Rain Gardens

The Issue: Polluted Runoff and Residential Flooding

Incorporate rain gardens into your stormwater management strategy to reduce flooding in your neighborhood and protect local streams from contamination.

Polluted Stormwater Runoff

When rain falls on your property but does not soak into the ground, it travels across the landscape instead. We call this stormwater runoff. As the runoff flows over lawns and roads, it picks up whatever it comes into contact with, such as lawn fertilizer, road salt, car oil, pet waste and more. Yuck.

The once clean rainwater is contaminated by all the pollutants on the landscape. The stormwater eventually enters local rivers and streams through storm drains that drain directly to waterways. As you can imagine, polluted stormwater runoff contaminates our rivers and streams.

Residential Flooding

Water that is not absorbed into the ground can cause trouble for homeowners as well. Stormwater runoff can overwhelm storm sewer infrastructure and local rivers, which can lead to flooding in our home and neighborhoods.

What can you do? Create a Rain Garden!

What’s a rain garden?

A rain garden is simply a shallow depression in your yard that’s planted with native plants that are accustomed to wet conditions. Rain gardens help to collect and filter rainwater and allow it to seep naturally into the ground. This helps to reduce the amount of pollutants and rainwater runoff reaching our streams and can help recharge groundwater aquifers. They also provide habitat for wetland fauna and enhance the beauty of your yard.

A rain garden is a depressed area in your yard that is planted with native vegetation and collects rainwater and allows it to seep into the ground.

Benefits of Rain Gardens at a Glance

1. Rain Gardens protect local streams and rivers.

Many of the streams in northeastern Illinois are affected by pollutants carried in rainwater that runs off our urban landscape. Non-source pollutants from our yards include excess nutrients and pesticides from lawn chemicals and pet waste. By keeping runoff out of storm drains, rain gardens help protect water quality in local lakes and streams.

Not only are the pollutants harmful to our streams, but the large amount of water that rushes through the storm sewers and into the streams erodes banks and causes downstream flooding. Rain gardens filter this water through the native plants deep roots system into the ground rather than rush into the streams. This also helps protect you and your neighbors from local flooding and drainage problems.

2. Rain Gardens are planted with beautiful, hardy, low-maintenance native perennial plants.

Once the plants are established, rain gardens can be maintained similarly to traditional flower beds but do not require fertilizer.

3. Rain Gardens provide food and shelter for birds, butterflies and beneficial insects, such as mosquito-devouring dragonflies!

Resources to Help You Create Your Rain Garden

Conservation@Home

Get advice on how to create a rain garden in your yard through The Conservation Foundation’s Conservation@Home program. They have plenty of resources for creating native plant gardens and will even visit your yard for an on-site consultation. Learn more about Conservation@Home here.

Build Your Own Rain Garden Guide

View this guide developed by The Conservation Foundation to help you use native plants to solve water problems on your property.

A How-To Natural Landscaping Guide

This guide contains more information about using native plants in your landscaping. Deep-rooted native plants infiltrate more rainwater into the soil than turfgrass.

Where can I buy native plants for my rain garden?

Many local organizations like the forest preserve districts, soil and water conservation districts and other environmental organizations hold spring plant sales that offer native plants and sometimes “rain garden kits.”

Check out these local plant sources:

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