Nationwide rain garden app now includes Indiana plants

August 20th, 2018 by

A smartphone app named “Rain Garden,” designed to help people plan and build rain gardens across America, is now customized with a specialized list of plants suited for Indiana. Through video tutorials, diagrams and tools, the app makes it easy to learn the basics of designing, installing and maintaining a rain garden.

Many people and communities use sustainable landscape design and management practices, such as rain gardens, to prevent polluted stormwater runoff from flowing into nearby rivers and streams and harming the water supply. To stop runoff from reaching water bodies, stormwater can be directed toward rain gardens to be absorbed by plants and soils.

Rain Garden app screenshot

Hoosiers can download “Rain Garden” for free through the Apple or Google app store. Created at the University of Connecticut, the app includes tools for determining soil type, measuring the area needed for the garden, and managing multiple rain garden projects.

The Indiana plant list was made possible by Kara Salazar of Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant and the Purdue Rainscaping Education Program, Rosie Lerner of Purdue Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, John Orick of the Purdue Master Gardener program, Kris Medic of the Purdue Extension Community Development program, Jane Frankenberger of Purdue Agricultural and Biological Engineering, and Laura Esman of Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources.

Purdue Extension is growing rain garden experts

October 20th, 2015 by

Next summer, a parking lot on an Indiana campus will be a little prettier and a little less likely to flood due to a recently installed rain garden. That rain garden planting capped off a training workshop at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus (IUPUC).

The Purdue University Extension Rainscaping Education Program team held a two-day intensive workshop September 17-18 for 24 participants from across the state, including Master Gardeners, Soil and Water Conservation District professionals, landscaping contractors, and municipal separate storm sewer system managers.

They learned specifics about rain gardens and other rainscaping techniques, which offer an alternative to standard infrastructure methods for flood prevention and stormwater management. These plantings capture rain water where it lands and slowly absorb it into the soil.

The goal is for workshop participants to take this new knowledge back home to incorporate rainscaping in their community, to engage in public education, and to provide technical assistance. “In Jasper County, participants who attended our previous workshop have held sessions for residents based on our program,” said Kara Salazar, IISG specialist. “Several participants from this workshop have already expressed plans to do the same.”

The workshop was designed to use flipped class instruction, which means the participants came to class already knowing the ABCs of rain gardens. Before the workshop they had homework, which was to watch seven instructional videos. “This approach really worked,” said Salazar. “We were able to go in depth in our classroom discussions.”

The workshop included a tour of rain gardens in the area and hands-on experience helping with the installation of the IUPUC rain garden. This garden was an opportunity to also bring in IUPUC students, who participated in the site selection and the planting. They will also work with faculty member Luke Jacobus, rainscaping team member Kris Medic, local Master Gardeners, and the campus maintenance crew to help maintain the garden.

“As we choose a host site for our demonstration gardens, longevity and sustainability are key factors,” said Salazar.

My Rain Garden Walk: Trials and tribulations on the streets of Champaign

July 7th, 2015 by

When Anna Barnes and David Riecks originally installed their rain garden in 2010 they knew it might take a little work, but they were in for more than they thought. Ranging from the uncontrollable to the unavoidable they had their fair share of trouble. But it was nothing they couldn’t handle.

The couple took the opportunity to build their rain garden when the City of Champaign was putting in new sewer drainage and a driveway for their neighbor. Along with their neighbor, they decided to build their garden in the lawn space along the side of the road, as the city was going to dig up the whole area.

The garden itself is made up of two basins. The lower basin is along the road and the upper is on the main property, the sidewalk separating the two. The lower basin contains a variety of flowering plants and grass-like plants. When in full bloom the garden contains lavender, daffodils, black-eyed Susans as well as obsidian heuchera and dwarf goldenrod. The basin is lined with Pennsylvania sedge and Ice Dance sedge. The sedge helps keep the soil in place as well as protects the garden from things such as too much snow build up and salt. The upper basin now has brunnera, Pennsylvania sedge, and ‘Ice Dance’ sedge that shares space with the walnut tree in the front yard.

In the garden’s first years, it suffered from back to back droughts as well as a surprising foe, dogs. The upper basin originally had astilbe, ligularia, and osumnda. Not only were these plants unable to compete with trees roots, they were not drought proof either. Plants such as turtle heads, cardinal flowers, and ligularias in the lower basin could not survive with the extreme lack of water. Also, the garden did not thrive because their street is a popular path for dog walkers, so it was frequently urinated on. Dog urine contains chemicals that dry out plants and can lead to leaf burn. In addition, dogs walked through their garden, unintentionally damaging plants.

Barnes explained that too few people understand that a single perennial can cost as much as a bag of grass seed, and that some people believe dog urine is no more harmful than water. She added a sign in the garden warning of the dangers of dog urine on their plants asking people to curb their dogs.

This led to changes in the original garden layout. The plants that couldn’t survive were replaced and some plants were moved around to protect others. For example, the Ice Dance sedge is now along the road in the lower basin, replacing the Pennsylvania sedge. Barnes did this strategically in response to the amount of snow and salt the area is exposed to. Barnes noticed the snowplow that cleans her neighborhood tends to pile up excess snow, and therefore, salt as well, along part of her garden. This damaged the Pennsylvania sedge that was supposed to keep the soil together and protect other flowers in the garden.

Barnes advice to homeowners who wished to start their own rain gardens, is that patience is key. “Really watch the site for a full year,” she said. She remembers that their landscape architect only saw the area of their potential garden in the fall, which heavily influenced the types of plants picked and their arrangement.

But these difficulties don’t discourage them. They look forward to watching their garden grow throughout the years.

“As time goes on it will look like a little prairie,” Barnes said.

They will have their little prairie in the midst of their city.

-Victoria Figueroa

U of I students conquer Campus RainWorks Challenge

May 5th, 2015 by

Last month, the U.S. EPA awarded University of Illinois at Chicago and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign first and second prizes in their Campus RainWorks Challenge. The national competition recognizes student-led green infrastructure plans and projects to manage stormwater on campus. Eliana Brown, has been following the UIUC plan from the beginning. 

The first time I heard that landscapes could be designed to improve water quality, it was a revelation. I knew about the highly-effective bioremediation treatment cells at industrial facilities. But, the fact that the landscapes we walk through in our daily lives could have that power was exciting. What came to be known as “green infrastructure” is an elegant blend of landscape architecture and civil engineering that places of higher learning should embrace.

The EPA Office of Water seems to agree. Since 2012, it has invited students to design innovative green infrastructure projects to show how managing rainfall in a more natural way can benefit their community and the environment. 
Because I’m fond of the small creek running through the University of Illinois’ engineering college—known as Boneyard Creek—I have always wanted to see an entry from my campus. This year, I got my wish and then some. U.S. EPA announced on Earth Day that “Reverse Engineering: The Engineering Campus as Catalyst,” a master plan designed by a multi-disciplinary team of UIUC students under the direction of landscape architecture instructor Tawab Hlimi earned 2nd place. According to the EPA, 64 teams from 23 states submitted entries.
The plan focuses on improving water quality in Boneyard Creek by installing green streets, roof catchments, bioswales, and rain gardens in the surrounding area. Native plants and pollinator habitats are also proposed to boost the creeks’ ecological role and create more recreational opportunities. 

Building off this success, Hlimi and teaching assistant Faezeh Ashtiani showed the plan along with the work of their spring semester students in an exhibit called “Reverse Engineering: Reconfiguring the Urban-Riparian Interface” at [CO] [LAB] in downtown Urbana. Students expanded on the Campus RainWorks plan upstream and in other parts of campus, including three visions of Dorner Driver Retention Pond that add water quality filtration to the existing water storage function.

Looking to the future, Hlimi has applied for a Student Sustainability Committee grant to build a multi-purpose demonstration rain garden. 

New program teaches rainscaping practices

March 3rd, 2015 by

Stormwater management in Indiana is getting a shot in the arm next month with the launch of the Rainscaping Education Program.  

A collaboration between Purdue Extension, IISG, and others, the program provides how-to information and resources on landscape design and management practices that help prevent polluted stormwater from reaching local waterways. Practices are appropriate for both residential gardens and small-scale public spaces, including schools and community centers. 

It all starts April 14 with the first in a series of workshops focused on rain gardens. Over the course of five three-hour sessions, participants will visit and discuss existing rain gardens in the community and learn how to design, construct, and maintain one with a focus on community education. They will also get a chance to test their knowledge by collaborating on a demonstration rain garden with community partners. 

The Rainscaping Education Program is open to Purdue Master Gardeners, personnel at conservation organizations, stormwater professionals, and landscape professionals and consultants. For more information and to learn how to register, visit the program website

***Photo: The plants and soil in rain gardens help absorb stormwater and filter out pollutants. Courtesy of the Champaign-Urbana Residents for Raingardens and BioSwales. 

Website of the week: Plan for the future with Sustainable Communities

December 17th, 2014 by
A closer look at web tools and sites that boost research and empower Great Lakes communities to secure a healthy environment and economy. 
The Sustainable Communities program, a collaboration between IISG and Purdue University Extension, has been helping Indiana decision makers and residents improve the long-term health of their communities for years. And learning about available workshops and resources is now easier than ever with their new program website.    

Visitors will find information on key Purdue University Extension programs and resources to support community planning. Enhancing the Value of Public Spaces, for example, provides a framework for collecting data on community assets and using that data to preserve and improve parks, town centers, and other public spaces. The program will also help community leaders charged with managing public spaces and implementing new projects build communities that are more resilient to economic and environmental changes. The process starts with a one-day workshop that helps participants identify best practices for improving public spaces. Collaborative activities emphasize forming partnerships to achieve community sustainability goals, and follow-up working group meetings facilitated by Purdue Extension provide the resources and technical support needed to plan and implement projects tailored to individual communities. Workshops can be scheduled now. The complete curriculum will be available for download in early 2015.

 For Master Gardeners, stormwater educators, and others involved in community education programs, a visit to the website is a quick way to learn about a train-the-trainer program designed to reduce stormwater runoff and the pollution it carries. Rainscaping Education is an advanced training opportunity that includes classroom instruction, online learning opportunities, and field trips to community examples of rainscaping projects. Participants also team up with community partners to design and create a demonstration rain garden. At the end of the four training modules, participants are prepared to support rainscaping projects and associated education programs in their communities. Workshops will begin this spring.  
For more information on Purdue’s Sustainable Communities Extension Program, contact Kara Salazar
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