Rent Shop Volunteer Join

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

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
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Monday - November 30, 2009

From: Aurora, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: Rain Gardens
Title: Plants for Bioswale in Illinois
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

I have a 300ft by 15 ft bioswale in Aurora, Illinois. What plants would be best used? Is there a percentage of each plant to take into consideration?

ANSWER:

What a great project!  A bioswale or rain garden is the ideal marriage of function and form.  It will slow down storm water runoff to allow infiltration of water into the soil.  This prevents erosion, facilitates the removal of pollutants by soil biota and reduces irrigation requirements to adjacent garden areas. On top of these not insignicant benefits, the choice of appropriate native plants will also provide wildlife habitat. Because of your location not far from Lake Michigan, you will find the website Rain Gardens of West Michigan very helpful.

Your area is long and narrow so you will likely be planting a garden that will simulate a stream and bank.  The light conditions will impact whether you are creating a "woodland" or "sunny meadow" stream and control your plant choices.  You have an area that is large enough to incorporate trees and shrubs as well as perennials and grasses. Plant percentages are entirely up to you; you will design this garden the same way you design any other "mixed border" in your garden.

Although your swale will look like a stream and will some times have an (over)abundance of water in it, your plants will also need to be adapted to dry conditions as well.  Fortunately, many plants that can survive in saturated conditions are also able to handle dry and even compacted soil. If it is possible to amend the soil before you begin to remediate compaction, you will have more success as the water will infiltrate the soil quicker.  You need to evaluate your conditions before you select plants to determine how long you actually have standing water.  If the water stands for an extended period, you will want to choose only plants that can tolerate those conditions.

Ultimately, your plant selection will be limited by what is available in your area but our Native Plant Database will be a great starting point. By doing a Combination Search choosing Illinois and Wet Conditions along with your light requirements and plant types, you will find many plants to choose from. You can narrow your choices even further, if you start by clicking on Recommended Species for Illinois and narrowing the search according to conditions.  This will result in a much smaller list of plants that are readily available. There is also a list of recommended suppliers linked to that page.

Here are some choices from that list:

Grasses

Calamagrostis canadensis (bluejoint)

Carex stipata (owlfruit sedge)

Spartina pectinata (prairie cordgrass)

Perennials

Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed)

Athyrium filix-femina (common ladyfern)

Chelone glabra (white turtlehead)

Gentiana andrewsii (closed bottle gentian)

Iris virginica (Virginia iris)

Shrubs

Cephalanthus occidentalis (common buttonbush)

Physocarpus opulifolius (common ninebark)

Viburnum opulus var. americanum (American cranberrybush)

Small Trees

Alnus incana (gray alder)

Amelanchier arborea var. arborea (common serviceberry)


Calamagrostis canadensis

Carex stipata

Spartina pectinata

Asclepias incarnata

Athyrium filix-femina

Chelone glabra

Gentiana andrewsii

Iris virginica

Cephalanthus occidentalis

Physocarpus opulifolius

Viburnum opulus var. americanum

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Rain Gardens Questions

Managing a wet area in Austin
November 18, 2013 - I suspect that my backyard lies at the very top of a creek watershed. However, all of the water flowing through it gets blocked by a solid stone wall. Whenever we get a significant rain event, part ...
view the full question and answer

Rain garden plants for Austin
March 20, 2010 - I have a 7'x1' shaded area in between my house and sidewalk where the downspout is, and would like to add plants for a more eco-friendly drainage solution. Which plants would be best? I know that th...
view the full question and answer

School Rain Garden in Iowa
January 08, 2013 - Could you recommend plants for a rain garden to be installed on a middle school campus in the Council Bluffs Iowa area???? Many thanks!
view the full question and answer

Rain garden for Washington MO
March 08, 2013 - I have a 40' tall bald cypress at the bottom right corner of my sloped yard (slopes from 2 sides, has 3 gutter runoffs directed towards it from 50-70' away). Can I put a series of retaining walls up...
view the full question and answer

Native Texas plants for rain gardens
March 07, 2007 - I am looking for native Texas plants that would do well in very shady and partial shade rain gardens. Do you have any suggestions?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.