Rainscaping Practices

a better way to manage water at home

There are many ways that we can help slow down and capture stormwater. By using conservation practices in strategic locations at our homes and in our community, we can bring back the landscape’s ability to soak up stormwater, improving local flooding problems and water quality. These conservation practices can also help fix problems such as poor lawn health, ponding and drainage issues at home, improve local habitat, and more. Some solutions include soil quality restoration, rain gardens, and rain barrels. Across the Des Moines metro, multiple funding resources, local contractors and businesses can help you implement these valuable projects at home.

Rain Barrels

Rain barrels are one of the simplest conservation practices you can use at home to help protect neighboring streams, rivers, or lakes. They are easy to build and install and can provide many benefits.

Where to use rain barrels: Connect rain barrels to downspouts on your house and garage. Rain barrels will typically capture 50 to 60 gallons. A small 8′ x 10′ area of roof will generate 50 gallons of water during a 1 inch of rain.

How you can use rainwater:

  • Water plants, gardens, and lawns
  • Rinse out recyclables before putting them in the recycle bin
  • Wash exterior fixtures like windows, mailboxes & dog houses

Price Range: $0-$100 per barrel

Additional Resources

Soil Quality Restoration

One of the most popular Rainscaping practices in the Des Moines Metro is Soil Quality Restoration, or SQR. The process naturally improves your lawn by increasing soil health and your lawn’s ability to manage water.

Healthy soil is the key to reducing polluted runoff. As buildings and houses are built, topsoil is generally removed and the remaining subsoil is compacted by grading and construction activities. Property owners are left with compacted and high clay content soils with little to no topsoil or organic matter, leading to problems such as:

  • Ponding & drainage issues
  • Brown & patchy lawns
  • “Squishy” lawn after a rain that won’t seem to dry
  • Constant need for watering

Soil quality restoration minimizes these problems by reducing compaction through deep aeration or tillage and increases organic matter content by adding quality topsoil or compost. This process helps soil become more sponge-like, enabling it to soak up rainfall and providing your lawn with the nutrients it needs to be healthy. Soil quality restoration is an environmentally friendly way to improve your lawn health, minimizing the need for fertilizers and excess watering.

Soil quality restoration should be applied to lawns in spring (March-May) or in fall (late August-November).

Price Range: About $.22 per square foot of lawn

Additional Resources

Rain Gardens

A rain garden is a landscaping feature that captures rainfall and helps the water soak into the ground. Rain gardens can be used to capture runoff from roofs, driveways, or yards- helping you to better manage drainage or ponding issues while reducing dirty stormwater runoff flowing into local waterways.

What does a rain garden look like? Rain gardens are landscaping features consisting of a shallow depression with a level bottom in which soils have been amended to better soak up water. They are planted with primarily deep-rooted native plants. Rain gardens can take many shapes and forms, allowing you the creativity to create beautiful and wildlife- friendly landscaping that serves a purpose you can feel good about.

Where do you use a rain garden? Rain gardens are placed in areas that naturally capture water, such as the end of a downspout or low spot in a yard. As the water reaches the rain garden, it is temporarily ponded until it fully soaks into the ground (usually within a few hours). Rain gardens must be placed at least 10 feet away from a foundation and sized properly for the amount of water they are capturing.

Price Range: Varies depending on size and whether they are DIY or contractor built

Additional Resources

Native Landscaping

Across Iowa, our native prairie has been mostly eliminated by rural farming and urban development. However, we can help bring back important native species by incorporating them into landscaping at home.

Deep root systems of native plants help make soil more like a sponge to soak in rainfall deep into the ground. Native plants have adapted to Iowa’s climate for 10,000 years and can handle both wet and dry seasons. The diverse habitat created by native plants is great for butterflies, birds, and other wildlife too! Most importantly, once established, native plants don’t require fertilizer, pesticides, and supplemental water to survive.

If strategically placed native plants can increase your property’s ability to soak in and manage stormwater, think of areas in your yard that are constantly wet or where water flows from one yard into another. By using native plants in these locations, we can address drainage issues while providing landscaping or even a natural privacy fence.

Did you know there are even native plants you can use to replace turf grass? With plenty of plants to choose from, native plants can be used in a variety of ways to increase beauty, habitat, and water problems.

Some benefits of native plants:

  • Prairie plants benefit pollinators and birds by providing food sources
  • Prairie plants have deep roots that can help make your soil more like a sponge to soak up water.
  • Prairie plants can help improve water quality by minimizing stormwater runoff from your house.
  • Prairie plants are well adapted to Iowa weather, meaning they can tolerate heavy rains and hot, dry summers!

Price Range: Varies depending on size and whether it is a DIY or contractor built project

Additional Resources

Iowa Stormwater Education Partnership

Where you can buy native plants in Iowa

The Rain Campaign


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