When planning a rain garden, a few things must be considered before you begin. Is the area in sun or shade? Is it in the right location? What plants should be used?
This article will address plant selection specifically for rain gardens. If you’re not familiar with rain gardens and their many benefits, get to know them here. There’s also a great step-by-step tutorial on how to install a rain garden here, and the San Antonio River Authority has a wealth of information on the subject, too.
Now for the fun stuff — plants! I’ll walk you through two different designs: one for a rain garden located in shade or partial shade and another one for full sun. Remember the plants you place at the base of the rain garden must be tolerant of poor drainage.
For a rain garden in shade, look to nature for inspiration. When you take a stroll near a perennial or ephemeral stream, what do you see growing in the shade? I see Turk’s cap, inland sea oats and frogfruit, among other things. These are some of the plants you want in your rain garden, plants that can handle periods of inundation as well as dry periods and, of course, shade. Turk’s cap, inland sea oats and frogfruit are all beneficial to wildlife — and they’re all included in the Watersaver Landscape Coupon ! They can be placed at the base, sides and/or top of the garden.
For a rain garden in the sun, seek out plants that thrive in sunny spots near streams or dry creek beds. If you’re using the landscape coupon (and why wouldn’t you?), the plants that come to mind are Lindheimer’s muhly grass , gulf muhly grass , snakeherb and frogfruit. Again, these can be placed at the top, sides and base of the rain garden.
Before heading to the nursery, put your design down on paper. Start by
drawing the outline of your rain garden and place the larger specimens first. Be
sure to take into account the
height and width of the plant, all of this information can be found on gardenstylesa.com. Then,
follow with the smaller specimens for your rain garden. You may prefer the look
of one of these plants planted en masse, or you may prefer diversity in the
Whatever your preference, SAWS can help you offset the cost of the planting material with a Watersaver Landscape Coupon . Remember the area transformed from turf to a landscape bed must be at least 200 square feet. If your rain garden is not that large, consider planting the area around the rain garden to equal the minimum square footage required for coupon eligibility. Also, per coupon requirements there must be at least 15 plants in the new landscaped area.
Ready, set, plant a rain garden! You’ll not only improve the aesthetic of your property and water quality of local rivers and streams, but also provide refuge and nectar sources for pollinators and birds.
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About our expert
Sarah Galvan is a conservation consultant and has been passionate about gardening since she was a child. She is an arborist, an herbalist, a Texas master naturalist and holds a native landscape certification. Before coming to SAWS, she worked as a native landscape designer where she focused on supporting native birds and pollinator populations. When she’s not answering garden questions or working on her biology degree she enjoys hiking, kayaking, bird and butterfly watching, and competing in plant identification competitions.
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