Possumhaw: Rain gardens, barrels and bioswales



Shannon Bardwell



"Sometimes the landscaping options made by homeowners miles away can help mitigate flooding damage downstream."


Becca Rodomsky-Bish, Habitat Network.




Here's a little follow-up from last week's Possumhaw on rain and how you might conserve water to make it work for you. Behind the house my mother grew up in was a cistern. By the time I came along it was no longer in use. The cistern was a large round concrete container at a height of about 4 feet. The cistern may have extended down into the ground. At the time the most probable means of collecting water from the cistern was with a bucket. Modern cisterns collect rainwater mostly from runoff on the roofs directed into the cistern by pipes and then pumped into the home for non-drinking purposes. It's unlikely most modern homes would choose a cistern, but it does have its benefits in rural and farm areas. Rainwater is free for the collecting.


Rain gardens are something almost anyone can enjoy if you have an area where rainwater tends to collect or, during storms, causes some degree of flooding. Soil testing is advised to determine if you have a high percentage of clay in the soil like the Prairie. If there is a lot of clay, the soil will need to be amended with topsoil, compost and sand. Otherwise, you are creating a clay bowl.


The placement of the rain garden should be where there is a roof, driveway, walkway, parking area or area that cannot absorb water. Find a ground depression, or make one, or look for the bottom of a slope. A rain garden can be particularly beneficial if rainwater from your property tends to flood over to another's yard or out into the street. An effective rain garden will absorb the rainwater in 24 to 48 hours, thus not allowing for mosquitoes to breed.


The best plants to put in a rain garden are native plants and grasses, shrubs, perennials and flowers. Native plants tend to be low maintenance, while filtering runoff pollutants and nourishing the plants and refilling groundwater. Mature trees should not be too near a rain garden as a tree soaks up a tremendous amount of rainwater.


The Groundwater Foundation website lists a number of community benefits by using rain gardens: They are aesthetically pleasing. Natural vegetation is preserved. They provide localized storm water and flood control, and they attract beneficial birds, butterflies and insects. A rain garden is easy to establish and maintain.


There's also the rain barrel. A rain barrel is normally attached to a gutter downspout and has a spigot at the bottom of the container to access the rainwater for plants and animals. A rain barrel can be made or bought commercially.


A bioswale works like a rain garden but is much larger and used mostly in cities and commercial areas where volumes of storm water can cause flooding and overwhelm a city's sewer system, as well as cause parking area contaminants -- motor oil, antifreeze, gasoline -- to flow into local streams and rivers. The bioswale is also filled with native plants to beautify and purify our collective living space.



Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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