Creating a Rain Garden In Poor Drainage Areas
It's Really Quite Easy. 

I creatd a rain garden in very little time, at a low cost, and with little effort. 
Except for that digging thing.

One of my Louisiana Irises - great for bogs and poor drainage areas


Sweet Flag starts out a bright green, then turns green with gold edges as it matures. It stays evergreen (the garden was designed in USDA zone 8). It has a very "earthy" herbal scent. Tops at 12"wx12" high when mature. Likes wet feet, can even grow immersed in water. Handles drought, and has no pest problems (except for rabbits and i can't say that i blame 'em).

They are mounding plants, and dont' need trimming. Very beautiful when the wind blows, they add movement to your landscape. It can take sun and some shade - i'm going to use it in the foreground of a lot of my plantings. It would make a fabulous lawn replacement plant. 

Below are plants purchased in 1 gall. pots, about 6" high. the sticks mark newly-planted Louisiana Iris and Japanese Iris bulbs. Reminder: do not plant irises deep. Most of my success with irises (photos of my beauties will be posted on this site) is from planting with the top third of the bulb exposed, and ignoring them. 
**They're also a xeriscape star - i haven't watered any variety of my irises in more than 20 years.

Here is the rain garden when it was new. It needs no attention or maintenance.
Apparently, the weeds in the photo have been eliminated at the driveway edge after i took the photo.

The area next to my driveway, the right of way between houses that also leads me to my backyard gets water-logged after every rainy day. The area is not useable for anything. Not even walking across. I didn't want to invest in a french drain or new sump pump system, if i could use the area as a water-loving garden instead. Just like my bog gardens.

The only water the garden gets is from the rain. Plants chosen were especially suited to the environment they're in, my planting zones, and my needs - My gardens need to be self-sufficient, insect- and drought-resistant, resistant to animals whenever possible. I traveled for months at a time. I chose marginal pond plants, bog plants and flowering perennials that like wet or dry feet. 

The bog plants had to also deal with occasional drying out and not need to be always moist or wet. I used non-invasive Louisiana Irises, dwarf irises, japanese irises, Rosa Rugosa (shrub roses), Sweet Flag grasses, and I covered the top with a layer of pea gravel - very pretty when water sits on top. The birds and dragonflies love it there.

Note: You can create rain gardens in multiple planting zones with many of the same plants.

Low maintenance, colorful and fragrant. The areas around the new garden are less saturated, there's less runoff from the driveway into the stormwater drains. No chemical fertilizer needed, no insects except butterflies and dragonflies. I added epsom salts to the growing area after i dug out the garden to give them a "green" boost, and about once a month under each plant. Location of your garden: anywhere rain puddles and runoff hang around for a few days 

How I Created My Rain Garden

Note:Never dig or use earth-moving machinery without checking with the utility 
commission to come out and mark your property for power lines, etc. it's free!


The hardest part is removing all of the grass and weeds from the already soggy area, and digging the holes for the plants. I dug out all the grass carefully by hand, as utility lines are buried in that side of my front yard, and i'm never feeling lucky. 

To find plants suitable for a rain garden to thrive in your hardiness zone, do research online for "marginal pond plants", aquatic plants, or "bog plants". Always ascertain that you're not using an invasive pond or marsh plant.

The "wildly" popular but very invasive Louisiana Yellow Flag Iris is being promoted in certain zones as a good bog garden plant - do NOT use this plant if you are planting near a neighbor or in your front yard. You can place these in a planter to sit on top of the rain garden.

This site has a listing of invasive plants. I admit that I have successfully used some plants considered mildly invasive in my region by controlling the plant's urge to ramble, and keeping them in containers, tubs and pots. Using invasives in covering large, wild areas where there are no neighboring properties, spreading is not a concern, and is ok with me. Do not let your invasives wander into the wild where you cannot control them. If you are not experienced in invasive plant control, you should avoid planting them.

The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center listing of invasive plants.

Remove all the sod, grass, and weeds, outline your garden with stones, or edging if you wish, but remember to leave a small opening where the water naturally flows in to create the wet areas in the first place.

I outlined the back of mine with brick edging left around the property. Recycle landscape materials when you can. My edging is movable - as i expand the water garden, i'll move the brick pavers out a little more. I'll be adding sculptures and rock features as i go along.

Once the grass is eliminated, dig the center of the garden a little deeper than the outer edges. Dig out deeper areas with your trowel or shovel in various areas of your garden to create valleys where water will pool more. Make sure that wherever the water runoff is coming from that originally started you on this project can stillrun into the garden - you can dig a little bit of a downward slant from the source of the runoff to the rain garden.

I added pea gravel to the top to eventually blend in with the other gardens 
i've started and to add a bit of a serene, bright and clean feel to the water area.


My garden was simplified, and i didn't need any heavy machinery to create it.  It can be elaborate as you wish, and some of the info may not apply in your planting zones. But it is an in-depth and practical look at creating rain gardens. This garden was created in USDA Zone 8. Most plants i use can also be used in my USDA Zone 6. Check the hardiness zone map prior to designing and purchasing plants. Most water garden plants are winter hardy.

click the plan for a free download


Download this pretty downspout rain garden design and create a water garden in no time.  
Multiply this plan for planting all downspout areas, and choose shade or sun water-loving plants, accordingly.
Click the pic to start the download.


click here - to view and download a .pdf file with complete 
instructions for creating a rain garden, from the u of nebraska.


Photography Mary Hyland
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