Rain Garden - Biodiversity

Creating biodiversity and habitat while conserving water. Basic information on rain gardens and plant material suggestions for each zone of a rain garden.
Rain Garden - Biodiversity - Articles


A Cedar Waxwing takes advantage of a winter food source. A well-planned rain garden provides fruits, seeds and nectar and is a valued food source year around. Migrating birds will find refuge, food and shelter, completing this unique habitat.

What we plant in our yards plays an important role in determining the future diversity of wildlife in Pennsylvania. The need to create ecological landscapes has never been greater due to the increase in development and shrinking natural areas. Rain gardens are an impressive example of how easy it is to make your garden more environmentally friendly. They mimic the natural absorption and filtering abilities of a forest, meadow or prairie while creating habitat for a variety of plants and animals.

Wet Zone: Holds Water Longest

Trees and Shrubs

Betula nigra (River Birch)
Cephalanthus occidentalis (Buttonbush)
Nyssa sylvatica (Black Gum)
Sambucus canadensis (Elderberry)
Viburnum dentatum (Arrowood Viburnum)
Viburnum nudum (Possumhaw Viburnum)


Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed)
Caltha palustris (Marsh Marigold)
Eupatorium perfoliatum (Common Boneset)
Iris versicolor (Blue Flag Iris)
Juncus effusus (Soft Rush)
Lobelia siphilitica (Great Blue Lobelia)
Onoclea sensibilis (Sensitive Fern)
Osmunda cinnamomea (Cinnamon Fern)
Packera aurea (Golden Ragwort)
Scirpus atrovirens (Green Bulrush)

Middle Zone: Drains More Quickly

Trees and Shrubs

Asimina triloba Paw Paw
Clethra alnifolia Summersweet
Cornus sericea Redosier Dogwood
Ilex glabra Inkberry Holly
Itea virginica Virginia Sweetspire


Amsonia tabernaemontana Blue Star
Baptisia australis Blue False Indigo
Chelone glabra White Turtlehead
Eupatorium fistulosum Hollow-stemmed Joe Pye Weed
Hystrix patula Bottlebrush Grass
Monarda didyma Oswego Tea
Panicum virgatum Switch Grass
Physostegia virginiana Obedient Plant
Veronicastrum virginicum Culver's Root
Symphyotrichum novae-angliae New England Aster

Transition Zone: Dries out First

Trees and Shrubs

Aesculus pavia Red Buckeye
Hamamelis virginiana Witch Hazel
Hypericum prolificum Shrubby St. John's Wort
Rhus aromatica Fragrant Sumac
Viburnum trilobum American Cranberrybush Viburnum


Aquilegia canadensis Eastern Columbine
Chrysogonum virginianum Green and Gold
Coreopsis verticillata Threadleaf Coreopsis
Eupatorium coelestinum Mistflower
Oenothera fruticosa Sundrops
Ruellia humilis Wild Petunia
Silene caroliniana Wild Pink
Solidago sphacelata 'Golden Fleece' False Goldenrod
Vernonia glauca Upland Ironweed

Natives Attract Natives!

Landscaping for wildlife restores critically needed habitat. The rain
gardens attract a different variety of wildlife than the Entrance, Meadow
and Edge gardens. The native plants that make up the unique rain gardens
attract butterflies, frogs, turtles, toads and birds that depend on them for
food, shelter, and water.

Rain Gardens are being used to improve sites such as…

  • Residential yards
  • Common areas in residential developments
  • Areas around business buildings and manufacturing facilities
  • Public parks and gardens

A Swallowtail Butterfly stops to refuel on Cephalanthus occidentalis, Buttonbush. Temporary pooling of rainwater will draw an influx of birds, mammals and insects-- especially dragonflies. The mud and moisture is a necessity for the male butterflies shown puddling above, while it provides a cooling area for cold-blooded amphibians and reptiles during the hottest parts of the year.

Will mosquitoes like rain gardens too?

No. Mosquitoes require at least seven days of standing water to complete their cycle before. A properly constructed rain garden should drain within twenty-four hours after a rain event.

Plant Communities

Rain garden plants include a variety of trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, ferns and grasses. Plant selection should be carefully based on the three zone conditions. Combine short, medium and tall plants to create layers of vegetation that will provide the structure and variety needed to attract a diversity of wildlife.

by Melinda Russell Design, mr@mrdcreative.com