Easy rain garden in one hour

You can make a big contribution to safety, lake quality, and neighborhood beauty in only one hour!

Runoff flowing down sidewalk and into the street

Sidewalks are an important link in the health of our lakes.  In many places, runoff from storms is channeled down sidewalks, and then into the street.  From there, the water washes nutrients and pollution down the stormsewer and into the lakes.

Instead, you can trap the rain and nutrients and use them to grow flowers!  By placing a garden next to the sidewalk, you don't have to water your garden.

Pick your garden location
  • Get your child involved.
  • Look for where rain puddles.  In winter, there's danger of slipping here.
  • Or, pour water to see which way it runs.
  • Place your garden on the side water flows to.
Decide on your plants

  • Native plants are best because they are low-maintenance
  • Observe your location to see if you need plants for sun or shade
  • Obtain your plants--neighbors can donate. We are establishing free sources.
Dig your trench

The key idea--after you have planted your plants and after a year or two of debris washing in, your trench should still be below the level of the sidewalk.
  • Make it one or two squares of concrete long
  • Bevel the edge next to the sidewalk, for safety.
  • Make it about about 20" wide and 6-8" deep (depending on plants)
  • Dig deeper holes with a trowel, where your plants will go.
  • If you have it, pack compost around the roots of your plants.
What to do with the soil you removed

You will get about half a garbage can of soil, per square of sidewalk.
  • Remove the sod from your trench in neat squares
  • Use these squares to patch bare places in your lawn, to patch salt-damaged strips along sidewalks, or to patch gullies in your neighborhood.
  • The loose soil can be scattered on your lawn (see photo below).
  • Or, use it to create low ridges in your yard, so that water will pool.  These pools will help rainwater infiltrate into the soil.  This way, you create TWO rain gardens for the labor of one!
Followup and maintenance
  • Water until the plants become established
  • A little weeding as necessary.  Especially, pull maple seedlings.
  • Do not rake leaves from the trench.  Leaves attract worms, create fertility.
Involve your child
  • Put kids in charge of the garden.
  • Which plants are weeds?  Build powers of observation.
  • Watch it in the rain.  Make sure the garden continues to accept rain.  If there's more runoff than your garden can handle, dig an exit trench carrying excess to the middle of your terrace.
  • Maybe enlarge the garden later, to accept all the runoff.
Kids love to play in the rain. Empower them!

Before planting. Pour water to see which way it goes.  Note beveled edge (click to enlarge).

One day after planting native celandine poppies in shade.

Shake any sod and weeds out of the soil.  Spread it onto your lawn. This is soil from a larger rain garden.  When seeded, it had many fewer weeds than the lawn it covered.

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