Try a rain garden in a wet area

Q. I take great pride in my flower and vegetable gardens, except for one huge area where I have a lake every time we have a downpour. I’ve tried flowers, bushes and trees – all of them die. Sure could use some help; any ideas?

Renee Lynn from Austintown

A. I have an idea that will work well and save garden money, too. It’s called a rain garden.

It is used in “dished out” landscapes to capture storm water runoff and allow it to slowly infiltrate into the soil. After a hard rain, look for areas that take a day or more to dry up (like the one you mention). These are perfect places to start a rain garden. Then plant perennials, grasses and/or shrubs that tolerate wet and dry conditions.

Sound advice from the University of Kentucky recommends each homeowner draw a schematic of the lot where you will place the rain garden. Mark the location of the “lake.” You and I don’t need to do the “percolation test” (dig out 12-inch holes in the proposed area; flood with water and time how long to dry out). We know already where it takes 12-36 hours to dry out. There are suggested guidelines for homeowners for the size of a rain garden. The average residential lot totals about 2,400 square feet. A typical residential rain garden that captures about 25 percent of the runoff from a typical lot will be no larger than 60 square feet (e.g. 6 feet by 10 feet).

In the rain garden, the water is absorbed by the plants/soil and does not overflow into sewers, putting extra strain on the township sewage system. Rain gardens have been called the green way to stop storm water runoff and erosion.

Rain gardens do require some heavy digging, but there are smart shortcuts to take. Instead of digging through the lawn, cover the area with cardboard for two to three weeks. Rake up the dead grass and start digging out a 6-inch deep bed.

Toss the removed subsoil to the outer downside edge of the garden making a berm (it will be higher than the upside of the garden), so that the soil and plants will have more time to absorb the rainwater. Pack down the berm soil, level and cover with erosion control fabric and rocks on the downslope edge. Place a pipe or rocks (weir) through the berm so that some overflow water can escape the garden. Fill with topsoil, then plant your native and water-loving perennials. Cover with 2 inches of mulch, taking care to expose the stems of the plants.

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