Did you know that nearly 60% of the water falling on turf grass washes off your lawn?  Our driveways, streets and parking lots waste 100%.  Rainwater is a precious resource.  A rain garden is a technique consisting of building a garden bed in a low area that accumulates water after a storm. It is planted with native plants accustomed to wet conditions. Rain gardens help to collect and filter rain water and allow it to seep naturally into the ground. This helps to reduce the amount of pollutants and rain water runoff reaching our streams. Up to 70% of pollution in streams, rivers and lakes comes from stormwater runoff.  Therefore a rain garden is a great stormwater management practice that improves water quality by increasing absorption of runoff near its source.


  • Pollutants from yards can include excess nutrients and pesticides from lawn chemicals and animal/pet waste. 
  • Not only are the pollutants bad for our streams, but so is the large amount of water that rushes from lawns and other impervious surfaces through storm sewers and/or ditches into the stream.
  • Rain gardens hold water from the urban landscape, so it is able to filter into the ground rather than runoff into the streams.

 What Makes a Garden a Rain Garden?

  • Rain gardens are in an area that rain already drains to, or an area down slope from your downspouts or sump pump outlet. It should slope away from your house, so overflow will not flood near the foundation.
  • A rain garden has a depression in the middle to hold rain water. The depth of the depression can range from 2” to 6” if you do not want standing water, or up to 18” if you want a pond-like garden. The amount of water that ponds depends on the soil type and position in the landscape.
  • The depression should also have gently sloping sides so the plants can take hold (typically 5:1 or greater).
  • In our area the soils generally need to be modified with organic material and sand to improve infiltration.

The Kendall County SWCD hosted a rain garden workshop in March 2009.  Here are some of the resources, information and how-to’s on rain gardens that they provided:

  • Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
    • General Rain Garden Information: http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/runoff/rg/
    • Rain Gardens: A How-to Manual for Homeowners by Roger Bannerman: http://www.dnr.state.wi.us/runoff/rg/rgmanual.pdf
  • Taylor Creek Restoration Nurseries (or Native Landscapes by AES)
    • General Rain Garden Information: http://www.appliedeco.com/RainGarden.cfm
    • Build Your Own Rain Garden (Design Sheet): http://www.appliedeco.com/Projects/Rain%20Garden.pdf
    • Rain Garden Design & Construction: http://www.appliedeco.com/marketing/RainGardenDesign.pdf
  • United States Department of Agriculture – Natural Resources Conservation Service
    • General Rain Garden Information: http://www.ia.nrcs.usda.gov/features/raingardens.html
    • Rain Gardens: How-to Guide Sheets:


    • Rain Garden Design Sheets:


    • Rain Garden Illustration: http://www.ia.nrcs.usda.gov/news/brochures/raingarden.html
  • Northeast Ohio Public Involvement Public Education Committee
    • Rain Garden Manual for Homeowners – Protecting our water, one yard at time http://www.cuyahogaswcd.org/PDFs/RainGardenManual.pdf
  • Prairie Rivers Network
  • Rain Gardens for Illinois:
  • http://media.prairierivers.org/2008/08/raingardenbrochure.pdf

  • Illinois Community Rain Garden Programs
    • Rain Gardens for Rock Island: http://www.rigov.org/citydepartments/publicworks/raingarden.html
    • Village of Glenview Rain Garden Program: http://www.glenview.il.us/departments/capital/engineering/rain_garden.shtml
  • Center for Neighborhood Technology
    • Green Values Stormwater Toolbox: http://greenvalues.cnt.org/
    • Water: From Trouble to Treasure A Pocket Guide to “Green Solutions:” http://greenvalues.cnt.org/downloads/trouble-to-treasure.pdf
  • Rain Gardens of West Michigan
    • General Rain Garden Information: http://www.raingardens.org/Index.php
    • Create a Garden: http://www.raingardens.org/Create_A_Garden.php
  • Rain Garden Network
    • All About Rain Gardens: http://www.raingardennetwork.com/about.htm
    • Building a Rain Garden: http://www.raingardennetwork.com/build.htm
  • MARC – Get the Most Out of Rain: Ideas for Creating a Rain-friendly Yard
    • Homeowner Tips for Improving Water Quality: http://www.marc.org/Environment/Water/homeowners.htm
    • Rain Gardens: http://www.marc.org/Environment/Water/raingarden.htm
  • Native Seed & Plant Sources
    • http://www.artandlindaswildflowers.com/NewPgs/Sources.html
    • http://www.prairienet.org/gpf/nurseries.php#Illinois
    • http://www.deerpathsub.us/plantsources.php
  • Blue Thumb: Planting for Clean Water

The Conservation Foundation has a rain garden brochure available through a partnership with Taylor Creek Nursery.  At this time, only this on-line PDF version is available (no printed copies).



Impervious surfaces are mainly constructed surfaces - rooftops, sidewalks, roads, and parking lots - covered by impenetrable materials such as asphalt, concrete, brick, and stone. These materials seal surfaces, repel water and prevent precipitation and meltwater from infiltrating soils. Soils compacted by urban development are also highly impervious.

Photo from Burnsville, MN courtesy of Barr Engineering