Make a Rain Garden

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It is not unusual for anyone with property to have a few “trouble spots.” If you have a problem space that is hard to mow, and tends to collect rainwater -you may have a perfect opportunity to help pollinators. Learning how to make a rain garden for bees is one way to put a small space to good use. Even little spaces can make a big difference to hungry pollinators.

Blooming plants on hillside rain garden that hold water and feed bees.

Often we think of bee friendly gardening as an effort that requires acres of land – this is not always the case. Creating a rain garden in boggy areas or wash zones are a great way to reduce erosion and feed bees.

What is a Rain Garden?

A rain garden is a planting of shrubs, perennials and flowers in a depression or problem area of the yard.

The problem being that this space tends for have rapidly moving water during rainy times. Yet, it is a mostly dry part of the yard when it is not raining.

This is a bit different from a boggy spot that tends to stay wet all the time. However, depending on soil conditions having mostly wet conditions can occur.

Plants used to slow moving water in a yard.

Slows Moving Water

The goal of the rain garden is to slow down moving water – allowing it to sink into the soil. This can help prevent unsightly erosion. Fast moving water carries dirt.

It may be a hillside or slope that gets a lot of runoff water during heavy rain. These areas channel water and wash away soil.

Areas with storm water runoff can ruin your landscaping. Even rain water from roof and driveways may create wash areas. They are also challenging to maintain because the area tends to stay damp or boggy.

Rain Garden Design

Choosing the proper plants, mulch and rock structures to slow running water are an important part of rain garden design.

For those of you who live in urban areas, storm water management is not uncommon. The more developed the space around you – the more likely you are to have problems.

To a degree, you must design your rain garden to fit your particular situation – if you have big problems with water. Why?

The more runoff water the area receives – the larger rocks you need. Small rocks can be washed away while larger ones stay put. Your rain garden plants need sturdy roots too! This helps hold the soil.

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You may find a professional landscaper in your region to design one for you. This is helpful because they will know which plants do well in your area.

But, this is not something that you have to delegate to someone else. With a little preparation most homeowners can make their own rain gardens that will help with water runoff and add some beauty too.

Simple Construction Tips

Start by building a berm ( a rounded mound of soil above the level ground) to hold the plants in place.

If you spent time playing outside after thunderstorms as a child, you may already know that narrow deep channels cause the water to flow faster. We want to avoid this.

Instead, create discrete swells in the landscape to channel run off water into your rain garden area. Think in terms of shallow broad based dips that gently encourage water to go where you want.

Building a Basin

For those of you dealing with later amounts of water, a bit more effort is required than just a little soil sculpting.

It may be necessary to actually dig out a small basin in the trouble spot. Think of this as a temporary holding pond that will gather fast water – slow it down and slowly spread it out over a larger area.

If this sounds like a project you want to undertake, contact your local agricultural extension office. They will have information that is suitable for your region and maybe plant suggestions too.

Coreopsis, joe pye weed and meadowsweet planted to reduce erosion on hillside.

Plants For Your Bee Friendly Rain Garden

We know you want plants with sturdy root systems and flowers that bloom if you to help bees. The number of planting options are almost endless and limited only by your gardening zone. 

Choosing plants that are suited to your climate is important because you want the garden to look pretty year round. Know your zone. Plants that are suited for Arizona may not do well in Maine !

If you live in a dry region with only periodic flash floods, look for drought resistant pollinator plants. These could be included in your rain garden or around the edges.

When we use native plants and perennials that attract bees to create pollinator gardens, that’s even better! Try to choose those that have a long bloom period.

Common Plant Choices

  • Serviceberry Shrubs
  • Steeplebush-Meadowsweet
  • Oregon Grape
  • Purple Coneflowers
  • Milkweed
  • Joe-Pye Weed
  • Ironweed
  • Fireweed
  • Goldenrod for Bees
  • Coreopsis
  • Anise-Hyssop

Depending on the amount of water that runs through the area – you might consider growing something special – like a shallow wide pot to hold a lotus tuber.

These plants feed bees and make an eye-catching display. They must have constantly wet feet though.

Check with local gardening centers in your region for help with plant selection. You should be able to find a good selection of different colors to compliment any garden design.

Making a Rain Garden in Clay Soil

If you live in a region with clay soil, drainage and gardening in general can be more challenging. Soil that does not drain well may require a larger special area to handle the incoming water.

When installing your plants, take the time to do some soil enrichment. Mix some compost and sand into the top few inches of the soil before planting. This aids in drainage until the plants begin to grow and create tunnels in the soil for water to follow.

Collection of bee friendly plants in rain garden design.


All gardening activities have their advantages and disadvantages. The obvious advantages to having a rain garden in your area are:

  • prevents unsightly erosion
  • adds beauty to the yard
  • reduces yard work in an area difficult to maintain
  • contributes food and habitat for beneficial insects
  • provides shelter for birds and small wildlife
  • not expensive if you do it yourself
  • helps filter pollutants out of the water before it reaches streams
Watering colorful bee plants with a water can image.


Every rose has it’s thorn. Come to think of it-that is not a great quote for today when many hybrid roses do not have thorns. Yet, installing a rain garden does not come without some disadvantages.

The type of garden structure needed will not be the same for every location. If you live in a spot with little runoff water and no hills nearby, construction for a slightly boggy spot should be very easy.

However, if you have a lot of water moving across your yard during a storm. Proper design and construction is vital or your rain garden will not work.

In fact, an improperly installed rain garden can increase erosion and become a bigger unsightly mess. Take the time to think it through and be willing to make some adjustments if you want to do it yourself.

Expert Tips

Instead of mulch, which tends to wash away – consider pine needles or other types of mulch material.

You can contribute to pollinator health and honey bees are not the only ones who will benefit. Butterflies, hummingbirds, moths and many solitary bees and wasps need good nectar sources.

In fact, honey bees and yellow jackets enjoy a nip of sweetness on occasion. As more acreage is developed for housing and businesses, natural habitat is lost. This results in a lack of food for beneficial insects.

We live in a world with less and less wild, natural areas. This results in fewer food source plants for bees. We can help pollinators by increasing bee habitat areas.


Will a rain garden encourage mosquitos?

A good rain garden design prevents large areas of standing water. If properly constructed, mosquitoes will not breed in your garden.

It is not a wetland and the area will be dry most of the time. All of the collected water should be absorbed into the soil within 48 hours.

Where is the best spot to put a rain garden?

After a heavy rain, look at your yard. Find the area that seems to always have standing water or that has grass washed away due to fast water. It may be a good candidate for your special garden.

Can you buy a rain garden kit?

Yes, many online nurseries have put together rain garden kits. They contain a mix of plants that do well in damp soil. If you desire to help bees too, choose one that has pollinator friendly plants.

However, you still have to do the soil prep work and make sure the slope is suitable for your situation. This helps ensure that the garden performs as you hope.

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Final Thoughts

Building a rain garden with bee friendly plants is just one way to help bees and improve your property.

A good design means less mowing in difficult places-consider plantings for any area that you don’t want to mow. A good book about sustainable landscaping helps you get off to a good start.

One small garden may seem unimportant. However, if everyone in the neighborhood participates by adding blooming plants and reducing erosion, this can make quite an impact on the area.

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  1. Sandra King says:

    I live in Montana and am putting in raised vegetable beds. This morning I went outside and a lot of bees leaning on my organic soil bags. I let them crawl on my fingers and hands. As I look around, there are honey bee’s all over. I placed them on my currant bushes and dandelions but noticed they aren’t collecting pollen and see no pollen on their back legs. They are acting unusual. I don’t use any fertilizer or pesticides. Have they lost their queen or have they been exposed to something else? I’m concerned and my yard has more bee’s than I have ever seen. I am interested in becoming a beekeeper and have much to learn before starting a hive. Please can you help me with my questions? Thank you so very much. I love bee’s and actually they seem to like me.

  2. Charlotte Anderson says:

    Was it a cool morning? It’s possible they were attracted to some smell on the soil and got chilled. If so, they should be okay once they warm up.

  3. Sandra King says:

    I think they were hungry. Can I put a flat dish of organic sugar water out for them since there aren’t many flowering plants yet?

  4. Charlotte Anderson says:

    Yes, just plain sugar water mixed 1:1 with water and a few pebbles or safe places to land. But you may have more visitors than you want!