manual for Central Florida Residents, by Marina D’Abreau, from which this article was crafted. While at our office, you may visit our rain garden in the Bette S. Walker Discovery Garden, located in our courtyard. There are several other gardens outside our building that you may also enjoy. Hope to see you soon.