Rain Garden Benefits, Installation and Grant Money

Rain Gardens

Rain Gardens not only add beauty and interest to your yard but they are also becoming a very popular and Eco-friendly way to help protect our natural water resources like streams, rivers and lakes.  Rain Gardens are simple and easy drainage improvement constructed by diverting storm water from roofs and paved surfaces like driveways parking lots and roadways into low lying areas in your yard so they can be naturally absorbed as a resource rather than be carried away with all of the pollutants into a local waterway.  Do you already have a low spot or wet area in your yard?  Rather than trying to drain the area; take advantage of it by installing a Rain Garden.

Rain Garden

Benefits of Rain Gardens

The biggest threat to water quality across the state and nation is polluted storm water runoff.  Rain Gardens offer many benefits.  They are a natural way to decrease the amount of rain water that is sent straight into our already overwhelmed rivers and lakes.  Rain Gardens will help control the amount of loose soils, fertilizer, pesticides, grass clippings and leaves that can cause havoc to our precious water resources.  Creating a rain garden will help keep these things in your yard where they can be better managed.  If left to reach local waterways these things can cause depleted oxygen levels, unacceptable levels of nutrients and increase stream turbidity which will lead to accelerated erosion and can harm native fish, plant life, recreation and property values.

Rain Garden Installation

Rain Garden installation begins with an existing low spot or the excavation of a new low spot in order to create a depression to hold rain water.   This works well in existing low spots that already hold water or they can be created by diverting water from a lawn, roof or downspout.  Some rain gardens are designed to absorb water from the street by cutting into and removing a section of the curb.   Often times the soil that is generated when creating the depression will serve as a berm to create a larger holding area.  This is especially needed if the location of the rain garden is located on a slope.  This will also keep cost down as you will not have to dispose of any soil.  We suggest filling in a portion of the depression with a 70/30 compost and sand mixture to help the water absorb naturally into the ground.  This is a necessary step with soil of high clay composition and not so much necessary if there is existing sandy or peat soil.  Once the depression is created and it is the appropriate size to handle the volume of water feeding it, you will want to create the garden by choosing plants that are well adapted to tolerate a wet environment and that will aide in naturally absorbing water.   Our rain garden installations are finished off nicely with a shredded wood mulch and a few boulders for aesthetics.

Choosing Plants for a Rain Garden


The following list of plants is reasonably specific to North East Minnesota. Some species are at the extremes of their temperature comfort zone, however, best gardening management practices such as mulching, amending soils to improve its drainage and selection of a protected planting site will work to extend a plant’s comfort zone. During periods of drought, particular attention to maintaining soil moisture must be a priority of wet garden maintenance.

Some experimentation with a variety of plant materials will probably be required to discover the correct blend of soil wetness, soil type and available sun light for success with many of the suggested species of plant in a specific garden’s environment.

The suggested plants provide a variety of heights, foliage textures and flower colors to create a visually interesting garden. Specialist plant nurseries deal in native plants. The ornamental plant industry has worked to develop many good and improved varieties based on the native plant stocks listed. Native plant varietals often add landscape interest through changes in flower and foliage shape and color. The use of varietals should be investigated when planning a wetland’s garden.


Ferns and Fern Allies

  • Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) -shade tolerance and wet soil.
  • Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) – prefers shade to partially shady location and wet acid soils.
  • Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis) – likes sun and wet acid soils.
  • Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytonia) – prefers drier and seasonally wet areas compared to the other Osmunda species.
  • Scouring Rush (Equisetum sp) – depending on species, partial shade to sunny locations.


  • Milkweed Family
    • Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnate) – prefers sunny conditions.
  • Aster Family
    • Spotted Joe – Pye – Weed (Eupatorium maculatum) – prefers sun but accepts periods of light shading. Will grow in most conditions but prefers moist, well drained soil.
    • Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) – often found with Joe-Pye-Weed.
    • Common Flat-Topped Goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia) – prefers a sandy better drained soil and sun or some shade.
    • Common Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) – prefers sunny conditions with plentiful moisture in a well drained soil. Not common in the wilds of NE Minnesota, however a number of attractive ornamental varieties are available from plant nurseries and viable in the area.
  • Bellflower Family
    • Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) – prefers sun; can withstand shallow water.
    • Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) – Partial shade to sunny conditions preferred with moist soils that are well drained.
  • Honeysuckle Family
    • Red Berried Elder (Sambucus racemosa) – shrub to 9′; partial shade to sun preferred. Moist well drained soil.
  • St. John’s-wort Family
    • Northern St John’s-wort (Hypericum boreale) – part shade to sunny conditions preferred. Moist soils.
  • Dogwood Family
    • Red-Osier Dogwood (Cornus stolinifera) – shrub to 6′ or more; shady to sunny conditions and a variety of soil moistures.
  • Gentian Family
    • Bottle Gentian (Gentian andrewsii) – partial shade to sunny conditions in moist neutral to acid soils.
  • Gooseberry Family
    • Eastern Black Current (Ribes americanum) – shrub to 3′; partial shade to preferred sunny conditions. Can be in a moist soil if well drained.
  • Mint Family
    • Obedience Plant (Physostegia virginiana) – prefers sunny locations and moist well drained soils.
  • Primrose Family
    • Fringed Loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliate) – prefers shade and moist, well drained soil.
  • Buttercup Family
    • Canada Anemone (Anemone Canadensis) – prefers sunny to partial shade conditions and moist, humus-rich soil.
    • Common Marsh-Marigold (Caltha palustris) – prefers very wet areas with partial shade to sunny conditions.
    • Virgin’s Bower (Clematis virginiana) – partial shade to sunny conditions (roots need shade). Well drained moist soils.
    • Northern Swamp Buttercup (Ranunculus hispidus) – shaded to sunny conditions in wet well drained soil.
    • Purple Meadow-Rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum) – partial shade to sunny conditions and moist soils.
  • Saxifrage Family
    • Northern Bishop’s Cap (Mitella nuda) – shade to partially shady conditions and humus-rich, moist soils.
  • Rose Family
    • Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) – Sunny conditions and seems to prefer sandy, humus-rich, moist soils.
  • Figwort Family
    • White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) – prefers partial shade conditions and moist soil.
    • Culvers Root (Veronicastrum virginicum) – can withstand drier conditions, likes sun.
  • Vervain Family
    • Common Vervain (Verbena hastate) – sunny conditions and moist well drained soil.


  • Arum Family
    • Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) – partial shade loving. Moist, humus-rich, well drained soil.
  • Sedge Family
    • A variety of members of the sedge family are available from plant nurseries specializing in native plants. Of particular visual interest are members of the genus Cyperus – the flatsedges and Eleocharis – the spike-rushes and Scirpus – the bulrushes (especially wool grass – S. cyperinus and woodland bulrush – S. expansus).
  • Iris Family
    • Yellow Flag (Iris pseudacorus) – Likes partial Sun and very wet conditions. Non – native
    • Northern Blue Flag (Iris versicolor) – Partial shade to sunny conditions. Wet soil but will withstand shallow water.
  • Lily Family
    • Turk’s – cap lily (Lilium superbum) -sunny conditions and well drained, moist soils.
    • False Solomon’s Seal (Smilacina trifolia) – partial shade to sunny conditions with humus-rich, moist soil.
  • Grass Family
    • Bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis Canadensis) – sunny; forms clumps. Doesn’t mind wet roots.
    • Virginia Wildrye grass (Elymus virginicus) – shade to partial shade. Moist, rich, well drained soils.
    • Foxtail Barley (Hordeum jubatum) – exceptional visually attractive; sunny conditions. Exists in a variety of soil conditions.
    • Prairie Cordgrass (Spartina pectinata) – Sunny conditions and moist soils.

Grant Money for Rain Garden Installation

Most cities and counties are realizing the many benefits that rain gardens provide and have subsequently started to offer money in the form of grants.  Grants are available to any public or private property including residential homes, apartments, businesses and schools. Please check with your local watershed district to learn more and to find out where to obtain an application.  Our experience has shown that city and county agencies will require a site visit before construction to verify whether a grant is reasonable for each specific application and another site visit after construction to verify proper installation techniques were applied.

Below are a few links to city watershed districts:

Minneapolis/St.Paul: www.minnehahacreek.org

For a full list of watershed districts: www.mnwatershed.org