The finished rain garden at Winton Woods.

Looking for a way to let more native plants flourish in your yard? A rain garden is a perfect way to plant natives, attract pollinators and keep pollutants out of local streams, rivers and lakes. Planning a rain garden can be a fun activity for the whole family. Get your kids involved – you may discover someone in your family has a green thumb.

What you’ll need:

  • Paper sheets  
  • Pencils
  • Tape measurement
  • Ruler
  • And a little patience
Rain gardens do well in shallow depressions.

Step 1 – Observation

Any proper planning starts with observation. Look at your yard; identify rain patterns, sun availability and materials in your space. The observation step may take a few days, depending on the weather. It’s best to start the observation process on a rainy day.

What are we looking at? Task
RainObserve a rain event from a safe location. Where does it go when it can’t soak into the soil?Create a map showing areas of flowing and standing water. Return after an hour and document and compare your findings. Repeat after two hours. Ask, how well does our yard manage rainwater? Are there any areas that need help?
SunObserve sun availability during different times of the day.Look for sun availability in your yard. (morning, noon, evening). Identify any shaded areas and sunny areas.
SpaceWhat’s already in or near the space?Add marks to your map. What do you see near your space? (House, patio, deck, paths, driveway, existing plants, lawn, etc.)
MaterialsPervious or impervious? How do you know?Take notes about all the pervious and impervious surfaces you see in your area.
Your finished rain garden may not be as large as one at a park.

Step 2 – Research

Research is also an important step to gather all the information you need before starting to design your rain garden.

What are we looking at? Task
SurfaceHow much water will you have to drain?Measure the specific drainage area of the surface. Use data collected from step 1. Add the measurements to your map.
SoilWhat kind of soil do you have, sandy, clay, loamy or mixed?Dig a hole 6 inches wide and 18 inches deep in each location. Fill each hole with water and measure depth with a ruler. Check on water depth every hour and record results.*
SizeHow big should the rain garden be?Calculate the size of your rain garden based on data you collected above**
Utilities Call your local utilities hotline to have them mark any underground lines on the property.***

*If all the water drains within a few hours, the site has excellent drainage. If the water drains within 24 hours, then it is still an acceptable site for a rain garden. If the water has not drained in 48–72 hours, then you should choose a different location.

**With sandy soil, a rain garden should be 20–30% of the drainage area. With clay soil, a rain garden should be about 60% of the drainage area.

***Only do so after you’ve identified the final location for your rain garden.

Blazing star
Blazing star (Genus: Liatris) blooming in the rain garden at Winton Centre in Winton Woods.

Step 3 Design

After collecting all the data, you can draw the final map of your new rain garden. There are a variety of Ohio native plants (like blazing star, above) that thrive in rain gardens.

You can find more resources and answers to common questions on our Discovery page.

Don’t forget to have fun!

Moran Slakmon, Sustainability Coordinator