12 Plants for Your Rain Garden (2022)

Gardening

Landscaping

The perfect plants for each area of your project

By

Les Engels

12 Plants for Your Rain Garden (1)

Les Engels

Les Engles achieved Master Gardener through theCamden County Extension of the Rutgers Master Gardeners Program. He is an arboretum curator with over 30 years of experience. He describes himself as a "tree-hugging dirt worshipper" who is a member of multiple gardening societies and foundations.

Learn more about The Spruce'sEditorial Process

Updated on 10/01/21

Reviewed by

Julie Thompson-Adolf

12 Plants for Your Rain Garden (2)

Reviewed byJulie Thompson-Adolf

Julie Thompson-Adolf is a master gardener and author. She has 13+ years of experience with year-round organic gardening; seed starting and saving; growing heirloom plants, perennials, and annuals; and sustainable and urban farming.

Learn more about The Spruce'sReview Board

12 Plants for Your Rain Garden (3)

Rain gardens take a bit of planning and work, but one of the most fun parts is selecting the plant material. This is a crucial step in the success of your rain garden. Choosing the right plants and knowing where to put them will decide whether you have a swampy puddle full of dead plants or a thriving mini-ecosystem with native plants that helps the environment after every rainstorm while still looking beautiful.

There are three planting zones to a rain garden: the edge, the slope, and the base. The following list will recommend where to plant each plant, but the general rule is to place plants tolerant of dry conditions on the highest locations or the edge. Plants that can handle conditions that are medium moisture with occasional dry conditions should go on the slopes. Finally, plants that can thrive in wet conditions and standing water should be placed in the bottom of the garden.

  • 01 of 12

    Smooth Blue Aster (Symphyotrichum laeve)

    12 Plants for Your Rain Garden (4)

    Smooth blue aster is an ideal choice for offering some color to your rain garden around the top edge that provides pollinators, especially the Pearl Crescent butterfly, with a food source.

    • USDA Growing Zones:3 to8
    • Color Varieties:Violet to purple rays and yellow centers
    • Sun Exposure:Full sun
    • Soil Needs:Dry to medium, well-drained soil
    • Rain Garden Placement: On the edge
  • 02 of 12

    Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)

    12 Plants for Your Rain Garden (5)

    Including native grasses, sedges, and rushes into your rain garden is essential. The deep root systems act as a filtration method for contaminates while also allowing for efficient groundwater infiltration. As with every selection, you want to try to make the plant have multiple functions. Big Bluestem is an excellent choice because it does serve multiple purposes besides water absorption and filtration. It is an attractive grass while in bloom and during the fall and winter, but it also is a food source for birds and other wildlife while offering shelter for insects and butterfly and moth larvae.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Varieties:Purplish-red
    • Sun Exposure:Full sun
    • Soil Needs:Moist, well-draining
    • Rain Garden Placement: In the base
  • 03 of 12

    New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis)

    12 Plants for Your Rain Garden (6)

    New York ironweed is an ideal plant to place in the base of your garden. It grows in a dense mounding shrub-like form and is tolerant to almost all growing conditions.
    Ironweed offers ecological benefits to pollinators and shelter to small wildlife if you allow it to grow shrubby, which can happen if it is not kept orderly.

    • USDA Growing Zones:5 to 9
    • Color Varieties:Purple
    • Sun Exposure:Full sun
    • Soil Needs:Medium to wet soils
    • Rain Garden Placement: On the slope or in the base
  • 04 of 12

    Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

    12 Plants for Your Rain Garden (7)

    Wild bergamot is a stunning flower and a no-brainer for inclusion when planning your rain garden. It attracts pollinators, provides beauty, and helps with water infiltration. The main draw with any bergamot besides the hummingbirds it attracts is the complimentary tea you can make from the flowers.

    • USDA Growing Zones:3 to 9
    • Color Varieties:Pink/lavender/red
    • Sun Exposure:Full sun
    • Soil Needs:Medium moisture
    • Rain Garden Placement: On the slope

    Continue to 5 of 12 below.

  • 05 of 12

    Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

    12 Plants for Your Rain Garden (8)

    This attractive red flower can be placed either in the bottom or along the slope of the rain garden, making it a valuable plant to add that lends some flexibility to your design. Like all plants on the list, it is valuable to water absorption and as a nectar source for pollinators. Hummingbirds love the blooms.

    • USDA Growing Zones:3 to9
    • Color Varieties:Red
    • Sun Exposure:Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Medium to wet soils
    • Rain Garden Placement: On the slope or in the base
  • 06 of 12

    Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)

    12 Plants for Your Rain Garden (9)

    Switchgrass is another option for a non-flowering plant that will suit your needs in the wet areas of your rain garden. It looks great in all seasons and performs wonders at absorbing water into its fibrous root system while filtering out pollutants.

    • USDA Growing Zones:3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Pink
    • Sun Exposure:Full sun
    • Soil Needs:Moist to wet soils
    • Rain Garden Placement: In the base
  • 07 of 12

    Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

    12 Plants for Your Rain Garden (10)

    Besides being a unique-looking flower, the columbine’s root system is ideal for water absorption and creating a dense matrix to manage erosion along the slope of your garden if water overruns its edge or along the inlet.

    • USDA Growing Zones:3 to 8
    • Color Varieties:Light pink/yellow to red/yellow
    • Sun Exposure:Full sun
    • Soil Needs:Average, medium
    • Rain Garden Placement: On the slope
  • 08 of 12

    Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

    12 Plants for Your Rain Garden (11)

    Swamp Mallow’s strikingly beautiful large, almost dinner plate size flowers can act
    as a centerpiece of a rain garden if placed at the base in a prominent position.

    • USDA Growing Zones:5 to 9
    • Color Varieties:White to pink
    • Sun Exposure:Full sun
    • Soil Needs:Medium to wet soils
    • Rain Garden Placement: In the base

    Continue to 9 of 12 below.

  • 09 of 12

    Hairy Beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus)

    12 Plants for Your Rain Garden (12)

    This unusually named plant gets its name from the follicles growing on the flower. It grows in a wide variety of conditions but thrives in dry areas, making the edge of your rain garden the perfect spot for its pleasing blooms to attract bumblebees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

    • USDA Growing Zones:3 to 8
    • Color Varieties:White
    • Sun Exposure:Full sun
    • Soil Needs:Dry to medium moisture
    • Rain Garden Placement: On the edge
  • 10 of 12

    Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)

    12 Plants for Your Rain Garden (13)

    Blue Vervain is another valuable plant because of its flexibility. You can place it along
    the slope or at the bottom in the garden’s base, and it will thrive in both locations.

    • USDA Growing Zones:3 to 9
    • Color Varieties:Purplish-blue
    • Sun Exposure:Full sun
    • Soil Needs:Medium to wet
    • Rain Garden Placement: On the slope or in the base
  • 11 of 12

    Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohioensis)

    12 Plants for Your Rain Garden (14)

    Ohio Spiderwort is a drought-tolerant native with flowers that open only a single day on grass-like leaves that grow two to three feet tall, making it a perfect plant to provide some height and structure to your garden. Be careful: this can be aggressive in some southern climates.

    • USDA Growing Zones:4 to 9
    • Color Varieties:Deep blue
    • Sun Exposure:Full sun
    • Soil Needs:Dry to medium
    • Rain Garden Placement: On the edge
  • 12 of 12

    Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor)

    12 Plants for Your Rain Garden (15)

    Another possible showpiece for your garden, the Blue Flag Iris should have all the other plants arranged around it because it can steal the show. The exotic look of the iris plus its height makes this a great addition; the only drawback is the short-lived nature of its flowers. However, even after the flowers have gone, the plant’s root system sticks around and does the functional work of the rain garden.

    • USDA Growing Zones:3-9
    • Color Varieties:Violet-blue
    • Sun Exposure:Full sun
    • Soil Needs:Moist, wet, rich
    • Rain Garden Placement: In the base

These 12 herbaceous native plants only scratch the surface of what you can place in and around your rain garden. The list does not include shrubs or trees, which are certainly possible and add a whole new level of interest to a rain garden. To make sure these plants are native to your area or have direct regional natives, do your research and speak with your local extension office.

  • 18 Perennial Flowers That Bloom All Summer
  • 33 Best Plants for a Rock Garden
  • 10 Foolproof Wildflowers You Can Grow
  • 30 Best Plants With Purple Flowers to Grow Outdoors
  • 25 Best Early Spring Flowers
  • 14 Ground Covers That Are Tough and Easy to Care For
  • 35 Different Types of Orange Flowers
  • 22 Deer-Resistant Perennials (They're Gorgeous, Too!)
  • 25 Plants That Grow in Clay Soil
  • These 10 Flowering Trees Will Brighten Your Yard
  • 14 Best Fall-Blooming Flowers for Your Perennial Garden
  • 25 Flowering Plants Allergy Sufferers Can Enjoy
  • Flower Bulbs That Deer Won't Eat
  • 10 No-Fuss Perennial Flowers for the Busy Gardener
  • 15 Southwestern Garden Plants
  • 11 Best Plants to Grow Along a North-Facing Wall

Top Articles

You might also like

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Mr. See Jast

Last Updated: 12/30/2022

Views: 5535

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (75 voted)

Reviews: 90% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Mr. See Jast

Birthday: 1999-07-30

Address: 8409 Megan Mountain, New Mathew, MT 44997-8193

Phone: +5023589614038

Job: Chief Executive

Hobby: Leather crafting, Flag Football, Candle making, Flying, Poi, Gunsmithing, Swimming

Introduction: My name is Mr. See Jast, I am a open, jolly, gorgeous, courageous, inexpensive, friendly, homely person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.