Rain Garden Natives: Kara’s Picks

Picture courtesy of Michler’s Garden Center
Picture courtesy of Michler’s Garden Center

Folks around Central Kentucky often ask me which plants are appropriate for a rain garden. Rain garden soil conditions can vary from wet to dry, making them tough places for many plants to grow. The plants chosen for rain gardens are adapted to these conditions and typically have extensive roots that help pull water into the ground, which can help reduce stormwater runoff.

To help you get started on your rain garden, I’ve picked out a few of my favorite Kentucky natives that really thrive in moist or well-drained soils.

Eupatorium maculatum – Joe Pye Weed

15638101339_214e2973a3_o A Butterfly Magnet, the extravagant Joe Pye Weed is crowned with clusters of bright pink flowers in late summer. Eupatorium maculatum is perfect for planting in damp soil in marshy areas, along streambanks, and on pond edges. Joe Pye Weed (also called Spotted Joe Pye Weed) also thrives in rich garden soil. If you love Joe Pye but have too much shade, try Sweet Joe Pye Weed.


Monarda didyma – Bee Balm

22222 A pollinator favorite, Beebalm’s red bloom makes it especially attractive to hummingbirds. One of only a few red-flowered natives, it holds a special place in the mid-summer color scheme. Native to the Appalachian Mountains, Monarda didyma will grow well in zones 4 – 7. Does best in a rich soil with a good organic matter content to provide moisture during the heat of summer. Also known as Oswego Tea, American Beebalm or Scarlet Beebalm.


Chelome obliqua – Turtle Head

1111 Turtleheads are native wildflowers that adapt beautifully to garden conditions. In this species, plants form an upright, bushy mound of green foliage, bearing upright stems of large bright-pink hooded flowers beginning in late summer. Best in a moist or wet site, this also adapts well to average border conditions. Terrific at the waterside. Excellent for cutting. Showy and long lived. Attractive to butterflies. Plants are easily divided in spring.

If you would like to learn more about rain garden and apply for a $250 grant to build a rain garden at your own home check out our web page or register for a workshop!



Tour showcases the beauty, benefits of Central Kentucky rain gardens

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A rain garden is a shallow depression that captures runoff from impervious surfaces, such as rooftops, patios, driveways and parking lots, before it enters the storm water system. A rain garden uses natural processes to improve water quality by filtering pollutants and reducing the amount of storm water runoff. The water easily infiltrates into the soil because of the deep roots of the native plants and recharges the groundwater supply.

Rain gardens:

  • Significantly filter and reduce runoff before it enters local waterways and groundwater
  • Decrease drainage problems and localized flooding
  • Conserve water and reduce pollution
  • Attract pollinators such as birds, bees, and butterflies, and provide habitat for other wildlife
  • Recharge the groundwater supply
  • Enhance the beauty of yards and communities

Over the past two years, Bluegrass Greensource has held a series of workshops to provide Central Kentucky homeowners with the grants and guidance needed to install rain garden at their homes. These workshops educate homeowners about what they can do to help prevent stormwater issues at home and in their communities.

Bluegrass Greensource invites you to attend the ninth annual Rain Garden Tour series this July. The tours are a culmination of recent efforts to promote the use of rain gardens in Central Kentucky, and will showcase how rain gardens can be an attractive addition to your yard and help improve water quality.

The tours will be held on:

  • July 10 in Midway from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., starting at Midway Christian Church
  • July 11 in Berea from 1-4 p.m., starting at Union Church
  • July 12 in Georgetown from 1-4 p.m., starting at Scott County Public Library

Tour participants will view a variety of beautiful, established rain gardens varying in size, and design. They will also learn how to design and construct a rain garden of their own. Residents of Scott, Woodford, Bourbon, Clark, Jessamine and Madison counties will be eligible for a $250 reimbursement grant upon completion of a tour.

For additional details about rain gardens or the tour, visit our rain gardens page.


Kara Sayles is an environmental educator at Bluegrass Greensource, focusing on middle and high school grade levels. In addition, she serves the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance as rain garden project coordinator. Kara holds a bachelor’s degreefrom The Evergreen State College. She also received an associate’s degree from Bluegrass Community and Technical College.

This article appeared in KY Forward on July 1, 2015.


Rain gardens go with the flow, helping reduce runoff, improve water quality

As spring shapes up here in Central Kentucky, early flowers are in bloom and trees are starting to bud. For many of us, this sparks an interest in gardening.

One gardening option to consider this year is a rain garden. If you have water issues or just want to enhance your landscape, rerouting stormwater from impervious surfaces around your home into an eco-conscious rain garden.

A rain garden is a garden planted in a shallow depression in the path of stormwater. It allows the water to infiltrate the ground as close to its natural path as possible. One of the most important things to remember when considering a residential rain garden is that it is a garden—plain and simple.

Layout and plant selection are key features in a rain garden, just as in any other garden. Once your site, size and shape are determined, focusing on flowers and other plants is important in making the rain garden an attractive landscape feature for years to come.

There is not a specific model to follow in creating a rain garden. If you have done any gardening at all, you know that the basic recipe for success is preparing the soil and placing the plants in conditions where they will thrive.

Rain garden plants should tolerate standing water for brief intervals, as well a drought conditions. One way to keep a rain garden attractive all year is to make sure the different varieties of flowering plants bloom at different times. Also, adding a variety of heights and textures of plants to your garden will create a sense of depth and visual appeal.

Another consideration for your rain garden is adding garden accessories such as rock or garden benches. This can help incorporate the rain garden into your existing landscaping, as well as give you a nice place to sit and enjoy nature.

If you would like more information about constructing a rain garden, Bluegrass Greensource is offering residential rain garden presentations in Central Kentucky (see below). For more information, check out our rain garden webpage.

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Kara Sayles is an environmental educator, focusing on middle and high School grade levels. In addition, she serves the Bluegrass Rain Garden Alliance as rain garden project coordinator. Kara holds a bachelor’s degree with a focus on Ecological Design and Sustainable Agriculture from The Evergreen State College. She also received an associate’s degree in Environmental Technology at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.

This article appeared in KY Forward on April 9, 2015.