Plant a rain garden to help our lakes and rivers

When we moved in to our new-to-us home, the previous owners told us that a “little water” gathered in the backyard after heavy rains. We must have different definitions of little.

Our "seasonal" pond

Our “seasonal” pond

It was more like a seasonal pond.

We thought about trying to repair the underground drain that ran from our backyard, underneath the driveway and fed into the city’s sewer runoff drains, but it was going to be expensive. Plus, I’d always wanted to install a rain garden.

A rain garden is designed to grow in a natural or man-made depression that fills with water after a rain. The deep-rooted native plants filter the water back into the ground. This helps keep water clean by filtering the runoff before it enters local waterways or, in other words, it filters pollutants out of the water so they don’t go into our rivers and lakes.

In 2014, we worked with our local Soil & Water Conservation District and Naturally Native Nursery. Becky Simpson from OSWCD and her staff did a site evaluation and helped us by providing support materials and information on how to prepare the site.

Site evaluation

Site evaluation

“Keeping our water sources clean is a major focus for Ottawa SWCD and rain gardens are one way homeowners can do their part to keep Lake Erie healthy,” said Simpson, education manager at OSWCD. “We can help homeowners and businesses by evaluating sites and providing materials and guidance.”

OSWCD connected us with Jan Hunter from Naturally Native Nursery. We sent Jan pictures of our site and information about the soil. I did an initial selection of plants that interested me (from a list provided by OSWCD) and Jan evaluated this list for what would work best in our site. She also helped with numbers of plants and did a rough site plan for the installation. (Note: Although NNN has relocated from Ohio to South Bend, IN, they still serve the Upper Midwest and will ship plants.)

“We are the ‘go-to’ nursery for native plants and enjoy working with homeowners and communities to install rain gardens,” said Hunter. “Fall is a great time of year to plant perennials.”


Our rain garden, year one.

After installation, our main job has been keeping it weeded and, with the wonderful soil preparation guidelines provided by OSWCD, it hasn’t been too difficult. I am hoping that come spring I will be able to distinguish the native plants from the weeds. Plus, we’ve had Monarch butterfly eggs hatch and feed on the milkweed in the garden and the bees are busy gathering nectar and spreading pollen – something we all need to grow the area’s vegetables and fruits.

So, if you want to do your part to keep Lake Erie clean while providing beautiful flowers for our endangered pollinators and birds, consider installing a rain garden on your property.

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