Plant Life Balance

What’s a rain garden? Glad you asked. You’ll want one after reading this

Your physically distanced weekend plans, sorted. Harness the goodness of nature by building your very own backyard rain garden.

It’s an ongoing theme of living in Australia – if we’re not in a drought, there’s likely one just around the corner. That’s why Aussies have to be extremely vigilant in ensuring we’re doing our best to conserve one of our most precious resources: water.

A big part of this is not using more of it than we need to, but what about making the most of it when it’s falling from the skies? Enter…the humble rain garden!

What is a rain garden?

In simple terms, a rain garden is a system which uses gravity and the natural filtering properties of soil and plants to make the most out of rain water. These systems are designed to allow rain water to run off from hard surfaces, such as pavements, driveways, rooftops, etc; feed surrounding soils and plants; and filter that water before it reaches the drainage system, and eventually our rivers and creeks.

Rain gardens also act as a great habitat for our flora and fauna, making it a win-win for sustainability and biodiversity.

Rain gardens can come in all shapes and sizes depending on their purpose and location. The wetlands in Sydney Park, for example, are essentially a large-scale rain garden that filters around 850 million litres of stormwater per year. When it comes to backyard rain gardens, there’s a variety of designs to choose from including above-ground planter boxes and in-ground gardens.

Making a rain garden doesn’t have to be a big or complicated affair – if you have a backyard and would like to make the most of your rainwater, you can quite easily and cheaply make one yourself.

How to create your own simple, in-ground rain garden

NB: If your rain garden requires any modifications to stormwater connections, it’s essential that you engage a qualified plumber to help you. If you’re unsure, check in with your local council before getting started.

The first step in building a simple in-ground rain garden is to hunt for a shallow spot or depression in the ground that will be able to capture rain when it falls. It won’t be hard to spot around your house – look out for the areas that have a declining gradient, or where you’ve previously found water settles after a big rain. Just ensure that you’ve chosen somewhere that is at least 3m away from your house.

Begin planting perennials that are able to tolerate wet conditions AND dry spells for during the warmer seasons when your region doesn’t get a lot of rain. It’s also recommended that at least 50% of these are nitrogen-fixing species – sounds complex, but these are just plants that suck up nutrients (ask at your local Plant Life Balance accredited nursery if you need help with identifying these).

Experts recommend choosing native or indigenous plant varieties to start with – they are the perfect choice because of their drought-tolerance and low maintenance caring needs. Native grasses and rushes are also known to have extensive deep root systems which will work great with the rain. Be sure to mix it up and have a diverse range of species in the garden.

Then, it’s maintain, maintain, maintain! Take precious care of your rain garden in the first year, removing weeds, checking in on plant growth and making sure water is distributing evenly. It’s a good idea to place large rocks strategically at the entrance so that rain doesn’t damage your baby plants early on – and you can use these to get decorative, too! Don’t mulch with things like wood chips or bark, as they tend to float away with heavy rain – gravel mulch works much better as it suppresses weeds and helps to retain water.

To get advice on which plants will be the best options for your rain garden, get in touch with your nearest Plant Life Balance accredited nursery to get all the personalised advice you need. If you would like to try your hand at building a more technical rain garden, this guide from Healthy Waterways is a great place to start.

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