Give me a soggy spot and I’ll give you a rain garden

Xeriscaping is putting the drought loving plants in the right area so as to conserve water, but wet areas need protection too. Plants planted in wet areas filter water. They keep water from being dumped down the storm drains. I find mine have a large population of frogs, lizards and other critters.

If your gardens are carefully planned then you don’t have to water often, conserving a badly abused resource, and if you have neighbors that over water and flood your yard it is a much simpler way to deal with the problem.

I find this garden needs very little care. I give it a good weeding about twice a year and beat back the ferns on the far side. Otherwise I just leave it alone.

Here are some recommendations for different areas in your yard:

Plants for Wet Sun:
Rain lily ( Cooperia drummondii )
Horsetail rush ( Equisetacea )
Yellow water flag iris ( iris pseudacorus L. )
Gulf Coast Muhly ( Muhlenbergia capillaris )
Halberd-leaf Hibiscus ( Hibiscus militaris )
Titi ( Cyrilla racemiflora )
Possumhaw ( Ilex decidua )
Elderberry ( Sambucus canadensis )
Summer Sweet ( Clethra alnifolia )
White-topped Sedge ( Rhynchospora colorata )
Copper lily ( Habranthus tubispathus )
Obedient Plant ( Physostegia virginiana )
Spider wort ( Tradescantia sp. )
Gulf Coast Penstemon ( Penstemon tenuis )
Goldenrod ( Soldago sp. )
Gayfeather ( Liatris pycnostachya )
Bog Sage ( Salvia uliginosa )
Button Bush ( Cephalanthus occidentalis )
Rose Mallow ( Hibiscus moscheutos )
Texas Star Hibiscus ( Hibiscus coccineus )
<Crinum ( Crinum americanum )
Spider Lily ( Hymenocallis liriosme )
Pickerelweed ( Pontederia cordata)

Plants for Wet Shade:
Leatherwood Titi ( Cyrilla recemiflora )
Florida Anise ( Illicium flordianum )
Virginia Sweetspire ( Itea virginica )
American Beautyberry ( Callicarpa americana )
Button Bush ( Euonymus americanus )
Southern Arrowwood ( Viburnum dentatum )
Wood Violet ( viola odorata )
Blue Mistflower ( conoclinium coelestinum )
Spiderwort ( Tradescantia virginiana )
Christmas fern ( Polysticum acrostichoides )
Lizard tail ( Saururus cernuus )
Cardinal Flower ( Lobelia cardinalis )
Zigzag iris ( Iris brevicaulis )
Spider Lily ( Hymenocallis liriosme )
Curly rush
Pitcher Plant ( Sarracenia )
Yellow water flag iris
Pickerelweed ( Pontederia cordata)

Horsetail Rush ( Equisetaceae )

This horsetail rush was growing near the water runoff ditch that runs under the fence. I just put it in the ground a week or so ago. Eventually the rush will get about 3′ tall and the stems will be about 1/3″ thick. I’ve seen them growing near buildings where the landscapers trim the tops level and it looks really cool.

After a drought or two I potted it up and it’s now sitting out front in full afternoon sun.

No flowers, no seeds and the leaves are tiny and what form the ridges along the stems.

Rush can handle full sun to part shade.

Ground should be wet, do not let rush dry out. It wants to grow in wet soil – not in a pond or underwater. It will turn yellow and die under those conditions.

Rush is slow to get settled and slow to grow during droughts. Once settled and given lots of water it does just fine.

Much of it died back in the hard freezes but it re-appeared late winter.

Early settlers used the stems for scouring pots and pans. Non-toxic to humans it has been known to occasionally poison live stock.

Can be invasive if conditions are right.

This is one of the older plant species still with us. Rush first appeared in the Carboniferous time about 345 million years ago.

Surprising drought and 100’F for 3 months heat survivor.

Back Yard Ponds

Backyard water gardens allow you to grow really cool plants you couldn’t otherwise grow. They also attract wildlife. We have birds and squirrels, and our cats and a local raccoon go fishing.

You want to put the pond a tiny bit up from the surrounding soil so it doesn’t get flooded during rainstorms. Also make sure it drains away from your home. The pump hoses will occasionally come undone and pump the water onto the ground. Be sure it has a safe place to go.

The USDA article recommends putting your pond in full sun away from trees. So you’ll have less leaves falling into your pond. Other sources tell you to put it in the shade so you will get less algae. We found leaves would get into the pond no matter what, the wind will take them there. Algae was a bigger problem for us.

You can buy plastic sheeting to line your pond or a preformed liner. We had good success with both methods. If you use plastic sheeting get it at least 10mm, the thicker the better. Double line it also. Be very sure to have the preformed liner level if you choose that.

Backyard ponds are small enough pumps are not an issue. We found they last about a year in New England. Down here in Houston they should last longer. We found the only successful way to treat algae and keep it under control is with a UV light filter. The pump will have a filter to catch small particles.

Plants will have to be weighted down with rocks. You’ll find a better selection online than you will at the local store.

For fish we purchased feeder fish at the local pet store. These are small gold fish at about 10/dollar. They get large quickly. They will winter over, even in NewEngland as long as there is some water in the very bottom of the pond. The top can freeze. No point in feeding the local raccoon pricey fish.

You can purchase a heater for your pond as well. The local pet stores usually carry them in the fall.

Swale Garden

What can you do with the soggy mushy parts of your property? How about planting some plants that love water? Known down here as Swale Gardens these are gardens planted in areas that either remain damp or flood after a rain and remain wet for a while.

The first thing to do was to dig a trench about 8″wide x 4″deep along the edge of the wet area and fill it with gravel. This takes the water off the lawn and funnels it into the swale garden.

Now all the water runs into the swale garden when it rains, leaving the grass drier. I lined the area between the trench and the lawn with larger rocks.

The irises were here when we purchased the home. I’ve added curly rush, Papryus, Umbrella flower, Spider lilies, Agapanthus and all have done well so far.

Other recommended plants for rain or swale gardens in the Houston area include: Cardinal Flower ( Lobelia cardinalis ), Lizard tail ( Saururus cernuus ), Spider lily ( Hymenocallis liriosme ), Pickerelweed ( Pontederia cordata ), Leatherwood, Titi ( Cyrilla racemiflora ), Horsetail ( Equisetum hyemale ), Buttonbush ( Cephalanthus occidentalis ).

More information:
Rain Gardens Sprouting up Everywhere
Going native with plants: A new-old direction for water conservation