Rain Gardening- in Your Own Backyard!

By ANS Volunteer Chiara D’Andrea

Have you ever wondered what you might do to help conserve the waterways in our area? If so, then creating a rain garden or conservation landscape is a great option for you!  Recently Emily Franc of Anacostia Riverkeeper, and Carla Ellern, RainScapes Planner from Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Planning (“DEP”), joined Eliza Cava of ANS to discuss the importance of reducing rainwater runoff through the creation of rain gardens and conservation landscapes.  

Emily Franc noted that Silver Spring is part of the Anacostia River watershed, and stormwater pollution drains to the Anacostia and Potomac rivers, eventually finding its way into the Chesapeake Bay. Unfortunately, as rainwater flows off of impervious surfaces in the area, pollutants are carried along into our local bodies of water. Rain gardens help to capture this run-off before it reaches storm drains, enabling it to seep into the soil, which serves to filter out the pollutants.  

Emily also spoke about the success of the rain garden at the Silver Spring United Methodist Church, including the installation of a large cistern. Eliza Cava updated the audience on the progress of ANS’s tree-safe rain garden and highlighted the use of compost berms, which help to slow and temporarily hold back water flow. ANS’ tree-safe rain garden is a unique design appropriate to the constraints of working at the historic Woodend sanctuary, but it provides lessons that any homeowner can use—particularly using berms on slopes to slow erosion, and the importance of planting and protecting trees.

The impressive success of these larger-scale projects can be replicated on a smaller scale in your own backyard with the help of the DEP’s RainScapes program.

Carla Ellern went through the details of the RainScapes program, which provides both technical and financial support to residents who would like to install one or more of their eight defined techniques for managing run-off, including rain gardens and conservation landscapes. In addition to reducing storm water runoff, RainScapes installations have the potential to improve air and water quality, enhance wildlife habitat, reduce energy costs, and increase the value of a property.  

The process for creating a rain garden through the RainScapes program is relatively simple. It begins with a 15-minute online application, which can be found on the program’s website (rainscapes.org).  Once approved, a RainScapes program representative will visit your property to identify where rainwater accumulates in the yard. A rain garden must be ten feet away from the house, and it must pass the “perc test.” In this test, a hole, two-feet deep and one-foot wide, is created, into which water is poured. The test is successful if the water is absorbed into the soil within 36 hours. In addition, 75% of the plants in the garden must be native species. In a rain garden it is important to have healthy soils, as they contain minerals such as carbon to act as a filter. Native plants are also a critical component of the garden, as they have deeper roots that absorb more water. If the garden does not meet the program requirements for a rain garden, it might be a great place to install a conservation landscape instead—a garden made up of deeply-rooted native plants that slows and absorbs rainwater.

If the garden meets the program requirements, it is possible to receive a rebate of as much as $1,200. Not all rain gardens require a lot of funding. As Eliza noted to the audience, a portion of Woodend’s tree-safe rain garden cost only $100 in materials and was installed with the help of volunteers. Whether large or small, all rain gardens help to improve the health of our local waterways.

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