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.
◊ 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.
◊ 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?
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