Grow a Rain Garden

Harness rain and put it to good use in your garden.

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Instead of letting rain vanish down the drain, use it to make a gorgeous meditative garden. Create a rain garden by excavating a shallow depression, planting it with species adapted to flooding and drying, and then steering runoff from your rooftop into the pit (you do this by running a pipe under the ground from the downspout to the garden). In the Midwest, a rain garden might include columbines, monkey flowers, and brown-eyed Susans. In the Southwest, you might plant mesquite, acacia, or willow trees. Your local agricultural extension office (go to this site to find information on yours) can suggest appropriate plants.

Rain gardens are good in all kinds of ways. Catching the runoff reduces storm-sewer overflow, which pollutes waterways with motor oil, pet waste, lawn chemicals, and other contaminants. What's more, rain gardens allow water to percolate into the ground, where it recharges wells and creeks. Mosquitos? No worries, a rain garden drains long before eggs would hatch.

Cost: A typical 10-by-15-foot garden, which would accomodate runoff from about 600 square feet of rooftop, would cost about $600 to $900 to build yourself and about $1,500 to $1,800 if installed by a landscape professional.

Savings: You may be able to earn a discount on your storm-water bill by reducing the area of your property that directs runoff into storm sewers. Check with your water district or public works department (look on your water bill for the customer-service number).

Installation: Do it yourself or hire a landscape professional.

We Like: Rain Gardens: A How-To Manual for Homeowners, which can help you determine whether your site is well-suited to a rain garden and how to design one, step-by-step, if it is. Go to this site for a pdf of the homeowner's manual.

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