How a rain garden can be frugal and protect your home

Frugal Rain Gardens

by Lee Doppelt

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"The influx of storm water into waterways not only makes our water resources less clean, but also causes the destabilization of banks and increases downstream flooding," according to the Prairie Rivers Network ( The condition of water supplies and sewer systems deserves attention. So, why should you, a dollar stretcher, worry about waterways, sewers and flooding?

There are many reasons to care; flooding, whether in your backyard or in your town, ultimately costs you money. But, planting a rain garden is one way that you can help maintain a dry basement and prevent overworking city sewer systems. A rain garden is not unlike the garden that you may already have on your property, except that rain gardens have specific plants growing in them that make these gardens more functional. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources ( says that "rain gardens are a way for homeowners as well as businesses to participate in the reduction of polluted runoff, simply by planting a specialized garden."

You've probably seen lovely rain gardens in a neighbor's yard filled with tall, often colorful flowers. You simply didn't realize that these gardens were deliberately planted in a specific location with special plants intended for ecological purposes. Likely, these are rain gardens.

Choosing a location is crucial for your rain garden to do its magic.

Scrutinize your property carefully during and after a heavy rainstorm. Take note of the water flow around your house and yard. Rain gardens work best when planted in any depressed area in the yard where water tends to collect. These types of gardens can be planted in the front or back yards and/or on either side of the house, if practical. Avoid planting on city-owned parkways even though you are currently responsible for keeping those areas mowed; you could be breaking the law. Remember that the bigger the garden, the more effective it will be in keeping your basement dry and your sewers from overflowing.

To be most functional, a rain garden should be at least ten feet away from the foundation of your house and garage, since you are trying to keep these structures dry. The rain garden can be rectangular or any other shape; this is where you can be creative. Appropriate places include lawns, courtyards, or flowerbeds. But be sure to avoid planting near underground utility lines, septic fields or tree roots. Plant in areas where the water table is at least two feet deep. And stay away from shady areas; select a location with partial or full sunlight so that water will drain and dry faster. Planting in sandy or permeable soils is ideal; clay soils present more of a challenge.

Specific types of plants are necessary to make your rain garden functional.

Rain gardens absorb more water than traditional lawns, because the plants in them have deeper roots. Therefore, you should choose native species that are perennials rather than annuals because they will have these deeper roots. Native species have the advantage of adapting more easily to your soil and weather conditions than those more exotic varieties. Some native plants recommended for rain gardens in Illinois, for example, are great blue lobelia, cardinal flower, and Virginia bluebells.

The beauty of any garden is somewhat dependent on variety of plants grown. As you might with an ordinary garden, select plants with different bloom times to extend the season of colors in your rain garden. Planting varieties that grow to different heights will add to the beauty of your rain garden.

There may be some financial benefits for planting a rain garden on your property.

Keeping your basement dry after heavy rains has obvious financial benefits; unwanted water in the house is always costly. But, indirectly you can save by protecting your city sewers from excessive water that gushes into the sewer system. Many municipalities recognize this problem and are actually providing cash incentives for property owners who plant rain gardens. One city, for example, will give a homeowner a one-time $250 cash incentive if an acceptable 100-square-foot rain garden is planted. Nationwide, more towns are jumping on board this idea because of the importance of preserving sewer systems.

Dry yards mean less mosquito breeding and that's great for your own personal safety and for the public health of your entire community. Being respectful of the environment and natural resources and saving money while beautifying your property is an idea that is catching on. Most of the work involved with a rain garden comes with the initial planting. As the years go by, maintenance of the garden will decrease. Planting a rain garden is a growing idea with bountiful benefits for you.

Take the Next Step:

  • Gardening on the cheap is simple. Just visit the TDS Frugal Gardening Guide and we'll show you the many ways frugal gardeners maintain beautiful, bountiful gardens for less.

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