Minnetrista Blogs

Rain Gardens, Swales, and Barrels: 3 Ways to Combat Stormwater Issues

I was inspired after Jason Donati shared his knowledge about ways we can reduce stormwater runoff at the Garden Fair at Minnetrista on Saturday, June 2nd. Jason is an educator at Muncie/Delaware Stormwater Management and proved to be very knowledgeable in his field. As I listened to him explain every detail including the problems with stormwater, to steps for building your own rain garden and rain barrel, my hope was that the people who attended his session and who read this blog will be inspired to make a difference in their community as well!

Why is stormwater a problem in the first place?

You’ve probably heard the word “stormwater” but you may not know why it can pose problems. According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), stormwater runoff is the number-one contributing factor to water pollution and poses a major threat to our water ways in the U.S. Instead of naturally soaking into the ground, stormwater runs along impervious surfaces, or surfaces that cannot absorb water like pavement and roofs, and picks up contaminants along the way such as oil, fertilizers, and debris. As a result, it can create major problems for our waterways such as:

  • Contaminated streams, rivers, and coastal water
  • Downstream flooding
  • Stream bank erosion
  • Increased turbidity (muddiness created by stirred up sediment) from erosion
  • Habitat destruction
  • Changes in the stream flow hydrograph (a graph that displays the flow rate of a stream over a period of time)
  • Combined sewer overflows
  • Infrastructure damage

There’s hope!

The good news is, there are ways you can help reduce stormwater! One way is to implement a rain garden in your yard. A rain garden is a depressed area of land that contains particular plants which capture sediment and allow rainwater runoff to slowly filter back into the soil. Ultimately, it helps our rivers and waterways to stay clean. When building a rain garden, choosing the types of plants are vital. Native plants are best in a rain garden because they can handle short periods of standing water, are drought-resistant, and have deep roots that allow water to move down into the soil. Things to also consider when choosing your natives are height, bloom time, wildlife attraction, and whether they prefer sun or shade. (Non-native plants can work just fine too. The most important thing to think about is the amount of water the plants can stand. If they prefer drier soil, they can be used on the sides of the garden). For tons of detailed information and tips on building your own rain garden, check out the Rain Garden Registry by Muncie/Delaware County Stormwater Management. They have great examples of rain gardens and I find the site very useful! You can also come talk to our gardeners at Minnetrista and see the two Rain Gardens, one located close to the Rose Garden and the other close to Walnut Street in the East Lawn.


A bioswale, or vegetated swale is another landscaping technique used to combat storm water problems. These are linear depressions often put alongside parking lots and roads to capture and treat stormwater. They can contain grasses and sedges that help with the infiltration process. At Minnetrista, we have a bioswale next to our Rain Garden and two more in the nature area. The University of Florida has a great resource for more information on bioswales.


Rain barrels can also be a great asset to individuals who want to make a difference in their community! Rain barrels are attached to a gutter’s down spout where rain water can be stored and used later to water your garden, or you can slowly release it into the ground. Installing a rain barrel at your home has many benefits such as:

  • Preventing flooding in your yard or basement by collecting the rain water in your rain barrel
  • Using water that your plants love!
  • Saving money on your water and sewage bill
  • Saving water
  • Doing your part in the community by protecting our rivers and streams

At Jason’s presentation, he gave some good advice about rain barrels:

First, if desired, you can get a planter barrel which is a rain barrel that has room for plants on top. You can put flowers, herbs, or even vegetables here! (Just make sure it’s food-grade if growing food). This will add a little pop while providing weight at the top to hold the barrel in place when empty. (When filled with water, you don’t necessarily need any weight!) If you don’t have a planter barrel, you can provide weight by putting a cinder block or brick in the bottom.

Second, disconnect your barrel in the winter or open it to prevent freezing and thawing (this can create cracks)

Third, your rain barrel is gravity-fed, so you will have to raise it if you use a hose. This can be done by placing a cinder block underneath.

Fourth, in seasons when you are using the water, keep it sealed. If there’s an open area, it could breed mosquitoes.

There’s a rain barrel guide at The Rain Garden Registry as well where you can get more detailed information.

Where to buy:
Rain Barrels and More
Worms Way

You can also look for rain barrels at local garden, home improvement or hardware stores. They sell them for less than $100 at Menards.

Paige is a student at Ball State University and Social Media Intern at Minnetrista. She has a passion for the environment and strives to live simply by being a conscious consumer and making time for good friends, family and music.