We love those seasonal rains, especially when they come after such an intense drought. But if those showers turn into gully-washers, they can cause problems for our lakes and streams. Water that can’t be absorbed into our lawns will run off into storm sewers, bringing along excess fertilizer and other chemicals we put out to spruce up our greenery.

The same goes for the rain that rolls off our driveways and other paved surfaces, carrying a sheen of gas and oil from our cars. Once they reach a lake or stream, these chemicals can harm the local ecosystem, and the added nutrients from fertilizer can encourage algae blooms that may affect the taste of our water and cause other related problems.

There is a way you can beautify your landscape, save water and help reduce pollution flowing into our lakes and streams. The key is building a rain garden into your landscape to capture pollutants before they make their way from our homes into the water cycle.

Rain gardens are made of layers of loose soil, gravel and mulch that hold and filter the water of impurities as it is absorbed into the ground. Landscapes can be designed around these gardens to make them more effective. Best of all, the cost of building a basic rain garden is relatively low, comparable with other landscaping projects. And with a rain garden, you will be less likely to need to tap into public water supplies to maintain the plants.

After establishing the filtering foundation, a rain garden is completed by placing the plants that add color and detail to your yard while helping disperse the water. A variety of plants on the surface will absorb excess water and release it back into the atmosphere through transpiration.

While you have a lot of choices, native plants are highly recommended since they are best suited to the climate, are typically low maintenance and can be quite attractive. Some possibilities include black-eyed Susans, sunflowers and pitcher sage.

Those concerned about excess water in the garden offering a breeding ground for mosquitoes, need not worry. A properly designed rain garden should only hold water a day or two, depending on rainfall amounts, much too short a period for mosquitoes to complete their breeding cycle.

Numerous Web sites are available that offer in-depth how-to guides on designing and building your rain garden. You can find plentiful help here from the City of Austin and from the Rain Garden Network, here. Click here for tips from community gardens in Coppell, Texas.

When it comes to protecting our lakes and streams and conserving our precious water supply, every little effort is a big help. Rain gardens offer each of us the chance to do just that, while spreading a little beauty.