Once rain hits the ground, it’s on the move. When rain lands on healthy soil with deep-rooted plants, most of it filters down into the soil, where it replenishes our underground reservoirs of water and gradually discharges into our rivers, lakes, and bays. With development replacing much of the forests and wetlands of New Jersey, less and less rainfall is able to move into the soil in this manner. Instead, it runs off hard surfaces like rooftops, driveways, streets, and parking lots and down storm drains, eventually emptying into local waterways.

rain garden at the Monmouth County Library, Ocean Township Branch
Rain garden at the Monmouth County Library, Ocean Township Branch.
A bioswale capturing runoff in Island Heights, New Jersey.
A bioswale capturing runoff in Island Heights, New Jersey.

This stormwater runoff dumps large quantities of water into our rivers and streams within a short period of time, often creating flash floods. It also carries fertilizers, eroded soil, pet waste, litter, petrochemicals, and other pollutants into our rivers, lakes, and bays. (This type of “people” pollution coming from multiple sources is called non-point source pollution.) As more rainwater runs off, less goes back into the groundwater, which is the main source of drinking water for New Jersey residents.

To have clean drinking water and healthy waterways for fishing and swimming in New Jersey, we need to find ways to manage this runoff and the non-point source pollution it carries.

Rain Gardens to the Rescue!

A rain garden is a shallow, landscaped depression that captures, filters, and infiltrates stormwater runoff.  In a rain garden, healthy soil and deep-rooted plants move stormwater into the ground and help remove pollutants. One type of rain garden, a vegetated bioswale, absorbs and treats stormwater while directing it from one place to another.

Rain gardens are both functional and beautiful. A rain garden in your yard will:

  • Act as a sponge and filter for your yard’s stormwater;
  • Soak in up to 30% more runoff than a conventional lawn;
  • Require less maintenance than a lawn – once established, a rain garden does not need to be mowed, fertilized, or watered;
  • Provide habitat for wildlife, including bees, butterflies, and birds;
  • Help reduce both flooding and pollution in your local water body; and
  • Replenish groundwater, New Jersey’s main source of water.

Locate your Jersey-Friendly rain garden to capture runoff from your downspouts, driveway, sidewalk, or lawn.  Native perennial plants with well-established root systems will work best to filter the water captured by your rain garden.

Rain Garden Benefits Add Up

A rain garden in your Jersey-Friendly Yard may seem like a small contribution, but the benefits quickly add up when rain gardens blossom in many yards.

More Rain Gardens in New Jersey = Cleaner Water + Less Flooding + Replenished Water Supplies

Video Credit: The Nature Conservancy

Rutgers University Demonstration Gardens

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Rutgers University has extensive resources for homeowners, businesses and local governments interested in creating rain gardens. Link to the map graphic at right for a list of demonstration projects by county. Over 125 demonstration rain gardens have been installed and are being maintained throughout the State of New Jersey. They are collaborative projects between the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program, various Rutgers Cooperative Extension County offices, local stakeholders, and volunteers.

Additional Resources

Rutgers Water Resources Program – Rain Gardens
Rutgers Rain Garden Manual of New Jersey: Detailed information about how to plan, install, and maintain a rain garden.
Rutgers Rain Garden Information Center: Multiple resources about rain gardens.
Rain Garden Manual for New Jersey: Manual published by The Native Plant Society of New Jersey includes sample rain garden designs.
Rain Gardens – Gardens With Benefits: Brochure published by the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.
Maryland Sea Grant Extension:  Website with a series of How to Install a Rain Garden videos.
Rain Garden iPhone app:  Detailed information about how to install your own rain garden and plant it with native vegetation.