For the Environment’s Sake, Install a Rain Garden

Attractive and beneficial to the environment, a rain garden, above, transforms the front yard of this home. Credit: Rusty Schmidt, Nelson, Pope & Voorhis, LLC

Ever since East End residents approved an extension of the Community Preservation Fund that allows 20 percent of its proceeds to be used for water quality projects, the term “rain garden” has circulated around conference rooms and through environmental organizations in the five East End towns. But what, exactly, is a rain garden and what do they accomplish?

Rain gardens, essentially, are shallow, vegetated basins that soak up rain and collect storm water runoff from roofs, pavement, driveways and patios. Instead of storm runoff going directly into drains that connect to streams, bays and drinking water sources, a rain garden collects water and slowly infiltrates it into the ground. Compared to normal lawn space, rain gardens allow up to 75 percent more water infiltration into the ground.

In addition, rain gardens with healthy soils have the ability to break down pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus that are carried in runoff, and water becomes clean enough to drink within 2 to 3 feet of filtering through healthy soil.

Earlier this year, the East Hampton Town Board signed off on four projects to install a series of rain gardens in and around Sag Harbor, including two on either side of Marine Park. And hopefully there will be more to come. According to Melissa Winslow, an environmental analyst with the Town of East Hampton, the Peconic Estuary Program, which has already installed a demonstration rain garden alongside the Peconic River in Riverhead, has a rewards program for homeowners who live in the Peconic Estuary watershed to install their own rain gardens, with a $500 rebate available for the installation of green infrastructure, including rain barrels, rain gardens and native plant gardens.

Here are some tips from the Rain Garden Network ( on how to install a rain garden of your own.

  1. Find a location at least 10 feet away from your house and do not locate over a septic field or other underground utilities. Try to choose a naturally occurring low spot and areas that either partially or fully exposed to the sun.
  2. Design your garden on paper first and choose native plants that are best adapted to our climate. The plants should grow well in both wet and dry areas since the garden will temporarily fill with rainwater from time to time.
  3. Before digging the garden, remove the turf grass and dig approximately 4 to 8 inches deep. Use the extra soil to build a berm around the garden edges.
  4. Add 2 to 3 inches of compost on top of the soil and mix in well. Place your plants according to the original design. Plants should be placed about 1 foot apart from each other. Once you are satisfied with the plant layout, begin planting using a hand trowel.
  5. Mulch the garden with coarse, fibrous, shredded wood chips that won’t float or blow away. Apply 2 to 3 inches deep. After the garden is complete, water every other day for two weeks, unless it rains, until the garden looks to be growing on its own.