Storm Water Management in Your Wildlife Garden

Recent events have shown us how powerful the effects of water can be after a major storm. While I’m certainly not advocating that a few well-placed bioswales or rain gardens could have saved the NY and NJ metro areas from Hurricane Sandy, we do need to start talking more seriously about managing storm water on many levels, including in our own gardens.

It’s easy to forget that even during  an average rain fall, hundreds, even thousands of gallons of rainwater may be flowing out of our gardens and into nearby sewers and waterways. Storm water is a resource we can’t afford to waste. As eco-conscious gardeners, we need  to manage storm water on site so it is filtered, cleaned and directed back into the soil to recharge groundwater.

Many cities and states, including my home state of Connecticut, are beginning to realize that investing in green infrastructure to manage storm water on several different fronts will pay benefits for years to come. Storm water pond and ditches, bio-retention areas and even tourist attractions like the Highline in New York City are all examples of green infrastructure. On a smaller scale, rain barrels and residential rain gardens can be, too.

Greening Our Infrastructure

A new website, www.reducerunoff.org, a collaborative effort of Save the Sound and the University of Connecticut Center for Land Use Education and Research’s (CLEAR) NEMO Program, hopes to educate homeowners, commercial property owners and municipalities  on the importance of storm water management.

While the green infrastructure projects and incentives (including several $1,500 grants for homeowners to build a rain garden!) highlighted on the site are geared towards Connecticut residents, most of the information is pertinent no matter where you live. To find information that is targeted for your area, simply perform an internet search with the name of your hometown + storm water management. You may be amazed at the resources that are available to you.

Tips For Your Garden

The website reviews many ways to reduce storm water runoff in your garden including:

◊ Get a rain barrel. Rain barrels are a simple aspect of green infrastructure that many gardeners are already using.  If cost is an issue, here’s a how to make your own rain barrel video from Clemson University.

◊ If your downspouts are tied directly into the sewer system, disconnect your downspouts and instead divert the water directly into your garden. If you’re especially creative, you can harvest the runoff to feed a water feature for the wildlife in your garden. Here’s a step-by-step guide to disconnecting your downspouts to make sure you don’t accidentally flood your basement.

◊ A green roof or blue roof can capture storm water runoff. Look into whether one might be right for your home and garden.

◊ Install a rain garden.  Initially, this may seem like a pretty intimidating project since there’s more to it than simply digging a hole and adding some plants.  Fortunately, there are many reputable online resources to help homeowners create rain gardens, including Rain Gardens:  A Design Guide for Homeowners from UCONN,  Rain Garden fact sheet from Rutgers, Building a Backyard Rain Garden from the NC Cooperative Extension and Creating a Rain Garden in Your Yard from the town of Maplewood, MN. Many recommended rain garden plants are native plants so make sure you choose plants for your rain garden that are native to your region.

A formal seating area with permeable gravel hardscaping.

◊ Reduce impervious surfaces on your property. Impervious surfaces can include driveways, walkways, patios and terraces. While current garden design trends do seem to be focusing on creating more and more hardscaped areas in gardens for features such as fire pits or secondary entertaining areas, they do not need to be built on impenetrable slabs that create more issues with storm water runoff.

If you’re thinking about adding or updating hardscaping in your garden, check out this price comparison of different permeable options.

These are just a few of the ways you can begin to capture more storm water in your wildlife garden. Other ideas include reducing the size of your lawn and planting the kinds of plants that help with flood control, and planting in multiple layers to help protect wildlife and slow down the path of water during storms.

What are you doing in your garden to manage storm water runoff?  How is your community embracing storm water management?

© 2012 – 2013, Debbie Roberts. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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Comments

  1. says

    Debbie
    great post! stormwater is actually how I got into growing native plants! Homeowners are encouraged to plant native plant shoreline buffers along their lake properties to stop runoff into the lake and to install rain gardens to catch and infiltrate runoff from their roof tops – but there was no local source of the plants around us where I am in upstate NY! And while there are of course many other benefits to planting native plants – protecting our local waterways is a very big one! We are seeing more and more rain gardens going in every day – some of the local planning boards are actually requiring them.

    • says

      Emily, I can only imagine how important the topic is up in the Lake George region. When I was growing up we had a camp on a small lake in that area and I’m hrrified when I think back to the things we used to put in the lake without any regard for what we might be doing to the water and everything that lives in it. I’m thrilled to hear that some planning boards are requiring rain gardens. When I was researching this post I was pleasantly surprised to find that CT is actualy offering $ incentives for homeowners to create rain gardens…hopefully they’ll extend the program to my county, too.
      Debbie recently posted..Managing Storm Water in Your Garden

Trackbacks

  1. […] As shoreline homes are developed around many lakes, the forest is removed and replaced with large houses and lawns right down to the shoreline of the lake.  Many states are now working to educate homeowners about protecting their investment in their waterfront properties by maintaining – or restoring a shoreline buffer of native vegetation. Shoreline buffers stabilize soil and prevent erosion, filter pollutants and absorb nutrients, and provide food and habitat for local wildlife.  And even if you don’t live on a shoreline, there are other ways you can use native plants in your yard to help protect local waterways from the effects o… […]

  2. […] As shoreline homes are developed around many lakes, the forest is removed and replaced with large houses and lawns right down to the shoreline of the lake.  Many states are now working to educate homeowners about protecting their investment in their waterfront properties by maintaining – or restoring a shoreline buffer of native vegetation. Shoreline buffers stabilize soil and prevent erosion, filter pollutants and absorb nutrients, and provide food and habitat for local wildlife.  And even if you don’t live on a shoreline, there are other ways you can use native plants in your yard to help protect local waterways from the effects o… […]

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