Rain Gardens Are Both Pretty and Practical


IF APRIL SHOWERS LEAVE puddles on the lawn, a rain garden could be the answer. 

“Water that runs off impervious surfaces like roofs and driveways carries pollutants that end up going into the storm water system,” explains Paula Gross, adjunct professor of horticulture at Central Piedmont Community College. “With a rain garden, you can direct water to the garden instead.”

Rain gardens soak up rainwater, preventing runoff that contains pollutants like fertilizer, pesticides, and motor oil from going down the drain and into local waterways. The beds are often sunken bowls densely lined with native species that can tolerate both deluge and drought. And if you live in Mecklenburg County, the county government can help pay for one. It recoups new landscaping costs up to $7,500 through the Urban Cost Share Program. 

“Your garden is part of an ecosystem,” Gross says, and gardeners’ choices make a difference.

Those include deciding what to plant. Lisa Tompkins, owner of It’s Elemental Landscape Design, recommends looking for plants with “swamp” in their names. Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and swamp hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus) are good choices. Or try one of Gross’ favorite native plants for rain gardens below.

Black-Eyed Susan  (Rudbeckia hirta) is a wildflower that produces bright yellow-to-orange, daisy-like flowers with dark brown centers. The perennial thrives in moist soil and tolerates both heat and drought. 

Blazing Star (Liatris spicata) produces bright purple flower heads in July and August. It grows up to four feet tall and prefers moist soil and summer heat and humidity. 

Beautyberry (Callicarpa Americana) is a deciduous shrub known for clusters of magenta berries that appear from June to August. The low-maintenance specimen tolerates clay soil and partial shade and grows up to six feet tall.

Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) grows in clumps and explodes with showy pink plumes in September. The native grasses are easy to grow and make a pretty addition to a rain garden.

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