Water & Rain Gardens

Water is a great addition to landscapes, it offers boundless possibilities for creative design, as well as a place to grow many interesting native species that require the conditions found in water-based ecosystems.

If you have a natural wet area on your property, instead of altering the habitat by drainage or fill, work within the parameters of the existing environment to create a pond, bog garden or marshy habitat. If you don't have a natural water feature on your property, it is fairly easy to create a pond or bog garden.

Rain garden is a shallow depression that is planted with deep-rooted native plants and grasses. The garden should be positioned near a runoff source like a downspout, driveway or sump pump to capture rainwater runoff and stop the water from reaching the sewer system. By installing a rain garden on your property or even using the principles of a rain garden in your landscaping, you can greatly increase your contribution to preserving clean rainwater, creating habitat and preventing local flooding and water pollution.

A rain garden is a depressed area in the landscape that collects rain water from a roof, driveway or street and allows it to soak into the ground. Planted with grasses and flowering perennials, rain gardens can be a cost effective and beautiful way to reduce runoff from your property. Rain gardens can also help filter out pollutants in runoff and provide food and shelter for butterflies, song birds and other wildlife.

A rain garden is a great way to create a useful wetland that helps control runoff from impervious surfaces and filter out pollutants before they reach streams and lakes.

Rainwater gardens are shallow--usually less than a foot deep. They can be as small as the area under your downspout to as large as several city blocks. By slowing down storm water runoff, rainwater gardens collect water and allow it to slowly seep into the soil.

Benefits include:

  • Reduce or eliminate the need to water with municipal water

  • Reduce garden maintenance

  • Increase garden enjoyment

  • Sustainability and urban enhancement

  • Enhance sidewalk appeal

SOURCES: "Landscaping with Native Plants of Wisconsin" By: Lynn M. Steiner

A local rain garden, Adams County helped install.

Preserving Clean Rain Water

Next rainy day look at the movement of the rainwater that falls on your property. Look at the flow of the water, where it pools and where it flows off your property to the sewer or local rivers. Doing this will help you determine the best place for your rain garden.

  • By collecting that clean rainwater in your rain garden's shallow depression you will make a contribution to preserving and conserving rainwater. Instead of sending clean rainwater to the sewer the water can then be soaked into the ground and possibly even help to recharge local groundwater systems.

  • Diverting large quantities of stormwater after our even larger rainfalls to a safe location and not into your basement can help reduce potential home flooding.

  • If our county suffers from a dry or a drought situation your garden will support itself. The deep roots of the plants will reach down toward the water in the soil that is not near the surface.

Creating Habitat

One of the three requirements for a properly installed rain garden is the use of the deep-rooted plants that are native to Adams County.

Native Plants

  • Adapt to our soil, climate and wildlife

  • They are often sturdy and colorful - attracting insects to their nectar and birds to their seeds

  • They help improve the survival of bees, butterflies and local and migrating birds

By working to increase these beneficial insects and birds you can also naturally eliminate insect pests such as mosquitoes! When it comes to mosquito control rain garden are a natural and proven way to remove standing water and reduce mosquito breeding areas. By moving water downward into the ground through the deep roots of native plants, the plant's uptake of water and their transpiration or evaporation of the water.

Prevent Local Flooding and Pollution

Rain gardens are a form of "bio-retention" system. You can see large version of these systems in the parking lots of nature centers and state parks. These human-made systems temporarily store rainwater and runoff and clean the water of hydrocarbons, oil, heavy metals, phosphorous, fertilizers and other pollutants that would normally find their way to the sewer and perhaps our rivers and waterways.

Localized rain gardens do much the same thing. Relatively clean rainwater might flow across your roof, driveway or chemically treated lawn and pick up pollutants. Instead of moving these pollutants to the street the rain garden will intercept and naturally clean and infiltrate the water. In some area this reduces large quantities of water and contaminants from reaching the treatment plant and in others locals it prevents storm water from running directly into rivers and streams.

Native Plants to Use


  • Acorus Calamus (Sweet Flag)

  • Anemone Canadensis (Canada Anemone)

  • Arisaema Triphyllum (Jack-in-the-Pulpit)

  • Asclepias Incarnata (Swamp Milkweed)

  • Aster Novae-Angliae (New England Aster)

  • Caltha Palustris (Marsh Marigold)

  • Camassia Scilloides (Wild Hyacinth)

  • Campanula Americana (Tall Bellflower)

  • Chelone Species (Turtleheads)

  • Cornus Canadensis (Bunchberry)

  • Epilobium Angustifolium (Fireweed)

  • Equisetum Hyemale (Tall Scouring Rush)

  • Eupatorium Species (Joe-pye Weeds)

  • Gentiana Andrewsii (Bottle Gentian)

  • Helenium Autumnale (Autumn Sneezeweed)

  • Iris Species (Blue Flags)

  • Liatris Ligulistylis (Northern Plains Blazing-Star)

  • Lilium Michiganense (Michigan Lily)

  • Lobelia Cardinalis (Cardinal Flower)

  • Lobelia Siphilitica (Great Blue Lobelia)

  • Lysimachia Ciliata (Fringed Loosestrife)

  • Mertensia Virginica (Virginia Bluebells)

  • Physostegia Virginiana (Obedient Plant)

  • Pycnanthemum Virginianum (Virginia Mountain Mint)

  • Sarracenia Purpurea (Common Pitcher Plant)

  • Senecio Aureus (Golden Ragwort)

  • Silphium Perfoliatum (Cup Plant)

  • Thalictrum Dasycarpum (Tall Meadow Rue)

  • Verbena Hastata (Blue Vervain)

  • Vernonia Fasciculata (Bunched Ironweed)

  • Veronicastrum Virginicum (Culver's Root)

  • Viola Sororia (Common Blue Violet)

SOURCES: "Landscaping with Native Plants of Wisconsin" By: Lynn M. Steiner

Woody Plants

  • Acer Rubrum (Red Maple)**

  • Cornus Stolonifera (Red-Osier Dogwood)**

  • Thuja Occidentalis (White Cedar)**

  • Viburnum Trilobum (Highbush Cranberry)**

  • Acer Saccharinum (Silver Maple)

  • Alnus Incana (Speckled Alder)

  • Amorpha Fruticosa (False Indigo)

  • Aronia Melanocarpa (Black Chokeberry)

  • Betula Alleghaniensis (Yellow Birch)

  • Betula Nigra (River Birch)

  • Cephalanthus Occidentalis (Buttonbush)

  • Cornus Racemosa (Gray Dogwood)

  • Fraxinus Nigra (Black Ash)

  • Fraxinus Pennsylvanica (Green Ash)

  • Ilex Verticillata (Winterberry)

  • Larix Laricina (Tamarack)

  • Ledum Groenlandicum (Labrador Tea)

  • Picea Mariana (Black Spruce

  • Quercus Bicolor (Swamp White Oak)

  • Salix Species (Willows)

  • Sambucus Canadensis (Common Elder)

  • Spiraea Alba (White Meadowsweet)


SOURCES: "Landscaping with Native Plants of Wisconsin" By: Lynn M. Steiner