Native Plants for Rain Gardens
Volume 23 Issue 3, Fall 2018
by Anne Owen
An area of your yard that naturally collects rainwater, or a natural or man-made swale, offers an interesting opportunity for planting native plants that can tolerate periodic inundation after a rainstorm, as well as drier periods once the water has soaked away. A number of our well-loved “powerhouse” pollinator plants will likely do well in rain garden situations. These include Bee Balm (Monarda didyma), Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium spp.), but there are other interesting candidates, each with its value to wildlife.
False Indigo-bush (Amorpha fruticosa) flowers from April to June, providing nectar for butterflies and native bees. It is also the larval host to several butterflies, including the Silver-spotted Skipper. It may form dense thickets that offer shelter for wildlife. 6-13 feet; full to part sun.
Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), a summer nectar source for pollinators, offers berries for birds through the winter and has brilliant fall color. 6-10 feet; full sun.
Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica) flowers from May to June, providing nectar for early butterflies. In a massed planting, this can be a great landscaping shrub and boasts pretty fall color. 3-8 feet; blooms best with full sun at least part of the day.
Maple-leaf Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) has white, flat-topped flower clusters in May and June, followed by dark blue berries. This shrub is a larval host for the Spring Azure butterfly,while its berries attract birds including the Eastern Bluebird and Gray Catbird. 4-6 feet; full sun to full shade.
Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea) has clusters of small yellow flowers in April and May that attract native bees and butterflies. This perennial is a larval host for the Black Swallowtail butterfly. 1-2 feet; full sun to full shade.
Blazing Star (Liatris spicata) produces showy, tall spikes of lilac flowers in mid-summer and looks spectacular in grouped plantings. It provides an important source of nectar for hummingbirds, butterflies and native bees. 2-4 feet; full sun.
Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) has short-lived, showy white flowers from July to September. Many species of butterflies and moths use it as a caterpillar host, and its flowers provide nectar for hummingbirds. 3-6 feet; full to part sun.
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) is a short-lived perennial that presents a tall spike of rich red flowers from July to September. The flowers attract hummingbirds and many pollinator species. 1-4 feet, full sun to full shade.
Taking advantage of natural “rain gardens” not only adds to the diversity of planting and wildlife habitat, but can also reduce the amount of rainwater runoff into storm water catchments and ultimately into our streams and rivers. To find out more about constructing a formal rain garden, visit the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District Virginia Conservation Assistance Program website.
If you would like to find out more about the Audubon at Home program and providing habitat for wildlife on your own property, please contact Anne Owen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Native Plants for Northern Virginia, http://www.plantnovanatives.org
The Rain Garden Network, http://www.raingardennetwork.com/
Virginia Cooperative Extension, Urban Water-Quality Management, Rain Garden Plants Publication 426-043