Turn a wet trouble spot into a lush and Earth-friendly oasis by capturing the rain.

Rain, rain, go away. Or perhaps, don't! A top cause of water pollution is storm runoff washing lawn fertilizers and driveway sealants directly into streams and rivers—a problem you can help thwart by capturing water in your garden. (Bonus: Birds and butterflies will appreciate you creating a quenching habitat.)

rain chain into garden annuals bed
Credit: Brie Passano

One strategy is a rain chain. When Iowa landscape architect Lisa Orgler designed the bed above, she chose annuals that could handle sudden rain. "I narrowed the palette to burgundies and yellows, plus some greens," Orgler says. "Texture is what this garden is all about."

Another, slightly more technical tactic is to plant a rain garden. These intentionally wet beds use gravity and plants to collect and filter water, keeping contaminants out of storm drains. They're especially good for naturally low areas, but you can create one artificially as well. 

Plants for Rain Gardens

The name evokes water-loving plants, but a proper rain garden actually needs a spectrum. For the base (the deepest or wettest area), choose plants that don't mind soggy soil. Plants installed along the slope should be able to handle wet or dry conditions. On the edge, place varieties that prefer more drainage.

Rainy-Day Perennials

If annuals don't whet your appetite, swap in these perennials that thrive in part sun along ponds and in wetlands or rain gardens.

cape cod boys siberian iris
Credit: Courtesy of Walters Gardens, Inc.

'Cape Cod Boys' Siberian Iris

Expect a blooming bounty of periwinkle blue
and gold. When not flowering, wide leaf blades add vertical interest and blue-green color. Plant the bulblike rhizomes so their tops are exposed and their roots are covered with soil.

bowles golden sedge
Credit: Courtesy of Walters Gardens, Inc.

'Bowles Golden' Sedge

Prized for its slender, arching and luminous
yellow leaves, this striking sedge holds color through the year. Pair with large-leaf plants
or those with dark foliage. Trim tattered leaves in late winter; fresh ones will emerge in spring.

shadowland etched glass hosta
Credit: Courtesy of Walters Gardens, Inc.

Shadowland 'Etched Glass' Hosta

Puckered leaves stand out with brilliant
yellow centers, slashes of lime and deep green edges. Luckily the thick, textured foliage
repels slugs. In summer, large fragrant white flowers tower above and attract hummingbirds.

spot-on lungwort
Credit: Courtesy of Walters Gardens, Inc.

'Spot On' Lungwort

Lungwort is a favorite for edging beds. This new cultivar features silver-speckle leaves and deep salmon flowers that emerge in late spring and mature to rich blue. They're easy to multiply; simply lift the plant, divide in half or thirds, and replant.

rain chain drip basin
Credit: Brie Passano

Where to Plant a Rain Garden

To prevent runoff, a rain garden should collect water, so it can absorb over several hours (no more than a day, though—this isn't a pond). So watch how water flows during storms, especially by downspouts, low areas and impermeable surfaces, such as driveways. Then dig your garden as a depression or channel lined with plants that will drink up collected water. Stones can help maintain the garden's concave topography (and look pretty too).

Rain Chains

When planting under a gutter, consider these melodic downspout alternatives.


Rain chains originated centuries ago inJapan as a way to guide water from roofs while accentuating a home's or temple's architecture. They're called kusari-doi (chain gutters). The water makes a musical sound as it pours from cup to cup or drips through a linked chain.


Lay pavers or flagstones so they angle away from the house's foundation.Set a basin under the rain chain and on top of the pavers, making sure to tilt it away from the house. Install the rain chain per manufacturer's directions, securing it at the bottom to prevent flailing during windy days. Surround the basin with well-draining soil and water-tolerant plants.