Rain gardens help environment, by Donna Peppin

Rain gardens have been gaining popularity throughout the Upper Peninsula, and for good reason. You don’t need a big yard, a lot of time or money to create a rain garden. These gardens help protect our valuable water resource and turn a dull yard into a beautiful landscape.
Development is on the rise, creating more runoff, which carries pollutants into storm drains. Rain gardens help to catch and filter pollutants before they get into our water systems. As the rainy season begins, rain gardens offer a unique way to turn a wet low area into an oasis while protecting the groundwater.
As development increases, more pressure is being put on our native ecosystems. Impervious surfaces associated with development, such as rooftops, driveways and roads, are areas where rainwater tends to run off. These surfaces increase the chance for pollution to enter our waterways through storm drainage systems, including sewers and open ditches, which flow untreated to streams and lakes. Construction activity on development sites usually compacts the soil, limiting the ground’s capacity to absorb water and filter storm water. Studies confirm that seventy percent of pollution in rivers, lakes and streams is carried by storm water.
A rain garden is an attractive, landscaped feature planted with perennial native plants, grasses and shrubs. These are beautiful gardens, built around the outflow of rain gutters or in depressions or low spots in a yard. These gardens are designed to absorb and filter rain that would normally run off into the storm drain, carrying a variety of pollutants with it.
Building a rain garden can be a fairly simple process, involving a shovel and a bit of physical energy. There is no rain garden too small or too big, any size can contribute to solving local water quality problems and will be a beautiful addition to a property.
There are some basic steps to consider before creating a rain garden. First, choose the location and size of the garden. It should be a low spot, near a down spout of the roof, and at least ten feet away from the house. Next, evaluate the soil. This will help determine the existing drainage and pH of the soil. Develop a design, prepare the site to direct drainage to the garden, select a number of native plants, plant the garden and continue to care for the newly planted native species until they become well established.
By planting a rain garden, you can:
• Enhance the beauty of individual yards and communities
• Help alleviate problems associated with flooding and drainage
• Provide habitat and food for wildlife including birds and butterflies
• Help remove pollutants, sediment and debris carried by runoff
• Help increase the amount of water that filters into the ground, which recharges groundwater
• Save money. Rain gardens help reduce the amount of lawn you need to maintain and require no pesticide or fertilizer applications.
Planting a rain garden may seem like a small thing, but when you calculate the amount of rain running off your roof, it adds up. By creating a rain garden, you can become a part of the solution to storm water pollution. If you would like more information about how you can create your very own rain garden, call Donna at 226-2461, ext. 122.
The Michigan Groundwater Stewardship Program (MGSP) is designed to help residents and farmers identify ways to reduce the risk of groundwater contamination associated with the application of pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers. Programs are both voluntary and confidential and aim to maintain a focus on the financial and technical constraints that drive everyday decisions. MGSP is a cooperative effort between Michigan Department of Agriculture, Michigan State University Extension, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and Michigan AmeriCorps.
—Donna Peppin

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