Back when our land was covered with forests, prairies, and wetlands, rain water fell and either infiltrated into the ground, evaporated from plants, or ran off into the nearest stream or river. Now, in our urban areas, the vast majority of it flows into a storm drain from hard, or impervious, surfaces like roofs, roads, and parking lots. In addition to impervious surfaces, suburban areas also have large amounts of turf grass, which allows only minimal infiltration. Storm drains and underground pipes then send that water into a retention pond, stream, or lake, usually without treating or purifying the water first. That means that whatever the storm water picked up on its journey (oil from driveways, pet waste and fertilizers from backyards, soil particles from new development projects or eroding shorelines, and much more) is ending up in our lakes and streams. Creating a rain garden or growing native plants on your property are great ways you can make a difference and start correcting these problems. Click on the two graphics below for a visual representation of where water goes in a typical suburban area versus one utilizing native plantings.
Benefits to Water Quality
Native plants are highly recommended for rain gardens and other types of landscaping. Plants that are originally from this area are lower maintenance and more beneficial to local ecosystems than species from other parts of the United States or the world. Some native plant species are also very efficient at absorbing nutrients, and using them in your landscaping can really optimize the benefits the area provides.
Rain gardens can reduce the amount of pollution reaching bodies of water by holding stormwater, allowing it to infiltrate into the ground or be absorbed by plants rather than run off. Native species such as swamp milkweed and cardinal flower have deep roots that create channels where water can infiltrate. Additionally, natives that are adapted to growing in areas such as shorelines and wetlands are thirsty and take up water at a rapid pace. This is extremely important as development spreads; we are losing natural areas that used to provide flood control, and native rain garden and shoreline plantings will help to minimize the risk of flooding.
Native Plantings and Wildlife
Native plantings like rain gardens and shoreline plantings can also provide unique habitat for native wildlife. The caterpillars of butterflies and moths rely on native plants like milkweed for their diet, adult butterflies feed on nectar from colorful blooms, and songbirds enjoy the seeds provided by native flowers and grasses. Natural shorelines can also benefit fish, frogs, and ducks, all species we like to watch and enjoy.