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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:
 
Andropogon gerardii (big bluestem)
Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem)
Panicum virgatum (switchgrass)
Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass)
Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats)
Calamagrostis canadensis (bluejoint)
Andropogon glomeratus (bushy bluestem)
Carex crinita (fringed sedge)
 
Shrubs:
 
Cephalanthus occidentalis (common buttonbush)
Cornus amomum (silky dogwood)
Gaylussacia baccata (black huckleberry)
Ilex verticillata (common winterberry)
Lindera benzoin (northern spicebush)
 
Herbaceous Plants:
 
Iris brevicaulis (zigzag iris)
Lobelia cardinalis (cardinalflower)
Monarda didyma (scarlet beebalm)
Phlox maculata (wild sweetwilliam)
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 

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