Once you have chosen a site, a design, and tested the infiltration capacity of your soil, you are almost ready to grab some friends and family and start to dig!


FIRST, there is one very important step to take before breaking ground.

By law you must contact PSEG’s “Call Before You Dig Program” to request a free mark out of any underground facilities. To contact PSEG, call 811. For more information you can visit these sites:

Also, if your home has an underground sprinkler system you should contact the installer for a mark out of the pipelines.



After the first crucial step, you are now ready to start constructing your garden.

1. Keeping in mind that you want the bed of the garden to be as level as possible, lay out the string in the shape you would like your garden.

2. Then place two stakes, one on the upper side of your garden and one at the bottom.

3. Connect these stakes at the bottom with a piece of string and use your carpenter’s level to make sure it’s level. If your garden is on a slope you may need to fill in the downhill portion with some of the excess soil.

Some helpful tools to have on hand are:
- tape measure,
- shovels,
- rakes,
- trowels,
- a level,
- two wood stakes (2ft long),
and some snacks for your helpful family and friends!

Rain garden designs by John Gishnock, Applied Ecological Services, Inc, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Rain garden designs by John Gishnock, Applied Ecological Services, Inc, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Photo Courtesy of Quarto Homes
Photo Courtesy of Quarto Homes

4. Now you can start digging out the selected area to your desired depth, using the excess soil to create a berm around three sides of your rain garden. A berm is a low wall that will keep the water inside your garden during storms (see figure and image above).

If your rain garden is located on a slope, the berm should be highest on the downhill side and taper upwards.

5. Now you can shape your berm: using your hands and feet, compact the berm as much as possible. Remember, this will hold in your water so it needs to be sturdy! Once the berm is established, plant grass or cover it with mulch to prevent erosion.



6. Once you have dug out your garden you may want to add in some compost to increase permeability and help the plants along, making sure to mix the compost well with the existing soil.

7. After that, you are ready to start adding some plants and beautifying your rain garden. You want to choose plants that have well established root systems to soak up water. For a helpful list of plant options please navigate to our Native Plant Search.

When choosing the plants, have in mind a visualization of how you would like the garden to look. Once the plants are selected lay them out in your chosen design about one foot apart from each other.


Photo courtesy of Cool Springs Press
Photo courtesy of Cool Springs Press

8. Now that you have your plants and a chosen design, you can put them in the ground. For each plant dig a hole twice as wide as the bottom of the plant and deep enough so that only the top or crown is exposed.

9. Then, compact the soil around each plant and fill the bed with mulch, making sure not to cover the plants. Water the plants right away and barring any rain, continue to do so about twice a week until the plants look more established.

As far as maintenance goes rain gardens don’t need much outside of the occasional weeding.

Photo courtesy of Sunnyside-Gardens.com
Photo courtesy of Sunnyside-Gardens.com

10. Now step back, call the pizza guy to feed your helpers and enjoy your beautiful new rain garden!