A rain garden isn't complicated or labor-intensive. It's simply a concave garden designed to collect rainwater runoff. Most rain gardens have plenty of native plants with deep roots, which can capture and filter runoff and reduce the amount of pollutants that enter storm sewers and, eventually, lakes and streams.
DO choose a location with a natural low spot, preferably near where rainwater is most likely to run off (from your roof, downspouts, driveway or patio). But DON'T locate a rain garden within 10 feet of your house or you'll risk water in your basement. A well-placed rain garden "is a great solution for people with drainage problems in their yard," said Craig Stark, owner of Ecoscapes Sustainable Landscaping in Eagan. "Try to get the water away from the house -- it [the water] is not a waste product; it's a resource."
Whether you're excavating yourself or hiring a contractor, DO make sure that your soil is well-tilled before you plant. If heavy machinery, such as a grader, is used, DON'T just scrape off the top layer of soil and compact the soil beneath it. A rain garden should be permeable, so it absorbs rainwater into the ground, rather than holding it in a basin. "People think a rain garden is supposed to be wet all the time, like a pond, but it isn't," Stark said. "It's meant to infiltrate." And DO add some organic material to the soil when planting, Debby Wolk said. "It can't hurt."
DO choose hearty native plants, such as liatris, butterfly weed, bee balm and black-eyed Susan. The deep root structures of native plants help break up the soil and funnel rainwater through it. Native plants also attract wildlife, such as butterflies, birds and bees, to your garden. But DON'T be afraid to mix in a few other plants that you like. Debby Wolk recommends that at least 60 to 70 percent of your rain garden include native plants.
DO seek out rain-garden information resources, such as www.metroblooms.org or www.bluethumb.org. And DON'T overlook financial resources that can help defray upfront costs. Depending on where you live, you may be able to apply for grant money or a storm-sewer reduction on your water bill.
DO start small, Bob Wolk advised, especially if you're a novice gardener. You're less likely to feel overwhelmed if you take on only what you can handle. And DON'T get discouraged if your garden doesn't look great right away. "Be patient," he said. "The first year, a rain garden looks skimpy." By the second year, the native plants in your rain garden should be full and thriving.