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Make a Rain Garden for Bees

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Little spaces can make a big difference to hungry pollinators. And if you have a problem space that is hard to mow, you many have a perfect opportunity. When these areas can be utilized to help bees and other pollinators – that’s a win-win situation. Learning how to make a rain garden for bees is one way to put a small space to good use.

Add a Pollinator Rain Garden to Your Landscape

Collection of bee friendly plants in rain garden design image.

Often we think of bee friendly gardening as an effort that requires acres of land – this is not always the case. What a great way to use a “trouble spot” in your yard, reduce erosion and feed bees.

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You may think that a few plants can’t really matter. No, the bee families will not make a large amount of honey from one garden. However, all pollinators need diverse nectar sources to have a healthy diet.

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.

What is a Rain Garden ?

A rain garden is a planting of shrubs, perennials and flowers in a small depression in a problem area of the yard. The problem being that this space tends for have rapidly moving water during rainy times. Yet, it is a dry part of the yard when it is not raining.

The goal of the rain garden is to slow down moving water – allowing it to sink into the soil. Many homeowners have problems like this with erosion. 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.

Standing rain water in yard image.

Rain Garden Design

For those of you who live in urban areas, storm water management is a critical task. The more developed the space around you – the more likely you are to have problems.

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.

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

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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.

And best of all, adding just a few new blooming plants will add more nutrition for our bees. Nectar and protein-rich pollen for bee food is important.

Simple Construction Tips

If your runoff issue is a small one, your job will be rather easy. 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. Then, using soil materials that drain well – in addition to the proper plants to hold the soil in place.

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.

Bee on yellow flower in garden image.

Best Plants For Your Rain Garden for Bees

The number of planting options are almost endless and limited only by your gardening zone.  Know your zone. Plants that are suited for a dry warm climate in Arizona may not do well in Maine !

When we use native plants and perennials that attract bees to create pollinator gardens, that’s even better!

Choosing plants that are suited to your climate is important because you want the garden to look pretty year round.  

To help bees, your rain garden plants should bloom over a long period of time.  Bees like plants that provide nectar, pollen or both!

Common Plants to Include

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

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.

If you live in a dry region with periodic flash floods, look for plants that can handle drought conditions too!

Anytime you can use natives your gardening chores will be easier. Depending on the size of your garden spot, having a couple of native shrubs that feed bees make great backdrops.

Then you can fill in the area in front of the shrubs with mid-sized and smaller plants that bloom for a long season.

Create a bee habitat rain garden design featuring plants of different heights provides depth and creates a sense of space.

Instead of mulch, which tends to wash away – consider pine needles or other types of mulch material. Regardless of your garden layout, you will not be happy with the results unless you have the right plants.

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.

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.

Advantages of Rain Gardens

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.

Disadvantages of Rain Gardening

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. Check out this wonderful resource from the USDA.

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.

Well Designed Gardens Benefit All Pollinators

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. Even Yellow Jackets – not my favorite insect, 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.

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.

Make a big difference.  Choose pollinator friendly plants that will help bees for all your landscaping projects. And in some spaces, you may use plants that benefits the bees and you too.

Additional Resources


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.