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Monday - April 19, 2010

From: Wake Forest, NC
Region: Southeast
Topic: Rain Gardens
Title: Rain garden plants for NC
Answered by: Anne Bossart


I have a small creek at the back of our property, it's normally dry except when it rains. Builders removed the natural plants and left it bare. What native plants could I plant in it to bring it back to normality? Look forward to your advice.


This is a great opportunity to create a rain garden that willl not only be an attractive addition to your property but will restore some natural habitat.  Planting in the area will also slow down storm water runoff, facilitating infiltration (which reduces pollution). 

As you have already realized, this will not really be a stream planting as the area is dry when there is no rain. That means you will want to select plants that can tolerate not only saturated soil, but dry conditions as well.  

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service has a Rain Garden web page that you will find very helpful. They have general information about rain gardens and also have plant lists for different regions of the state.  Their instructions are for gardens with an oval layout where there is no place for the water to flow, but your situation will be similar enough, depending on how quickly the water runs off/infiltrates. Their plant list also indicates the amount of saturation and/or drought each plant can tolerate.

I would start with one of their lists of recommended plants for the Piedmont Region (depending on whether you have sunny or shady conditions).  You can then refer to our Native Plant Database  for more detailed information about and images of the plants you are not familiar with. You can copy and paste the plant names from their list into our database.  

Here are a few plants I have selected from their lists that I think you will like:


Callicarpa americana (American beautyberry)

Clethra alnifolia (coastal sweetpepperbush)

Itea virginica (Virginia sweetspire)

Ilex glabra (inkberry)


Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed)

Baptisia australis (blue wild indigo)

Coreopsis lanceolata (lanceleaf tickseed)

Osmunda cinnamomea (cinnamon fern)


Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats)

Panicum virgatum (switchgrass)

They have many other plants on the lists; all of which are excellent choices.

The basic premise of the Sustainable Sites Initiative is that every landscape (garden) can be a functioning ecosystem and we applaud your efforts!

Callicarpa americana

Clethra alnifolia

Itea virginica

Ilex glabra

Asclepias incarnata

Baptisia australis

Coreopsis lanceolata

Osmunda cinnamomea

Chasmanthium latifolium

Panicum virgatum





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