Rain Gardens Beautify, While Protecting the Environment

August 27, 2007

LONDON, Ohio -- Gardens do more than beautify an area, instill a love for plants, and provide food and shelter for wildlife. They can also be a source of environmental conservation.

All it takes is a simple change in design and a slight amendment to the soil, and a garden can be used to capture, channel, divert, and make the most out of rain or snow -- curtailing run-off, reducing erosion and helping to prevent excessive flooding. Known as a rain garden, the design involves creating a depression or dish in the soil that collects water for plants to use and keeps it from escaping to areas that are pollution-sensitive.

"Gardens are generally designed as raised beds or mounds. Rain gardens have bowl-shaped profiles," said Alicia Fager, an Ohio State University Extension horticulture program assistant for Lucas County. "Rain gardens serve their purpose both in rural and urban areas by allowing the water to naturally infiltrate into the ground thereby preventing run-off from streets, sidewalks and driveways into drainage areas or streams."

Fager will be at Ohio State University's Farm Science Review at 2 p.m. on Sept. 20 in Utzinger Garden to educate visitors on what a rain garden is, and how to install and maintain it.

Rain gardens are not a new gardening technique, but they have been growing in popularity the past few years with those interested in becoming more earth-friendly. Fager coordinates with Lucas County commissioners, elected officials, businesses and individuals throughout Lucas County in the Rain Garden Initiative of Toledo - Lucas County -- an effort that has seen the installation of rain gardens on school grounds, on business property and in public green spaces.

Fager said that when installing a rain garden, it's the depth, not the size that counts.

"The depression of a rain garden is generally four to eight inches deep depending on the type of soil," said Fager. "Water won't percolate through clay soils as fast as sandy soils. The idea is for the soils to dry out within 24 to 48 hours. You don't want standing water."

Fager said that rain gardens are easy to install, easy to maintain, and can support a wide variety of native and non-native plants.

"If you have soils that don't drain well, you can add compost to help aerate the soils," said Fager. "Beyond that, you only need to water in times of drought and weed maybe once or twice a year."

Fager also emphasized that rain gardens are not ponds and are not havens for mosquitoes, two common misconceptions.

Plants that can be installed in a rain garden include swamp milkweed, butterfly milkweeds, blueberries, choke-berry, New England aster, black eye susan, sedges and grasses, purple coneflower, iris, little blue stem, daylilies and dogwoods, among others.

Farm Science Review will be held Sept. 18-20 at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center in London, Ohio. The event is sponsored by Ohio State University Extension, the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, and the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. Tickets are $8 at the gate or $5 in advance when purchased from county offices of OSU Extension or participating agribusinesses. Children 5 and younger are admitted free. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept 18-19 and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 20. For more information, log on to http://fsr.osu.edu.

Author(s): 
Candace Pollock
Source(s): 
Alicia Fager