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Wednesday, July 25, 2007 05:38 am

Plan a rain garden to capture runoff

With careful planning, little care will be needed

Weeds have a hard time growing in a mature rain garden. Old stalk can be cut back or mowed in spring to give the new growth a good start.
Untitled Document When it rains, much of the water falls on impervious surfaces. Instead of allowing all of it to drain away, home gardeners can create an aesthetically pleasing area that will allow the water to drain back into the ground, away from the house: a rain garden. As the name implies, a rain garden collects and absorbs rainwater, preventing it from running off a property. Runoff mainly comes from roofs, driveways, and lawns. A properly placed rain garden allows about 30 percent more water to soak into the ground than a conventional lawn does. A rain garden will intercept pollutants such as fertilizers, automobile fluids, and pet waste and keep them from entering storm drains and retention ponds. Some studies show that about half of the pollution carried by stormwater comes from homes’ yards. Why should a home gardener consider installing a rain garden? Besides being an attractive addition to a yard, a rain garden provides environmental benefits: It can serve as a home gardener’s personal contribution to reducing the amount of pollutants washing off to lakes and streams; properly placed, it will increase the amount of water filtering into the ground; and the native plants it incorporates provide habitat for birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects.
A rain garden is natural landscaping, generally a combination of native wildflowers and grasses that replaces part of a lawn. Native plants are a great choice for rain gardens because they are deep-rooted and tolerate both wet and dry spells.
Rain gardens are placed in location that gets full sun or part shade to collect water from downspouts or a sump pump. The garden should be placed at least 10 feet from a house’s foundation in a low spot where water naturally drains.
A properly designed rain garden is bowl-shaped, allowing water to flow in. The middle of the garden will hold water during heavy rains, so the water will gradually soak into the ground. Standing water should only last a few hours after most storms. A rain garden will need some weeding and watering during the establishment period, which lasts two years. Once the plants are established, little care is needed except occasional weeding and thinning. The size and design of a rain garden is based on the yard’s size and layout. The University of Wisconsin Extension offers several publication on home and garden clean-water practices, including “Rain Gardens: A How-To Manual for Homeowners” (go to clean-water.uwex.edu/pubs/home.htm#rain). This publication includes information about layout, supplies design ideas and plant lists, and explains how to build a rain garden.
Local rain-garden program Duane Friend, a University of Illinois Extension educator, will discuss how to design a rain garden. His program, “Rain Gardens: A Wise Way to Use Runoff,” will be offered at 1 p.m. Tuesday, July 31, at the Sangamon-Menard Extension office, on the Illinois State Fairgrounds. To reserve a seat and a packet of information, call 217-782-4617. There is a $2 charge.

Jennifer Fishburn is a horticulture educator with the University of Illinois Extension Sangamon-Menard Unit. Contact her at www.extension.uiuc.edu/Sangamon. 
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