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Planting a rain garden is the easiest way to help protect the bays and waterways on Delmarva.

Rain gardens collect stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces and allow the water to slowly percolate into the soil, keeping pollutants out of the waterways while allowing the groundwater to recharge, according to the Delaware Center for inland Bays (CIB).

CIB offers a simple “how-to” guide  to walk you through the process of planting a rain garden in your own yard.

Katie Goerger, communications specialist at the Center for Inland Bays, explains the benefits of rain gardens and simple steps you can take to plant one.

What is a rain garden and why is it essential to the environment, especially in Sussex County?

A rain garden is a “garden with a mission.” As rain water runs off of hardened “impervious” surfaces like rooftops, driveways, roads and parking lots, it collects harmful pollutants that can wind up in our streams and Inland Bays.

Rain gardens are designed to catch this runoff before it reaches our waterways. These low-lying depressions (generally 4”-8” deep) are planted with native plants and allow rain water and runoff to slowly percolate and filter into the absorbent soil.

Rain gardens can also reduce street flooding, recharge our groundwater supply, decrease local costs to maintain storm drains and provide habitat for native critters like songbirds, frogs, butterflies and other pollinators.

How many rain gardens would DE Inland Bays like to have and how many are there currently?

Because they are so beneficial, we would like the Inland Bays watershed to have as many rain gardens as possible. We would love to see rain gardens used more by homeowners, communities, schools, garden clubs, churches and businesses. Anyone with the space to make one is the goal. There is currently one at Millsboro Middle School.

For someone with good intentions who wants to create a rain garden, but has zero experience planting a single plant, how does the Inland Bays get involved?

The CIB offers a simple “how-to” guide (online and in print) to walk you through the process, from choosing a location in your yard to picking the plants you like, and putting it all together.
In seven steps, you will be up and running and preserving the environment.

How much space do you need to create a rain garden and how much effort does it take to maintain one?

A rain garden’s size will depend on the amount of water that will be draining into it and how absorbent the soil is. There are a few considerations to make when selecting a space on your property:

  • Can the area collect water from a downspout, driveway or other paved area?
  • Is the area generally level?
  • Is the area at least 10 feet away from the roots, building foundations, utilities and septic drainfields?
  • Does the area tend to collect and “pond” water?  If so, consider an alternate location. 

What about native plants? What is their role and why are they more efficient than non-native plants?

The beauty of a rain garden is that it utilizes native plants that are adapted to our local soil and climate. Once your rain garden is established (some watering and maintenance required), it will not need much additional help outside of cutting back some dead vegetation in the spring, removing invasive species (if any pop up) and possibly re-mulching.

The native plants will re-emerge each year on their own. Because the maintenance is not rigorous, this not only saves you on time, but also prevents the unnecessary use of fertilizers that can pollute our waterways when using non-native species.

For a first-time gardener, what are some easy-to-plant native plants?

In our guide “Create Your Own Rain Garden,” there is a simple “Plant Selection Guide” that will help you pick out the best plants to suit your property; it also helps you take into consideration the amount of sunlight your yard gets, how much room you have and even the critters each plant attracts.

Is the rain garden seasonal or can it be year-round?

A rain garden will capture runoff year-round, though the plants and their blooms are naturally seasonal. At the end of the growing season, you can leave the seed heads and stems for winter; a cover for wildlife and food for birds. In spring, the new growths will emerge.

What is the difference in functioning of a rain garden compared to a rain barrel?

Rain barrels and rain gardens are both great ways to reduce stormwater runoff from hardened “impervious” surfaces, but they do so in very different ways.

A rain barrel is designed to collect rainwater from your rooftop and hold it for later use — perhaps to water your garden. Alternatively, a rain garden collects rainwater from various types of impervious surfaces and filters it: the plant roots and layers of absorbent soil and rock remove nutrients, sediment and other pollutants from the water as it percolates slowly into the groundwater.

Will a rain garden attract mosquitoes, and if so, what are some recommendations to combat that while still helping the environment?

A properly placed and designed rain garden will not attract or host mosquitos because it will allow water to filter into the soil, not create an area of permanent sitting water.

This means that it is important to pay special attention to where on your property you place your garden. If you have wet patches or areas that "pond" on your property, you should choose a different site for your rain garden which will allow water to seep into the soil within 48 hours.

How costly is it to start one? Can you do this on a budget?

If you do it yourself, your basic costs will be for plants, material to amend the soil and for mulch. These costs will vary depending on the size of the garden and how much amending the soil requires. When buying plants, plan for about $3–$5 per square foot; more for shrubs and trees.

PLANT A RAIN GARDEN

Visit the Center for Inland Bays website at https://www.inlandbays.org/ or call 302-226-8105

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