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

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Saturday - March 20, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Rain Gardens
Title: Rain garden plants for Austin
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

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 they would need to be able to handle the occasional flood but also need to be drought tolerant. Help please.

ANSWER:

You have the right idea, looking for plants that can tolerate both saturated soil and drought conditions.

The situation you are describing is considered to be a "rain garden" or "bioswale" which is an imaginative, attractive and functional method for slowing down stormwater to facilitate water infiltration into the soil, which in turn reduces pollution and erosion.

Because of the increased interest all over the country in this type of garden, we Green Gurus are in the process of compiling a Special Collection of Rain Garden plants, but it is not ready yet.  In the meantime, if you visit our Native Plant Database and search our Recommended Species lists for Central Texas selecting both wet and dry conditions (and shade to part shade), it will yeild 78 species.  You must then sort through them to see which plants will tolerate both extremes.

You will also find information and plant lists on the Texas A&M website that should be helpful (although not all their suggested plants are natives ... some are adapted aliens).

Here are a few favourites from our list.  If you click on the link it will take you to the plant information page for a detailed description. There are also shrubs and trees that are suitable for those conditions that would be too large for your site.

Aquilegia canadensis (red columbine)

Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama)

Cooperia drummondii (evening rainlily)

Echinacea purpurea (eastern purple coneflower)

Gaillardia suavis (perfumeballs)

Ipomopsis rubra (standing-cypress)

Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii (wax mallow)

Melica nitens (threeflower melicgrass)

Monarda fistulosa (wild bergamot)

Passiflora incarnata (purple passionflower)

Panicum virgatum (switchgrass)

Rudbeckia hirta (blackeyed Susan)

Salvia coccinea (blood sage)


Aquilegia canadensis

Bouteloua curtipendula

Cooperia drummondii

Echinacea purpurea

Gaillardia suavis

Ipomopsis rubra

Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii

Melica nitens

Monarda fistulosa

Passiflora incarnata

Panicum virgatum


Rudbeckia hirta

Salvia coccinea

 

 

 

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January 06, 2008 - Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, What plants do you recommend for a bioswale or rain garden in Austin, Texas?
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October 21, 2009 - Can you recommend edible plants that would be appropriate for use in a rain garden? I'm located in Charlottesville, VA, but this can be in general as well.
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July 27, 2015 - Hi, thanks for all your help in the past! I have a generous spot in my spacious back yard that is begging to be filled. The top soil is 4" sandy loam, below which is black clay.With frog strangler r...
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