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Extension booklet describes how to install a rain garden

by Karen Singer - September 4, 2007

A booklet touting the benefits of rain gardens is available from the College of Agriculture.

The free booklet, Rain Gardens: a Design Guide for Homeowners in Connecticut, contains guidelines for the placement, size, installation, and maintenance of rain gardens, as well as lists of suitable native plants.

It is available online at www.nemo.uconn.edu/tools/publications.htm or by calling 860-486-3336. 

Written by Michael Dietz, a stormwater specialist and former assistant extension educator-in-residence at UConn, and Karen Filchak, an extension educator at the University, the 12-page booklet helps those who are interested in installing a rain garden on their property.

Dietz says rain gardens not only look nice but are also an effective way to prevent pollutants in rainwater from flowing off roofs, driveways, and other impervious surfaces into sewers and waterways.

Rain gardens are shallow depressions in the ground planted with shrubs, grasses, and trees and covered with a thin layer of mulch.

They collect rainwater, which percolates into the ground, trapping pollutants along the way, including nitrogen and phosphorous (known for depleting oxygen in salt and fresh bodies of water).

“Rain gardens are an easy way for a homeowner to make a difference,” says Dietz, who earned a Ph.D. in resources management and engineering in 2005.

“They’re part of a concept called low-impact development, which aims to keep a landscape functioning as it did in a natural condition.

“In contrast to regular landscaping, which is raised up, rain gardens should be about six-inches deep, which allows water to be stored temporarily,” he explains.

“If designed and installed properly, there’s no issue with mosquitoes.”

He advises caution when considering whether to plant trees in a rain garden because they “grow big.”

Rain gardens may also provide a haven for birds, depending on the kinds of grasses, shrubs, and plant you choose.

Dietz became interested in rain gardens as a graduate student, while studying with associate professor Jack Clausen, a water quality monitoring specialist.

“We had learned about some work in Maryland, where they were pioneered, but our studies were long-term and field-based,” Dietz says.

“As part of that we created and monitored a rain garden in Haddam for two years.”

They also oversaw installation of several smaller rain gardens on the Storrs campus, and have since consulted on some similar projects around the state.

“Our research shows that using the design method in the guide can reduce pollutants leaving your site by 99 percent, if you’re capturing everything off your roof and preventing it from going into the storm drainage system,” Dietz says.

Rain gardens can be part of new construction, but also can be “retrofitted” for existing homes.

Since the brochure was published in September 2006, it has become the “most requested publication” from the College of Agriculture, according to Dietz.

He adds that a flurry of requests followed a recent New York Times story about the Haddam rain garden.

“I think we’ve really helped to increase awareness about rain gardens,” he says. “We’ve gotten a lot of good feedback.

The authors hope the booklet will motivate people to create their own gardens, either by doing it themselves or by hiring a landscape designer.

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