Design Your Landscaping to Handle Stormwater Runoff

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It’s time to think about Spring. Yes, now, before the heavy run-off that begins the growing season.

Every year, melting snow piles and seasonal rain showers wreak havoc on your landscape. They wash away soil, rocks, and mulch. Or large amounts of water can pool, causing a mud-filled mess. Stormwater runoff also causes harm to ecosystems, as it often contains pesticides and fertilizers. There are even some areas where legislation limits impermeable surfaces on a property. Anything over this amount may result in fines.

Seasonal storms do not have to ruin your lush landscaping and can be naturally filtered to avoid harmful runoff. There are many ways you can handle stormwater while maintaining an environmentally friendly and attractive landscape.

Create Berms and Swales

First, consider the lay of your land. Determine where the water currently flows on the property and decide if that location needs to be diverted. If the water naturally flows towards a building, you need to redirect it away from the foundation.

A berm is an excellent solution to this problem. Berms are slightly raised areas of land that can help change the direction the water flows. They are often accompanied by a swale, which is an area of land that operates as a shallow vegetative gutter. By combining berms and swales, water can be absorbed in your yard or easily flow through to a catchment designed to allow evaporation while providing a source of water for your plants.

You can build your own berm with some planning and a bit of elbow grease. Mark your planned berm with a garden hose, dig around the outline, and fill it in with absorbent gravel, clay soil, and topsoil. It may, however, be best to contact a landscaper if you’re uncertain about the process.

Plant a Rain Garden

Rain gardens are a great option if a portion of your yard lies lower than the rest and often experiences pooling of stormwater. They also add to a yard’s aesthetic. Guests may not even realize your rain gardens serve an environmental purpose — making this solution a win-win for any homeowner.

First, identify a low-lying area and grow a mixture of plants that require a lot of water. Some examples are daylilies, bee balm, and butterfly weed. If you do not have a low-lying area, you can dig one yourself or hire a professional landscaper. You’ll soon have a sustainable rain garden with just a little care and maintenance.

rain garden

Rain gardens catch stormwater for plants so it doesn’t run off into drains. Photo: USEPA Environmental-Protection-Agency – Rain Garden, Public Domain

Hardscape With Permeable Pavers

Residential communities in rainy regions often struggle to control the environmental effects of runoff. In fact, one urban block produces five times the runoff that a forested area would. This becomes a crisis when parking lots, driveways, and sidewalks prevent natural water absorption.

What’s a homeowner to do? Enter permeable pavers. They offer a way to manage stormwater with your driveway, patio, and other hard surfaces. The stormwater flows through the paver into the soil, rather than running off into the street.

Use permeable pavers in your hardscaping to contribute to a long-term solution for stormwater runoff. While it’s a more expensive step than gardening, it’s also highly impactful for your community. The next time you pave your driveway or work on your patio, do some research to help you decide if this option makes sense for your climate.

Gravel and Stone Beds

Gravel areas and stone beds provide a porous area that stormwater can quickly filter through to be absorbed into the soil below. These beds are often used in swales, and they’re popular because they have a natural look. Plus, they’re great options for climates where grass doesn’t grow easily.

Creating gravel or stone beds can slow runoff, filter water, and aid in reabsorption of stormwater. Try digging your own gravel path to create an attractive, environmental landscaping feature. Mark where you want to place the path, dig two to three inches deep, then layer in a hard stone pack on the bottom and some gravel or crushed stone on top.

Steep Slopes Can Be Good for Runoff

Keep in mind the slope of the land while designing your stormwater-friendly landscape. If your property slopes toward any buildings, you will want to divert that water. Steep slopes can, however, be a good thing for stormwater absorption.

You can create tiered retaining walls with stone and plant various shrubs, grasses, and perennials that require a lot of water. These terraces will slow the flow of water down a steep slope. This reduces soil erosion and runoff while the plants absorb and use the excess water.

Landscaping Tips for Stormwater Runoff

Ultimately, it’s important to research which of these steps makes the most sense for you. Your landscape plan will depend on your climate, the amount of precipitation you get, and the size of your yard.

For example, you may not want to plant a rain garden if you live in a place that is dry for many months and then sees severe storms. Instead, you may opt for permeable pavers or stone beds.

Whatever you choose, know that you’re doing good things for your environment. The more you can do to stop runoff and encourage the filtering and reabsorption of stormwater, the better off the surrounding ecosystems will be.

About the Author

Holly Welles is a home improvement writer and the editor of The Estate Update. Her work on environmental design has been published on Today’s Homeowner, Build Magazine, and other industry publications.

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