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Why build a rain garden?

Rainwater runoff is full of harmful pollutants that can find their way into South Carolina’s rivers and streams, harming the environment. Runoff from roof tops and driveways picks up all sorts of nasty things like bacteria, fertilizer, and oil as it flows into storm drains. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 70% of all water pollution comes from pollutants carried by rainwater runoff!

However, homeowners can combat environmental runoff issues by incorporating a rain garden into their landscape. A rain garden not only provides beautiful visual interest, but it also serves as a reservoir for yard and roof runoff. Using a rain garden to soak up rainwater runoff is a simple and inexpensive way to help the environment and reduce your risk of flooding

What is a rain garden?

Rain gardens are small, sunken, and shallow areas filled with plants that soak up runoff before toxins can make their way into streams. The plants and soil within the garden filter out pollutants, allowing clean water to be absorbed back into the ground. They can be extremely useful in neighborhoods or other well developed areas, where runoff is a problem. These gardens can also provide habitats for different types of wildlife – but no need to worry about mosquitos! After a heavy rainfall, water in a rain garden should be absorbed within a day, long before any mosquitos have a chance to breed, which can take 10 to 14 days. 

Getting started

Starting a rain garden is easy.

  1. Look for any low areas in your yard. They may be easy to spot if you notice any standing water in your yard after heavy rain. Be sure to avoid placing your rain garden near a septic tank or underground utilities. You also want to be sure the rain garden is at least 10 feet away from your home.
  2. Direct the water away from your home. Bury an underground PVC pipe or use a swale, a shallow ditch that follows the slope of the yard to redirect rainwater runoff. Attractive river rock can be used to line the swale to help channel water to the rain garden.
  3. Prepare the soil for planting. You should always call 811 before doing any digging to have your utilities marked to avoid buried cables and pipes. When determining how deep to make the rain garden, you’ll want to test the area so the garden only captures as much water as will be absorbed within 24 hours after a storm.
  4. Plant your garden with native plants. Homeowners in South Carolina have access to a variety of native plants that will be able to tolerate our state's wet conditions. While rain gardens are relatively low maintenance, you do want to monitor how it’s doing during the first year to ensure your plants thrive and to prevent any backups or flooding. For more information about rain gardens, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service.

While rain gardens are one way to reduce both flooding around your home and your environmental footprint, many homeowners in South Carolina still live in areas with elevated flood risks. Reach out to your local insurance agent to evaluate your homeowner's insurance coverage and see if flood insurance is right for you.