Many yards have some place that water seems to drain slowly or even have standing water for a few days after a rain. You can curse these spots, regrade your yard to move the water out, or you can take advantage of your luck and plant a rain garden.
Low areas in the lawn are always a problem as it makes mowing difficult. The lawn mower will leave wheel tracks through the mud and the situation seems to get worse and worse. It is best to give up the grass completely in a low spot. In this post, I will give you some idea of the native plants that work well in Durham NC. You can find similar plants native to your area online.
If your low spot is large, you might want to plant water loving trees such as River Birch, Sweetbay Magnolia, Serviceberry, and Bald Cypress.
For shrubs that like damp areas, you can plant Inkberry Holly, Sweetshrub, Clethera, Illicium, Leucothoe, and Wax Myrtle. Winterberry Holly is a great shrub for these locations and they have berries that help to attract birds.
Hibiscus is a plant with large flowers that loves wet areas. There are the “dinner plate” hibiscus as well as the star hibiscus. Some plants that usually like shade such as Cardinal Flower and Cinnamon Fern will grow in full sun if kept consistently wet. Monarda is a great hummingbird attractor as is the Cardinal Flower. Joe Pye Weed and Swamp Milkweed are great butterfly attractors. Swamp Sunflower and the Native Ageratum are late fall bloomers for wet areas. Turtle head is an unusual looking flower that also likes damp soil. For grasses you can add the rushes, Carex, and Acorus. Louisiana Iris and the Virginia Iris also add vertical elements to the rain garden.
So as you can see, there are a lot of possibilities for a poorly drained area of your yard that are way more attractive than a lawn. In fact, you may even decide to run the downspouts from the gutter for your house and intentionally create a rain garden. Any time you can keep water on your property rather than running into the storm sewer it’s a good thing. I run the downspout water into my garden ponds and the overflow for them is a rain garden. Sometimes dipping a bucket of water out of the pond for a thirsty plant in the summer is easier than dragging a hose out to the garden from the house.
We are currently in a drought here in Durham, NC. This is particularly worrisome as it is still winter and winter time is when the lakes get re-filled and the soil moisture gets recharged. We did have some storms last night which helped but heavy quick rain runs off more than it soaks in. The question is how to catch some of the water instead of it running into the storm sewers.
One very common thing is to use rain barrels. Rain barrels are placed under a downspout to catch roof water. The downside of rain barrels is they are relatively small and therefore don’t hold all that much water. When they are full, the water still needs to go somewhere. Often times they are not attractive. They also need to be located at a high point on the property to allow gravity to send the water where you want it when you need it via a hose. They are better than nothing.
Another increasingly more popular option is to install cisterns underground. These can hold a lot of water to be used later in the season when it is dry. Water from the downspouts off the roof is piped into the cisterns. A pump is then used to pump the water out when you need it. The downside to cisterns is their initial cost and finding a space to put them. I have seen collapsible tanks that can be placed under your crawl space or deck. These are a little more affordable solution.
If you can’t collect the water in holding tanks, then a garden pond can be used. This is what I do in Jaliya’s Garden. My downspouts are piped to the pond and the pond fills up with a rain. When the pond is full, it overflows into an area planted with plants that don’t mind being very wet at times. I call this area my “wet meadow”. A similar effect can be done where water runs off your driveway to create a “rain garden”. Water flowing into the rain garden is slowed down from going further, however, during heavy rains, the excess still has to go somewhere.
Some of the plants in our area that work for rain gardens are Joe-Pye Weed, Monarda, Cardinal flower, native Ageratum, rain lily, Virginia iris, Louisiana iris, Swamp sunflower. Some shrubs also like wet areas such as Virginia Sweetspire, Inkberry Holly, Florida Anise, just to name a few. The idea is to take advantage of low wet areas and plant the plants that appreciate such conditions. In doing so, you can also keep some of the water that falls on your property from just going down the storm sewer doing you no good at all.