Planting for clean water with a rain garden

by Meghan Jackson
Special to Sun Thisweek
Dakota County Tribune

Want a new method of gardening that doesn’t require additional watering or fertilizers, incorporates native plants and looks beautiful?

What is it? It’s a rain garden.

Some gardens are planted for a specific purpose, like growing food to eat, or flower to pick. A rain garden’s purpose is to catch rain and prevent runoff from a roof, driveway, or other hard areas around a home.

Many residents may already be aware of rain gardens and the many benefits they can provide for their properties and water resources. Consisting of a shallow depression planted with attractive flowers, grasses, and shrubs, rain gardens have been gaining popularity for years and examples abound in our area.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that pollutants in stormwater runoff (or non-point source pollution) are responsible for about 70 percent of all water pollution in lakes, rivers and creeks. Since most property is privately owned, we all need to do our part to reduce this type of pollution, and what you plant in your yard to help water soak makes a difference.

When it rains, water runs over the land, and water that does not soak into the ground runs off and picks up pollutants along the way. Rain gardens help to intercept, slow down, and clean some of this stormwater runoff before it can get to our lakes and streams. A rain garden is designed so that any stormwater soaks away within 48 hours after the rain stops, so mosquitoes will not have a chance to reproduce. They are planted just like a regular garden or flowerbed, and if planned and maintained, they can be an amenity for any property.

The major difference between a raingarden and a regular flower garden is that the bed of a rain garden is planted as a depression, rather than in a mound or at ground level. Additionally, rain gardens include mostly native plants that easily adapt to the soil and water conditions in your area.

Including native plants in your rain garden can have many benefits. Not only are native plants best adapted to our local climate, but they are much heartier than non-natives because their roots are generally long and can find their own water. By incorporating native plants into rain gardens, the two will help clean water naturally, since native’s deep rooted systems anchor soil and act as filters, while rain gardens collect dirty water from streets and rooftops.

Native plants are also more valuable than non-natives because of their unique relationship with other local organisms. Nectar, pollen, and seeds for bees, butterflies, birds and other wildlife are just a few ways natives are kind to critters. In addition to providing local food sources, native plants also provide critical habitat for our beautiful and diverse native butterflies, insects, and birds.

You can make a difference starting with your yard. For more information about this new method of gardening and native plants, visit the Blue Thumb website at

Meghan Jackson is a district outreach specialist for the Lower Minnesota River Watershed District. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.