Rain Gardens & Plant Recommendations

Question: What is a rain garden and what plants are suitable for one?

With all the rain lately, no wonder your thoughts turn to how to manage rainfall in the garden!

A rain garden is a landscaped area designed to collect rainfall and manage stormwater runoff. It is suitable for a low-lying area that temporarily holds runoff from the surrounding landscape until it evaporates, is taken up by plants, or soaks into the ground. The plants and soil in a rain garden act as a filter for groundwater pollutants. For a rain garden to work properly, it must have the right plants and be constructed and maintained properly. For details on how to build a rain garden, read the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) publication Stormwater Management for Homeowners Fact Sheet 5.

What plants should be included in a rain garden? Select plants that can tolerate both shorter, wet periods and longer, dry periods. This includes plants with ornamental value, such as flowers, berries, or interesting bark or leaves; herbaceous (non-woody plants) and evergreen plants, perennials (rather than annuals), and a mix of groundcovers, shrubs, and trees (if the garden is large enough). Plants adapted to local conditions, and plants that are not aggressive or invasive are also great for rain gardens.

Here are a few plant recommendations:

• Perennials: Asters, Beebalm, Black-eyed Susan, Bluestar, Cardinal Flower, Goldenrod
• Shrubs: American Beautyberry, Arrowwood, Chokeberry, Dogwood, Fothergilla, Oakleaf Hydrangea
• Trees: Crepe Myrtle, Eastern Redbud, Hazel Alder, Serviceberry
• Grasses or Grass-like: Little Bluestem, Rushes, Sedges, Sweetflag

For more recommended plants, see the VCE publication Rain Garden Plants.


“Rain Gardens,” University of Maryland Extension

“Rain Gardens,” Natural Resources Conservation Service