Is a Rain Garden a Bog Garden?

hergrammy(z6SWMO)October 7, 2007

I am struggling with a new yard in a new subdivision. The drainage is absolutely awful. I am in a downhill lot and cannot get the lawn established because of the run-off. I need something to make the water slow down, but cannot divert to neighbor's yard. Have just recently been reading about Rain Gardens and wonder if anyone has any experience with them. I am in SW Missouri (zone 6) where it's either drought or flood. Any plants would need to be tolerant of both conditions - and full sun.

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gardenphotographer(Zone 5 WI)

Hi Hergrammy,

The short answer. No. Rain gardens are not bogs.

The long answer. Bogs have water in them all of the time. Bogs are usually composed of a sphagnum moss substrate (not dirt), are acidic, and are nutrient poor (no runoff from a fertilized lawn). Bogs are not a good solution for your problem.

On the other hand, rain gardens are perfect for the situation that you described (rapid lawn runoff where you can't grow lawn). Check with your local University Extension office or Master Gardener group for a list of rain garden plants in your area. They will also have a brochure on how to construct a rain garden.

With that said, let me give you a brief overview of the concept. At the low spot in your yard, you want to essentially dig a wide pit. You want to trap most of the runoff after a rain event. The floor of the pit should be level (you need to measure this with a level and dig out the high spots with a shovel). The low spot of your pit should be about 3 - 6 inches below grade (you want the water to pool). The shape of the rain garden can be rectangular or kidney shaped. It should be sized to about 20 percent of your roof area. That is, if your roof is 1,000 square feet then the rain garden should be at least 200 square feet. The idea is to channel the rain that falls on your roof into the rain garden and the water should be held there for some time.

Plant the rain garden with wet prairie native plants (again consult with your Extension / Master Gardener group). Most of the native plants will be sedges and grasses. You should also plant with several pretty flowering forbs like milkweed, joe pye weed, and others. After a year or two, you'll have a very attractive garden that is maintenance free and stops rain runoff as well. It's a great project.

Hope this helps.


    Bookmark   October 9, 2007 at 8:49AM
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I'm not sure this would be completely useful in my situation. We are downhill from a very large house (10,000 sq. ft.),with a huge concrete parking/driveway. My entire yard is a low spot. As little as a half inch rain causes two major rivers with water flowing on down to the street. What disturbs me is the waste of rainwater and the soil erosion. I suppose there is also a certain amount of contaminate flowing into a natural waterway on downhill further. Perhaps what is needed is something more like a cistern. I'm thinking a 6 inch deep pit wouldn't be enough and would only make a little shelf for a waterfall. It seems there is one small spot where water stands for several days and I think a rain garden might work there. I have a little experience with native plants and grasses and am a Master Gardener. Will check the files but I doubt there is any info in this state.
Thank you for your response. I was sort of fishing to see if anyone else had experience with a Rain Garden or if there is another forum. Apparently not. But, you were kind to respond.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2007 at 8:29AM
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Hi. We have problems in Western Australia because of our dry climate, seasonal rain and extremely sandy soil which causes run-off and a lack of absorption of water by the soil. To counteract this, we need to use water crystals or some type of granule like 'Wettasoil' that allows the water to soak into that substance instead of running off down the road or away from the soil. It is a huge problem here. You must try to get as much organic matter into your soil as possible and this will help retain the rain water. Growing plants will also help to retain the water.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2007 at 9:48AM
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Thanks to this forum for letting me vent. During the past few days I have been reading everything I can find about this problem and thinking and thinking and Aha! - I finally realized that the solution is indeed the soil. I need to counteract my heavy clay, which, like your sand, Wildflower7, is causing the rapid runoff. Not sure what Wettasoil is - would it be a type of Gypsum? Plan is to form some small terraces to slow the water some and then fill with gravel at bottom and compost top with some native plant material.
Thanks to you both.

    Bookmark   October 10, 2007 at 10:09PM
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gardenphotographer(Zone 5 WI)

Below is a link to my states Department of Natural Resources guide to building rain gardens. There is lots of information on this site. More for you to read and see if you can adapt it to your conditions.


Here is a link that might be useful: Rain Gardens

    Bookmark   October 12, 2007 at 8:09AM
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