Explore Plants

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 

Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
1 rating

Saturday - March 07, 2009

From: Indianapolis, IN
Region: Midwest
Topic: Rain Gardens
Title: Native plants for a bioswale in Indianapolis
Answered by: Jackie OKeefe

QUESTION:

Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, Can you please recommend the types of plants I should use in a bioswale or rain garden in Indiana?

ANSWER:

Bioswales and rain gardens are areas designed to be catchments for runoff water. Their purposes are filtering out pollutants, settling silt and preventing flooding/erosion, and slowing water so that it is absorbed onsite into th water table. For definitions and illustrations, read these Wikipedia sites Bioswale and Rain Garden.
 
First, how complex do you want to get? The simplest answer is to plant the grasses and sedges that suit your area. These can be maintained most easily. If you are thinking of "garden" in the sense of flowers and/or shrubs and trees, your choices and placements are more complicated and the care required may be more extended, especially in the establishment phase.
 
How large and in what setting is your garden/bioswale? In a small setting, water-tolerant grasses and grassland perennials will suit well. A larger site can include some very interesting shrubs, and maybe trees. Such plants over time can create quite a different landscape and likely some wildlife habitat. Some of these plants produce fruits, nuts or seeds for wildlife.
 
Indiana is a pretty big place, and I bet there are multiple soil types, and some climatic variance. Your choices will be conditioned by their tolerance of acid or clay soils and your climate zone. Whether your site is sunny or to some degree shaded is also important. Our plant database will help you address those questions in the "Growing Conditions" section.
 
These things said, go to the Native Plant Database to look at some choices. Choose Indiana, the plant type or types you want in your swale, select the appropriate sunlight category and "wet" as the moisture requirement. This will bring up a list of possible plants, and will also include some swamp plants. The descriptions should help you distinguish them. For some help choosing the specific plants for your area, you could consult local plant nurseries. Under the heading "Suppliers" on our search page you can find regional outlets that carry native plants and seeds. You might check the Indiana Association of Soil & Water Conservation Districts, which seems to have a lot of links to conservation/habitat projects and information on watershed management at the county level. 
 
Below, I have listed the four grasses which are the primary components of tall-grass prairies which could easily be components of a prairie-setting swale. The next four grasses are well-suited to bogs and periodically flooded ground. The other plants I selected are educated guesses. Local native plant suppliers should be able to help make your specific selections and "weed out" my plant selections. 
 
 
Grasses:
 
 
Shrubs:
 
 
Herbaceous Plants:
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

More Rain Gardens Questions

Smarty Plants on water-absorbing plants
July 19, 2005 - I am looking for water-absorbing plants for L.A. zone. I am hoping this type of vegetation would ease the water retention problem at the planter right next to my basement. Is this a feasible solutio...
view the full question and answer

Native plants for a bioswale in Baltimore
July 22, 2009 - What native plants would suit a bioswale in an urban part of Baltimore City? The clay soil gets waterlogged and the site has part shade.
view the full question and answer

Grasses for moist, steep hillside in Tupelo MS
July 01, 2010 - I have a very steep bank that I have pampas grass planted in spots. It must be a natural spring in the bank because it stays very wet and runs into the street below. Can you suggest something to pla...
view the full question and answer

Native plants for high moisture area in Aspen CO
March 23, 2011 - We live near Aspen, CO at about 7,000 ft elevation. We have a seasonal creek running through our yard with large amounts of fertilization from farms in the water and a very high water table with tons ...
view the full question and answer

Expanding clay soils near rain garden
May 11, 2009 - I want to put a rain garden in my yard in central TX (Kyle). My subdivision architectural review committee expressed concerns about the expansive clay soils becoming saturated and possibly shortening...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.