Tanger Family Bicentennial Garden’s newest feature! A “Rain Garden” designed by Seay Partners, Inc. Landscape Architects and sponsored by Guilford Garden Center.

What is a rain garden? Read on for a detailed description, and get our plant list below:

Rain gardens, which are small, shallow areas filled with beautiful native plants, reduce polluted runoff from entering Wisconsin’s waters. Creating a rain garden is a great way for homeowners, schools, businesses, churches, and other organizations to help protect our lakes and streams. Rain garden plants capture 30% more water than a regular lawn and filter that water into the ground. This reduces the amount of water containing household fertilizers, pesticides, oils, and other contaminants coming from our roofs, lawns, driveways, or parking lots running into storm sewers. Rain gardens are also a delight to view and are a nice place for birds and butterflies to live. You don’t need a large drainage swale like the one pictured here – even a small sunken area within a bed or border can be beneficial.

A rain garden is a shallow planted depression designed to hold water until it soaks into the soil. A key feature of eco-friendly landscape design, rain gardens – also known as bio-cells – are gaining credibility and converts as an important solution to stormwater runoff and pollution. Here we’ll show you how to make a rain garden fit handsomely into a landscape and still fulfill all its environmental functions.


Create your own rain garden with these tips:

Choose a site. If you have a low area or ditch where water collects after it rains, this would be a natural spot for a rain garden. You can also redirect a downspout away from your home to divert water runoff for a rain garden. Choose a location at least 10 feet away from your home so water doesn’t seep into the foundation. The site should receive full sun to partial shade. Avoid locating your garden over a septic tank or near underground utility lines.

The ideal size of your rain garden will depend on how big your roof is, the amount of runoff generated, and your soil type. Most rain gardens average between 100 to 300 square feet. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service recommends an area that is 7 to 20% the size of the impervious surface creating the runoff (typically, your roof).

Prepare the site. Remove lawn or other vegetation and evaluate your native soil. Clay soil drains more slowly, while sandy soil drains more quickly. Water should drain within 12 to 48 hours of an average rainfall to keep plants healthy and mosquitos at bay.

Dig your garden. Dig a shallow basin 6 to 8 inches deep that slopes from the outer edges to the deepest point at the center. Use the removed soil to create a berm to catch and hold water runoff. Amend the soil in the basin with topsoil or compost to provide a hospitable medium for plants to grow. Create a pathway of river rocks or install an underground pipe that will divert rainwater from the downspout or other water source into the basin.

Select plants. Include native plant species that provide food and habitat for wildlife and insect pollinators. Plants should be able to tolerate moisture as well as intermittent dry spells. Include sedges, grasses, and rushes with deep root systems that will help water seep into the soil. Select a mix of plants with different foliage, texture, and flowers that bloom at different times for season-long interest. Add marginal plants that are more drought-tolerant around the perimeter such as canna lily, iris, or lobelia.

Install. Plant in larger drifts of 3 to 5 plants for greater visual impact. Water well after planting and add a layer of organic mulch to suppress weeds and retain moisture.

Maintain. As with all new plantings, you’ll want to water during dry spells for the first year until plants are established. Prune plants according to their individual requirements and clean out debris and old dead growth in spring. Divide perennials as needed once plants are mature.

Plant List - Shrubs:

Dwarf Yaupon Holly – Ilex vomitoria ‘Schillings Dwarf’

Perennial Hibiscus – Hibiscus moscheutos

Dwarf Buttonbush – Cephalanthus ‘Sugar Shack’

Redtwig Dogwood – Cornus sericea ‘Arctic Fire’


Acorus ‘Ogon’ – Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’

Astilbe – Astilbe gramineus ‘Milk and Honey’

Artemisia – Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’

Little Bluestem – Andropogon virginicus

‘Eversheen’ Sedge – Carex ‘Eversheen’

Coneflower – Echinacea purpurea ‘Sombrero Tres Amigos’

Daylily ‘Happy Returns’ – Hemerocallis ‘Happy Returns’

Foxglove – Digitalis purpurea

Juncus – Juncus effusus

Bluestar – Liatris spicata

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