Most Seattle rain is collected by gutters around your rooftop and flowing from your driveway and patio into the street. All of this runoff is diverted into the storm drain system that ultimately empties into the nearest body of water—namely Lake Washington or Puget Sound. Along the way, it collects oil, fertilizers, pesticides, and other pollutants.
What is a rain garden?
A rain garden is a shallow planting area designed to capture and filter some of the Pacific Northwest’s ubiquitous rainwater before it reaches sewer systems. Installing a rain garden helps improve water quality our region.
Besides protecting water quality, rain gardens are a water wise landscape feature that is easier and less costly to maintain than a grass lawn in Seattle area homes.
Where to locate a rain garden
A rain garden acts as a collection area for rain water, allowing it to soak into the ground rather than divert immediately into the storm water system.
It is important to note that a rain garden does not form a pond. Because the goal of a rain garden is to encourage slow seepage of rain and runoff, ponding indicates the filtration is too slow.
Since the rain garden itself is level, it is easier to build if it is in an area of the yard with the least slope.
Best locations for rain gardens
As a general rule, a rain garden should be twice as long as it is wide and perpendicular to the slope of the yard. In addition, the rain garden should be located:
- at least 10 feet downslope from the house
- in a level area
- in full or partial sun
Other factors to consider for a rain garden
Besides location, in order to build a successful rain garden, you need to determine the soil type, estimate the drainage area, and decide how deep to make it. Most rain gardens are between 100 and 300 square feet, about 10 to 15 feet wide, with a depth between four and eight inches.
Rain gardens are a natural way to help prevent pollution of groundwater. Besides protecting water quality, rain gardens are a water wise feature in your Seattle landscape that is easier and less costly to maintain than a lawn.
How to construct a rain garden
You can save money on the installation of a rain garden by constructing the garden yourself. Here is a list of helpful guides.
- Watch this 32 minute video on how to build a rain garden: https://vimeo.com/21474307
- Read this short (2 page), free “how to” guide from Seattle Public Utilities: Building a Rain Garden (PDF)
- Read this long (96 page–very large file!), free “how to” guide from the Washington State Department of Ecology: Rain Garden Handbook for Western Washington Homeowners (PDF)
- Resources for building rain gardens: https://www.wastormwatercenter.org/raingardens
- South of Seattle, get help from Pierce County Conservation District. Visit: https://piercecd.org/244/Rain-Gardens
Be sure to use native plants, find lists of native plants at the Washington Native Plant Society (WNPS).
To save money on plants for your rain garden, use transplants from overgrown areas in your landscape or cuttings from yours or neighbors’ yards (with permission, of course) along with wildflower seeds.
To save money when buying plants, use smaller sizes (4 inch or 1 gallon stock) and look for discounts on the purchase of plants in bulk or sales on bareroot stock.
Once the plants are well established, weeding and watering should be minimal, saving time and money on maintenance.
City of Seattle RainWise Rebate Program
The City of Seattle is helping residents reduce stormwater runoff through its RainWise Program. If you live in target area for “combined sewer overflows”, you may be eligible for rebates when you hire a trained RainWise contractor to install a rain garden or cistern for you.
If you qualify, the City of Seattle will pay up to 100% of the cost of installing rain gardens and cisterns, based on how many square feet of roof runoff is controlled. For more information about the RainWise program and to find out if you quality, visit the following links:
- Check your eligibility for a “rainwise” rebate
- Find out if building a rain garden is right for you (PDF)
- Join the group Rain Gardens in Puget Sound
- Attend a rainwise event
Tour a rain garden
Tour a variety of RainWise installations from around the city of Seattle with these online these virtual tours.
Rain garden workshops
Learn about applying for a rebate from Seattle Public Utilities and King County for up to 100 percent of the cost of your rain garden or cistern at this free workshop. You will hear a short presentation about the program, meet a homeowner in your area that completed the rebate process and meet trained RainWise contractors to take the next step for your rebate. Listed below are the upcoming workshops. Registration required. More info: https://www.700milliongallons.org/events/
Upcoming rain garden workshops
- May 4, 2021 @ 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm. Webinar: How to Get RainWise & Contractor Meet Up. Learn how RainWise rebates for rain gardens and cisterns combat pollution! With every storm, rain carries pollutants off our roofs, driveways and other hard surfaces to local creeks, Lake Washington and Puget Sound. Rain gardens and cisterns can help control this stormwater. Mor info: https://700milliongallons.org/event/how-to-get-rainwise-webinar-contractor-meet-up/
- May 20, 2021 @ 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm. Webinar: All About Rain water cisterns & Contractor Meet Up. RainWise offers rebates for rain gardens and cisterns on private property. These installations capture water that falls on roofs and keeps it out of sewer pipes during big rain storms. Nearly 2,000 property owners have installed RainWise rain gardens and cisterns and are helping to keep our waterways clean. Rain gardens require specific property conditions to work. When a property is too steep, too small, or has insufficient drainage for a rain garden, cisterns can be a great solution. In this webinar, you will learn about cisterns, large above-ground containers used to collect roof water. You’ll also get to hear about their benefits in Seattle, specifically how they help reduce combined sewer overflows and how they can be used for summer landscape irrigation.
Upcoming Garden Tours
More garden tours in the Puget Sound region.
Saturday, June 26, 2021
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But wait, there’s more!
- You might like our list of home gardening resources and plant sales.
- And, our big list of public gardens and garden tours.
- Here’s a list of 101+ always free things to do for fun.
- Find free and cheap things to do every day on the Greater Seattle on the Cheap event calendar.
- Visit the Greater Seattle on the Cheap home page and choose from a menu of free and cheap activities in the Puget Sound region.
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