Saturday, April 6, 2013

Plants for Rain Gardens

A Black Swallowtail Butterfly feeds on Lobelia species in a Rain Garden in Galloway TWP,  NJ.

A rain garden is a shallow depression either natural or man-made in which you can direct storm water runoff from a roof or other impervious areas of the yard where water does not drain readily. It can be used to direct water from around the base of your home to other parts of your yard and away from storm water drains where it can negatively affect streams and rivers or other bodies of water. A rain garden is a great way for you as an eco-conscious gardener to have an impact on the environment through gardening.


Rain gardens help to:

 recharge the aquifer so as to maintain adequate ground water levels.

improve water quality by filtering storm water and diverting it away from streams, rivers, bays and the ocean.

provide a mecca for wildlife such as song birds, hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and other pollinators.

beautify yards and public spaces.

provide a mecca for wildlife such as song birds, hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and other pollinators.

By creating a rain garden you can help protect our streams and rivers.  The Mullica River in South Jersey, pictured, is home to many native plant communities, containing species such as Sneezeweed, Cardinal Flower New York Ironweed, Rattlesnake Master and Sunflowers. Some of these same species also work well in the rain garden.

Plant selection

Ideally plants used in a rain garden should be able to tolerate standing water as well as periods of drought. The following is a list of plants that I have observed to meet that criteria:

Herbaceous plants
Seaside Goldenrod
Blue Vervain
Blue Eyed Grass
Slender Blue Flag
Foxglove Beardtongue
Purple Coneflower
Swamp Milkweed
Common Milkweed
Giant Purple Hyssop
Rattlesnake Master
Mountain Mint Blue
Trumpet Creeper

Sweet Pepperbush
Wild Black Cherry
Sweet Bay Magnolia
Red Twig Dogwood
Chokeberry (Red or Black)
Inkberry Holly

Little Bluestem
Northern Sea Oats

Always begin by first testing your soil, to determine what you have. You can then select plants based on that information or amend the soil to accommodate certain plants you may desire. I find that planting according to your conditions is easier than altering them. You also want to stay away from utilities so be sure to call for a mark out before you dig. For more information on building a rain garden, including specifications, go to and download the Rain Garden Manual.