It’s that time of year again where we are generally fortunate to receive rain frequently. This year, I’m still waiting and hopeful for rain. If you are looking for a way to capture rainfall when it arrives, you may want to consider creating a rain garden in a particularly low area (shallow depression) in your landscape or at the bottom of a downspout where water puddles. 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. It 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. The larger the garden, the larger the plant diversity and more maintenance that may be involved.
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. Information about construction is contained in the publications cited below.
Select plants that like wet feet and are drought tolerant for those times when rainfall is infrequent. Some selections include: bald cypress, river birch, beautyberry, dwarf palmetto, Walter’s viburnum, swamp hibiscus, river oats, tickseed and muhly grass. 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 or peat moss to decrease weed growth, regulate soil temperature and retain moisture.
For more information on creating a rain garden, see Marina D’Abreau’s Rain Garden Manual at gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/articles/rain-garden-manual-hillsborough.pdf, from which this article was adapted. For assistance with horticultural questions, call 813-744-5519 or visit hillsborough.ifas.ufl.edu, and check out our calendar of events, sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/hillsborough/upcoming-events.
Lynn Barber is the Florida-Friendly LandscapingTM Agent for UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County, 5339 C.R. 579, Seffner, FL 33584. Email her at email@example.com, or call 813-744-5519 Ext. 54105.