Use the winter to plan for your rain garden

With the Detroit Department of Water and Sewerage bringing on new stormwater drainage fees, a lot of people are looking into ways to get credits for rainwater mitigation on their properties. One easy and beautiful thing that you can do is to create a rain garden.

Rain gardens have come into vogue in the last few years as a way to keep water from inundating local waterways and sewer systems, which can cause problems with flooding and pollution when combined sewer systems overflow. These gardens also usually feature native flowering plants that provide a beautiful color palette and provide food and habitat for birds and insects.

Rain gardens are built by digging a shallow depression that collects water from a downspout or off of a paved surface. They are often planted with a well-drained soil mix containing sand, topsoil and compost. The native plants employed have deep roots that create further channels into the ground to help keep it out of sewers, basements and other places where it’s not wanted. 

Winter is an excellent time to plan next year’s rain garden. Think about where you might want to have a new garden, making sure that it’s at least ten feet away from the house. The garden doesn’t have to be that big to absorb most of the water from your roof. However, people usually build their gardens to be at least 150 to 200 square feet, so they are big enough to make a visual statement in the landscape.
Use a garden hose to test possible shapes for the garden. From there, take a measurement of the area taken up by the hose and transpose it to a rough scale drawing. Using graph paper can help with this process.
Here is a list of plants for use in rain gardens. Plants that are most tolerant of standing water should be placed at the center of the garden. When planning the garden follow basic design rules. Clump perennials and smaller plants in groups of three or more, aim for a variety of leaf texture and flower color and, if possible, select plants that bloom at different times to create continuous interest.
Once you have dug or mechanically excavated the depression for your rain garden, you will need to add soil, plants and then mulch. Use the winter to get quotes on prices for materials from local retailers. Also keep an eye out for help from local organizations like the Friends of the Rouge and Keep Growing Detroit’s  “Rain Gardens to the Rescue” program and contact friends and neighbors who may be able to help out. 
The result will be a win-win-win garden that is good for your yard, your pocketbook and the health of your local waterways and the Great Lakes. 

This story is part of a series on measuring on the role of green infrastructure projects in Detroit's redevelopment. Support for this series is provided by the Erb Family Foundation to Greening of Detroit, Model D, and The Nature Conservancy. Read more articles from the series here.
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Read more articles by Brian Allnutt.

Brian Allnutt is a Detroit-based writer and a co-owner of Detroit Farm and Garden.