How to Plant a Rain Garden

Stop flooding and drainage problems with a rain garden in your yard.

Rain Garden

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By Ann Wied
Brookfield, WI

Plant your own rain garden and help stop runoff, beautifully!

Rain gardens are soaking up a lot of attention, and rightly so. Not only does a rain garden add beauty and interest to your yard, it serves as a habitat for birds, butterflies and beneficial insects. Even better, the garden’s benefits reach out to help your community fight pollution and stop flooding and drainage problems.

A well-designed rain garden can reduce annual runoff from an -average-size lot by 25 percent, protecting streams and lakes from the pollutants stormwater collects. How? These super gardens absorb water after a storm, allowing it to slowly filter into the ground rather than race down a stormwater drain.

Don’t worry—there’s no standing water where mosquitoes can breed. The water generally lasts only a couple of hours after a storm, and mosquitoes need at least a week to lay and hatch eggs.

Keep your design simple to harvest all the benefits while minimizing costs and maintenance. Here’s what to consider:

Size and location.

A typical residential rain garden measures 100 to 300 square feet. You can place it anywhere that receives water, but no closer than 10 feet from the house. At that distance, it will catch runoff from the roof. Gardens placed farther away will also catch runoff from the lawn. Put your garden where you can enjoy its colors and fragrance all season.


Select native plants and flowers according to their sun or shade needs, as well as soil requirements, height at maturity, bloom time, color and texture. Mix heights and shapes for variety, and consider adding native sedges and grasses.

Avoid a washout

You can buy plants, or economize by dividing a friend’s plants. Or grow them indoors from seed and transplant the plugs. I don’t recommend using a seed mix outdoors to start. It’s tough to protect seeds from wind, weeds, pests and, yes, flooding.

Have I piqued your interest? You can learn more about starting a rain garden, or get local plant recommendations, by contacting your nearest university extension office.


About our expert: Ann Wied is consumer horticulture educator for the UW-Extension in Waukesha County, Wisconsin. She teaches gardeners through workshops, hands-on gardening programs and presentations. Ann has a bachelor’s degree in horticulture and agricultural journalism.

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