Here in the Lehigh Valley we have once again survived a few inches of rain in a short period of time. Have you noticed water collecting in your garden or lawn? Are there depressions here and there where water lingers for a day or two after a heavy rain?
You may think of these water logged areas as a problem. Instead, you have an amazing opportunity to grow a fun palette of native plants. It’s called a ‘Rain Garden.’ The bonus is that many of these plants are also bird and butterfly host plants.
Take a look around your landscape and find those wet areas. If you’re not lucky enough to have one, you could dig a shallow depression in the ground to hold rain water. The best way to find the right spot for your rain garden is to observe the flow of water across your yard during a downpour. Don’t place it close to the foundation of the house. A little research on the Internet using the term "rain garden" will provide you with more than enough information on how to size and place a rain garden. Remember, you can keep it simple. It does not have to be an engineering project. A simple depression in the ground can suffice.
The plants I’ve listed below can tolerate the short periods of standing water that occur in a rain garden, and won’t mind being drier if rain is scarce:
- Redbud Tree – beautiful pink flowers, early spring.
- Fringe Tree – fragrant white fluffy blooms, late spring.
- Swamp Rose – a brambly care-free rose that sets hips in the fall that are relished by birds.
- Winterberry Holly – a holly that drops its leaves and holds bright red berries through the winter.
- Joe Pye – my personal favorite, huge mauve blooms that are butterfly magnets.
- Swamp Milkweed – a well-behaved, fragrant milkweed that provides larval food for the monarch butterfly caterpillars.
- Golden Groundsel – a cheery yellow blooming perennial that will move about by seed and fill in gaps in the wet garden.
- Golden Alexander – a butterfly larval host plant that will spread happily by seed to fill damp niches here and there. Yellow, late spring.
Any plants you place in the path of the water as it runs across your yard will help slow the runoff. The water that collects in the rain garden will slowly re-charge the groundwater table. The plants will provide visual delight through four seasons, and provide habitat for birds and butterflies as well. That’s a win-win-win-win proposition!