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Rain gardens could be useful this summer, Master Gardeners advise

By Staff | Jul 2, 2015

MUNCY – This spring members of the Muncy Garden Club learned that rain gardens could be advantageous as well as attractive for birds and butterflies. Local Master Gardeners Carol Mordan and Louise Fulmer addressed the basics of rain gardens to collect rainfall and storm water runoff in backyards. They also protect against erosion and filters poisons from the ground.

Selecting the right plants are a key to its success they explained. “It is really a type of wetland or landscaped area that encourages diversity,” Fulmer said. It is not to be confused with a pond and it cannot hold water for more than 48 hours. Mordan said it is usually a small garden ideally situated to the source of runoff to slow it down as it travels downhill. “It looks like a dry greenbed with shrubs and grasses.”

Some good plants to use are roses, water iris, lobelia, asters, coneflower, daisies, ferns, daylilies and some maples. Plants that withstand extreme moisture work best and it can be incorporated as part of a larger garden.

Soil is also important for a healthy rain garden, they said. To prevent an overload of sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus levels are reduced by the action of the plants chosen. “The plant matter is all part of the eco-system,” Mordan added.

Rain gardens provide a filtration system and are important for sustainability. “Storm water run-off is a good way to refresh the reservoirs on a global level,” explained Fulmer.

Choosing a site is also important. It can be in full sun or shade, but choose the plants accordingly and should be about 10 feet away from any foundation. “You can do one from a small, wet spot,” she added.

There are two basic types, under-drained and self-contained. Both types are used to improve stormwater quality and trap run off before it gets to the Chesapeake Bay or the sewer. Under-drained rain gardens typically are designed to drain within 2 to 4 hours after a rainfall, This is achieved through the use of highly porous planting media and underdrains which carry the cleaned rainwater away from the garden.

It is necessary to have plants that will adapt to any prolonged area of wetness. Accommodate plants for full sun, part shade, a wet zone and a transition zone.

Most rain gardens are populated with either herbaceous perennials, woody shrubs or trees. Some annuals could be used but would require more maintenance.

The Master Gardeners cited several good websites for more information (www.extemsopm.psu.edu/rain gardens) and also advised contacting any master gardener for assistance.