Gaining ground for the Puget Sound

May 3, 2012

By Christina Lords

12,000 Rain Gardens campaign aims to curb pollution, create  beautiful landscapes

As more than 14 million pounds of toxins enter the Puget Sound each year, two Washington entities are working hard to curb the contamination — 12,000 times over.

The 12,000 Rain Gardens in Puget Sound project, spearheaded by Stewardship Partners and Washington State University, aims to grow and designate 12,000 rain gardens — which reduce pollution and alleviate flooding all while creating attractive landscapes that promote native plant growth in hearty soil — in the area by 2016.

By Stewardship Partners The front yard of a Puyallup home, seen here one year after a rain garden was planted, is maintained through ongoing mulching, weeding, watering as needed, and the avoidance of fertilizer or pesticides.

The gardens, which can be shaped and sized to fit most yards, act as a collector for runoff during a rainstorm.  With a crucial element — the right kind of soil — the gardens work to absorb and filter storm water runoff from impermeable surfaces, such as rooftops and driveways.

More than 700 rain gardens have already been planted throughout the region.

“It’s not just a feel-good, tree-hugging thing,” said Kenan Block, vice president of the stewardship partners board. “It’s a practical thing. Neighbors get to know each other while doing these things. The community building experience has been an unintended  benefit of this project.”

Block said one of the main benefits of creating a rain garden on a home or commercial property is its ability to filter a variety of pollutants, such as oils, greases, fertilizers and pesticides, before they reach the storm drain while simultaneously reducing flooding on neighboring properties and curbing overflow in sewer systems.

“Most of us, when we think of serious pollution, are shocked to find out how much of this area’s worst pollution comes right from our sidewalks, streets and roofs,” he said. “That includes the things we put in gardens as well, such as pesticides and herbicides … Some contaminants, while they may seem like just a small amount, are actually the single largest source of pollution in our waterways.”

The project is a cost-effective way for municipalities and homeowners alike to stop pollutants from entering streams, wetlands, lakes and marine waters while limiting the need for piping and other drainage systems, Block said.

“They really work well and they aren’t that difficult to create,” he said. “They can range between a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars, depending on how big the area is. There is government money available to help offset that cost. This really is cost-effective as government entities try to pay for runoff infrastructure and sewer systems. Rain gardens can take care of that problem.”

The more rain gardens that are installed in a single area or neighborhood, known as rain garden clusters, the more effective they are at combating contaminants, Block said.

“With this partnership with WSU … we know that we have the latest and best science working with us as well,” he said. “We really try to ensure all projects are done correctly with best possible information so we have the rain gardens project at its peak. The 12,000 rain garden campaign is a chance to put the Northwest on the map to be a national model for this.”

On the web

Read the Rain Garden Handbook for Western Washington Homeowners and watch an instructional video at to get started on your own project. Register your rain garden at


Implement your own garden

Step one — Locate-Identify areas draining to the rain garden

-Identify the best location for the garden

-Test the soil

Step two — Design and build

-Determine size, shape of garden

-Excavate soil

-Level bottom of garden

-Mix compost with soil

-Place soil mix, leaving 6 inches below edge of garden for ponding

-Level surface of soil

-Create water entry

-Provide rock-lined overflow

Step three — Plant

-Use variety of small trees, shrubs, herbs or grasses

-Select plants that have appropriate water needs

-Cover exposed soil with 2 to 3 inches of mulch

-Water to establish plants

Step four — Maintain

-Mulch as needed to prevent erosion, weeds

-Keep clear of debris

-Don’t fertilize or use pesticides

-Water as needed

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