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How Rain Gardens help the Chesapeake Bay, and How to Create Them

Rain Garden by the U. Minn Extension Service


Also at the U.MN, notice they’ve used the dry-soil-loving sedum at the top? Then at lower levels they’ve used plants that tolerate changing water levels.


Rain Garden at Fannie Norwood Memorial Home in Washington, D.C.


How Rain Gardens help the Chesapeake Bay, and How to Create Them

Development in Maryland and Virginia has exploded in recent years and we have witnessed the conversion of rural areas to urban. This conversion has created increased impervious cover, such as roads, sidewalks and roofs. This in turn has increased the amount of stormwater runoff. Problems created by runoff include increased pollutants and temperatures in waterways, and increased flooding.

A great way to minimize the impact of storm water runoff is bioretention. Rain gardens are a form of bioretention that can be implemented on an individual level and have a significant impact on water quality locally and regionally. A rain garden collects water runoff and stores it, permitting it to be filtered and slowly absorbed by the soil. This is a small contribution that anyone can make to help improve the water quality in our region.

A rain garden should be placed so that impervious surfaces drain into the depressed area. Impervious surfaces can include a patio, driveway, roof (downspouts), large lawn, or any other surface that water does not penetrate.

Components of a Rain Garden

  • A grass buffer strip around the garden will slow the velocity of the runoff  and filters particulates from the runoff.
  • A mulch/organic layer provides for the decomposition of organic material and helps in the removal of metals from the runoff. Shredded hardbark allows the maximum surface area for binding and resists floatation and washout.
  • Plants that can tolerate both wet and dry conditions go at the bottom.  At the very top it’s best to use plants that like it dry.   More qualities to look for in the plants include their ability to cycle and assimilate nutrients, pollutants and metals.  The Virginia Extension Service has a good list.
  • A soil layer is where the plant roots will collect the moisture and nutrients for their growth. The soil layer will also absorb heavy metals, hydro carbons and other pollutants.
  • A sand bed beneath the soil layer further slows runoff. The sand helps prevent anaerobic conditions in the planting soil.
  • A ponding area or depression of the garden will provide the storage needed for the runoff. The surface area must be level for maximum infiltration.
  • A berm that is at least 6” of soil that works like a dam to pond the runoff.

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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