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Create a Functional, Beautiful Rain Garden This Season

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Create a Functional, Beautiful Rain Garden This Season

Chalet’s Tony Fulmer Tells You How
WILMETTE, Ill. (May 14, 2013) – This spring’s rainfalls may have some homeowners taking another look at their outdoor spaces for ways to reduce runoff from lawns and roofs. A rain garden not only addresses standing water in yards, but adds beauty to outdoor surroundings and provides a habitat for wildlife, says Tony Fulmer, chief horticulturist at Chalet Landscape, Nursery and Garden Center in Wilmette, Ill.

A rain garden is created by making a depression in the soil and filling it with hardy, native plants. Storm water and runoff are better absorbed into the ground and are less likely to go into drains and other water sources, perpetuating greater flooding and other problems like erosion or pollution. Fulmer shares his advice for creating a rain garden that is pretty and practical:

First thing’s first: Have a plan before you begin.

“If you’re considering a rain garden, it’s important to read and research before you start,” he says. “In many respects, this is as much an engineering exercise as a gardening one. You should understand the extent of the undertaking and have a plan before putting shovel to soil.”

Where: Fulmer cautions against simply placing a rain garden where water stands for hours or days at a time.

“That is an indication the soil is so dense and saturated that drainage will be slow,” he says. “The purpose of a rain garden is to concentrate water and give it a place to percolate in a timely manner.”

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Ideally, a rain garden would be placed at the end of a gentle slope, as level as possible to make construction of the “floor” easier. He suggests conducting a simple “percolation test,” as you would when planting trees and shrubs in spots that are iffy for drainage.

“Dig a hole 10 to 12 inches deep, a foot or so wide and fill it with water,” says Fulmer. “If water is still present in the bottom after a day, it’s probably not a good site for a rain garden.”

How big: The general depth range for the average residential rain garden is between four and eight inches. If your soil has a lot of clay, the space should be larger, as water drains more slowly from that soil type.

“You may want to consider a berm to help restrain the water as it drains where you want it to,” Fulmer says.

What to plant: Native plants are great for rain gardens because they are adapted to the extremes of weather and the range of soils in this area. Fulmer recommends choosing varieties that can tolerate periodic flooding as well as summer drought conditions, such as Acorus, Caltha palustris (marsh marigold), Carex (sedges), Hibiscus moscheutos, Iris pesudacorus, Juncus (rushes), Lobelia cardinalis (cardinal flower), Lobelia siphilitica (great blue lobelia), Osmunda cinnamonea (cinnamon fern) and Osmunda regalis (royal fern).

How to group plants: One plant per square foot is best, Fulmer says, because the plants, when mature, will form a dense mat of roots. Standard design principles apply when determining plant groupings in a rain garden.

“Odd-numbered groupings of three, five or more of the same variety will work well,” he says. “Vary heights, textures and bloom times whenever possible to create seasonal interest.”

Chalet offers a variety of lawn and garden lectures throughout the season, as well as an online Plant Finder and downloadable fact sheets. Lectures are held in the Chalet Education Center at 3132 Lake Ave. in Wilmette, Ill. For schedules and more good-gardening information, please visit Chalet Nursery on Facebook and also online at

About Chalet. Since 1917, Chalet Landscape, Nursery and Garden Center has been providing high-quality products and exceptional service to its customers, bringing beauty and inspiration to their home surroundings every day. The retail store is located at 3132 Lake St. in Wilmette, Ill., just off the Edens Expressway. Chalet’s landscape division is housed on a 28,000-square-foot complex on 16 acres in North Chicago, Ill. Chalet operates a 183-acre growing farm in Salem, Wis. Find Chalet on Facebook and Twitter, and for more information call 847-256-0561 or visit

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