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Photo by Donna Legare: Virginia sweetspire
Guest Article for the Tallahassee Democrat
October 11, 2013
By Donna Legare
It seems a good time to discuss rain gardens since we have had our share of rain this year. A rain garden is simply a shallow depression positioned in your yard to collect rain water that runs off your roof, driveway or patio. The water flows in and is absorbed slowly by the plants in the garden and through the soil as well.
A rain garden is one way of slowing the flow of rain water run-off. Other ways include planting groundcovers such as liriope or ferns on shady slopes and using mulch (leaves, pine straw or wood chips) on exposed soil and terracing steep slopes. You can also build gentle berms to direct run-off away from your house and towards your rain garden.
There are several good choices of plants to include in a rain garden. Choose plants that can take standing water for a few days and that can also live in average garden soil because, most of the time, the rain garden will not have water in it. If the rain garden is in the sun, you can grow native blue flag iris, Louisiana iris and the native wildflower red swamp mallow. Another wildflower for consideration is blue-eyed grass, which is evergreen with dainty blue flowers every spring. Black-eyed Susan is often used as well.
If you prefer to have a tree in your rain garden, river birch or bald cypress are good choices. Observe plants that grow in river flood plains or in cypress domes. These plants are adapted to periodic flooding and periodic dry times.
If you prefer shrubs, consider buttonbush which will get large and has showy white spherical blossoms that butterflies adore. A more compact and evergreen shrub with white winter flowers is the compact form of Walter’s viburnum, known as ‘Best Densa’ or ‘Whorled Class’ Viburnum.
If your rain garden is in the shade, Virginia sweetspire is a wonderful choice. It has white flowers that attract butterflies in spring and bright red/maroon leaves in autumn. It spreads by underground runners so you will eventually have more than one in your rain garden. Bluestem palmetto is another interesting plant for a shady rain garden. It has white flowers in spring and lots of berries for birds in fall. I also love spider lily, a native Hymenocallis. Senecio is another native wildflower that is evergreen and sports showy yellow flowers in springtime.
Some of the native grasses and rushes work nicely in rain gardens. Plant Fakahatchee grass in sun or shade, river oats with its gracefully arching sea oats-like seed stalks in the shade and soft rush in sunny gardens. All three have interesting textures, but be careful with the river oats. It will spread readily by seed and become a mass planting.
For more information, pick up from area nurseries the brochure, Rain Gardens: A How to Manual for Homeowners which is produced by the TAPP Campaign (Think About Personal Pollution) of the City of Tallahassee’s Stormwater Management Department. See their website at www.TAPPwater.org.
Donna Legare is co-owner of Native Nurseries and serves on the Horticulture/Urban Forestry Advisory Committee for Leon County Extension (UF/IFAS). For more information about gardening in our area, visit the UF/ IFAS Leon County Extension website at http://leon.ifas.ufl.edu. For gardening questions, email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov