For years, the area between our house and our neighbors, following a rain, would result in a quagmire. Mowing the grass was near impossible. It would often take a few rainless days for the land to return to terra firma. What caused this was the pitch off the backyard, the deck, and the roof downspout where the water would settle into this depression.
My son Adam, a Rutgers Landscape Architect graduate who was fortunate to work under Dr. Obropta at Rutgers Water Resources, had been chiding me to start this project. The recent pandemic quarantine provided me with no excuses to start.
The following was our step by step process:
- Provide a design for the area selected.
- Notify all utilities prior to digging (dial 811)
- Have proper tools: log handled shovel, rake, pickax
- Outline area of rain garden with can of spray paint.
- Dig down 12”-18” to determine subgrade soil in rain garden area. If soil is hard(clay-like/shale), a mixture of topsoil and sand will be needed. (I fouled up on this step when I went ahead and bought a beautiful tree prior to soil test.)
- Compile a list of plants (priority: native/pollinator wet tolerant plants most important). The following was our list; tree: black gum, shrub: red twig dogwood, grass: soft rush, perennials: goldenrod, cardinal flower, butterfly milkweed.
- Two weeks before digging we visited three local nurseries for availability, varieties, and quality of plants. (Here is where I jumped the gun and bought and arranged for delivery for a most beautiful black gum tree against my son’s advice to wait for soil test.)
- We circled area for tree and began digging the morning before the tree’s afternoon delivery. In an area approximately 8ft, in diameter we removed 4-6 inches of topsoil. This area was pre-determined to be the shallowest area of the rain garden. In the center we dug a hole for the tree’s root ball 4ft x 3ft deep.
- We hit approximately 3ft of shale in digging the hole. The shale got progressively harder the deeper we dug. A pickax was needed for the last foot. It was decided to finish the rain garden a backhoe would be needed to remove the shale adding the sand/topsoil mixture.
- Adam decided to wait until next year to check whether the tree would survive and take root before continuing the rain garden project. This would save time, work, and more importantly money!
- Currently the final product now stands as a small garden to capture some of the runoff from the adjacent slope of the backyard (see below).