Dane County Office of Lakes & Watersheds
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What is a rain garden?

Rain gardens are shallow depressions (3-4 inches to two feet) planted with native wildflowers and other plants that soak up rainwater or melted snow from your rooftop, driveway and lawn. The gardens allow water to infiltrate into the soil rather than becoming runoff.

A rain garden can soak up to 30% more water than a traditional lawn. This helps to protect the quality of water downstream by preventing runoff from getting to the storm drains and helps reduce the chances for local flooding.

Why is that important? Because the water from rain or snow fall that runs off our roofs and off our yards, into our streets and eventually through the storm drain system to our lakes is untreated, and carries with it all sorts of pollutants like fertilizers, oil from the street and pet waste. Holding back the runoff by allowing it soak into the ground in rain gardens, helps improve the water quality in our lakes, can reduce the chances for local flooding and also helps reduce bank and shoreline damage.

Such a complex and important mix of environmental benefits is accomplished by devoting a small amount of space, time and money to the creation of a rain garden. There are only a couple of key decisions you'll need to make: the size of the garden, its location, the mix of native plants and vegetation you'll put in and whether you build it yourself or hire a professional landscaping company to help you.

Rain gardens should be positioned to receive water from downspouts or at a low-point in the lawn where drainage naturally occurs. While the plants grow, you'll need to weed a bit, but a mature rain garden is delightfully easy to maintain. The simpler you keep your design the more involved you can be in both planning and building the garden. But increasingly, driven by consumer demand and interest, there are many professional landscapers and horticulturists who are in the business of designing and building rain gardens.

Visiting well-designed gardens can give you ideas and talking to folks who have them can provide helpful tips on how to do it right.

Rain gardens are aesthetically pleasing to look at and provide habitat for birds, butterflies and beneficial insects-including dragonflies that eat mosquitoes. Once the plants mature, maintenance is relatively low, and beats mowing! Just think-no noise, no gas, and all that free time!

Rain Garden Listserv

The Office of Lakes and Watersheds currently maintains a discussion group for those interested in rain gardens in Dane County. To subscribe, send a blank email to daneraingardens-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. To email the listserv, send email to daneraingardens@yahooogroups.com.

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Yahara Waterways Trail Guide The Yahara Waterways Water Trail Guide is a great resource for exploring our area waters.