Soak Up the Rain With Rain Gardens

— Written By

Q: What is a rain garden?

 A:        Many areas of the county have been fortunate to receive fairly routine rain showers over the past couple of weeks. Sometimes though we may have received too much rain at one time causing run off in our gardens and landscapes. Rain gardens are a fairly new concept that has been catching on in many home landscapes over the past years to help slow down water run off and direct water through the soil into ground water instead of storm drains.

The idea of rain gardens came about because of the growing concern over storm water. At a home, there are many hard surfaces that water runs off of as it travels to a storm drain. After a rain, hard surfaces like roofs, driveways, and sidewalks often fill up with water. This water travels over the hard surfaces into a storm drain and then to nearby streams, rivers, and other bodies of water. The problem is that as the water runs over these hard surfaces, the water is picking up any material that is on the surface, like pollutants, oils, fertilizers, etc. Whatever pollutants the water is picking up is being carried with the water into local water sources. Another problem with water runoff is that it also causes soil erosion, picking up much needed top soil and carrying it away.

Rain gardens are a way that the home gardener can help improve water quality while still having an attractive landscape. Rain gardens are not ponds and are not designed to hold water permanently. Instead, rain gardens are designed to collect runoff after a rain and allow the water to slowly infiltrate into the soil over a couple of hours. By allowing the water to slowly seep into the soil, you are doing a couple of things. One is that you are allowing the soil and plant roots to remove pollutants from the water before the water ends up in a stream or river. The second thing you are doing is slowing down the water so that it does not cause as much soil erosion as it travels to a storm drain.

Rain gardens are a man-made depression in the ground that is filled with plants that can tolerant standing in water for a few hours and also tolerant dry weather when there is no rain. Rain gardens can be designed to suit any type of landscape. Rain gardens can be different sizes and shapes and there are a wide varieties of plants to choose from, everything from trees and shrubs to perennials and ornamental grasses.

Rain gardens are not hard to plan or install but there are some important points to keep in mind. Before grabbing the shovel and buying plants, you want to spend some time observing your lawn and landscape during heavy rains. Make note of where the water travels during these rains and in what direction. Pay particular attention to where the water goes from the downspouts at your house and how it travels to the storm drain. Make note of areas where erosion often occurs during a rain. You will want to place your rain garden in a location to catch the water before it reaches a storm drain.

As for plant selection, a rain garden should consist of plants that can tolerate the extreme conditions during very wet and dry periods. Plants in a rain garden can include groundcovers, perennials, shrubs, trees, and ornamental grasses. This website also has all the in’s and out’s of rain gardens, including rain garden plans.

For your gardening, landscape, and lawn questions contact the Wayne County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Plant Clinic on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The plant clinic is a free service open to any Wayne County resident that has home gardening questions. One can reach the Wayne County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Plant Clinic by phone at 919-731-1433, e-mail at, or stopping by Room 100 of the Wayne County Extension Office (208 West Chestnut Street, Goldsboro). People contacting the plant clinic with questions are encouraged to bring samples and/or pictures that could help in reaching a solution. Extension Master Gardeners are trained volunteers with the Wayne County N.C. Cooperative Extension Service.

Learn More!

  • Subscribe to Wayne County Gardening e-newsletter and receive timely gardening information and announcements of upcoming extension gardening events.
    • To subscribe: Visit: Scroll down to enter your email address in the “address” box and click on the subscribe button. You will then receive an e-mail which will direct you to a website to accept the subscription.

Jessica Strickland is an Agriculture Extension Agent, specializing in horticulture for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Wayne County. Horticulture program information can be found at Forward any questions you would like answered from this week’s column to

 Upcoming Wayne County Extension Gardening Programs

  • Listen to our new gardening radio show “What’s Growing with Jessica Strickland” on Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. The show airs on 730 a.m. WFMC.
  • Save the Date for National Honey Bee Day Celebration on Saturday, August 20th from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Old Waynesborough Park in Goldsboro. The event will be educational and lots of fun for the entire family. There will be many activities for kids and parents to enjoy. From the children activity center the “Bee Hive” to checking out the beekeeping vendors, crafts, listening to live music and lots of good food.