Bay-friendly yards: Creating a rain garden

Reducing pooling and stormwater runoff in your yard


Tired of having puddles on your lawn after it rains? Want a cost-effective (and beautiful!) way to reduce it? Try planting a rain garden! 

Rain gardens have many benefits

Aside from reducing standing water in your yard, rain gardens also reduce water pollution, improve local water quality, and protect ponds and coastal waters. Plus, they provide a habitat for local butterflies, birds, and other pollinators.

How do you create a rain garden? 

First, create a depression in your yard where pooling is most common, digging the deepest part of the basin in the middle. The depression should be about 4 to 8 inches deep. Constructing a depression allows the rainwater collected to form a pond, which permeates the soil within 24 hours.

Why it matters and how it works

Once the pond water seeps into the ground, the soil acts as a filter to break down any harmful pollutants the collected stormwater may contain. Stormwater is rainwater that runs along all types of airtight surfaces. When rainwater travels along these surfaces, varying chemicals and pollutants accumulate. These include fertilizers, pesticides, oil, heavy metals from vehicle exhaust, and bacteria. The rain garden provides a location for the stormwater runoff to break down, instead of flowing untreated, right into local waterways. By creating a rain garden, you can be part of the effort to keep our bays clean and safe places to swim or fish. 

Things to know before building a rain garden

A common concern for those considering building a rain garden is that it will attract mosquitoes. However, the pond formed from the collected stormwater does not stand for more than 24 hours. Therefore, the number of mosquitoes in your yard will not increase because mosquitoes cannot reproduce within 24 hours. Make sure your rain garden is properly draining. 

To protect the foundation of your home, begin building your rain garden 10 to 15 feet away from the house perimeter. If the rain garden is too close to your home, the foundation could become damaged due to moisture buildup. Also, avoid building the garden above a septic tank because the septic system’s pipes can get damaged due to soil compression. Soil compression happens when pressure is applied to a porous material, like soil, compacting the material. Unstable pressure can lead to problems such as the roots invading the pipes.

How to ensure a rain garden will function

Before implementing a rain garden in your backyard, it is crucial to test the soil. After digging a hole about 4 to 8 inches deep, fill it with water. If the water does not drain within 24 hours, the rain garden will not function in that spot. Although, you can always try another area in your yard! Once you have found an appropriate location for your rain garden, it is helpful to determine if it will receive an adequate amount of sunlight. If the location of your rain garden sustains a decent amount of sunlight, a wider variety of plants could grow. 

When choosing the layout of your garden, shapes such as a horseshoe, oval, kidney, or teardrop will work best in the center of your yard, while a simple long line will work along the edge of your yard. 

Adding plants 

The plants in your rain garden should be separated into three zones. Plants that flourish in the wettest environments should be in the middle of the garden. Plants that can grow in standing water should be on the slope of the garden. Water-loving plants such as common buttonbush, switchgrass, and native sedges work best. Lastly, plants that thrive in dry conditions with lower absorption rates should be placed along the edge of the garden. For more information on which plants are best for a rain garden on Long Island, visit the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s fact sheet at


In the first couple of years, water your rain garden periodically to help establish the plants, and after this period the garden will be minimal maintenance! Simply weed and prune when needed and enjoy your beautiful, native rain garden!

The power of your impact

Rain gardens are capable of collecting hundreds of gallons of water in a severe rainstorm. If even a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of homes across Suffolk County planted rain gardens, millions of gallons of stormwater runoff would be prevented from flowing into the Great South Bay. 

Rebates available!

To help offset the costs of creating a rain garden in your yard, take advantage of a new homeowner rebate program sponsored by the Long Island Regional Planning Council (LIRPC), in partnership with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and NEIWPCC. The Long Island Garden Rewards Program provides up to $500 to offset the expense of installing green infrastructure on their properties including rain barrels, native plantings, and rain gardens. Visit for more information.

About Save The Great South Bay

Save The Great South Bay is a local 501(c)3 nonprofit that advocates for and implements real solutions that help protect and preserve the bay, and with that, strengthen our South Shore communities. Our volunteer-riven activities include the Creek Defender creek cleanup program, the Great South Bay Oyster Project and a multitude of Habitat Restoration programs. It’s our bay, our heritage — and our legacy. It is up to all of us to protect it for today and for future generations to enjoy. To learn more about Save The Great South Bay, visit and follow us on social media.


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