Rooftops, pavings, and other hardscapes can negatively affect landscapes and the environment. An unfortunate side effect of these impermeable surfaces, rain runoff, can deprive garden beds of natural irrigation and prevent groundwater tables from replenishing. It can cause erosion, slides, and even flash floods. Stormwater can pick up contaminates and lead to increased pollution of streams, rivers, and oceans.

A landscape designed specifically to better manage runoff can result in a healthier environment and lower irrigation bills. Here are some landscape design strategies handling rain runoff intelligently.

Rain Chains: These clever little contraptions can be hung from trees or roof eave, and they can direct water straight into soil to fill groundwater tables.

Permeable Pathways: Gravel walkways and soil that is mulched with organic material and other permeable surfaces make for ideal surfaces to absorb rain to keep water on your property. Flagstone or even pavers with generous gaps can give water a place to drain into the soil.

Rain Gardens: Turn the low spaces that receive runoff from hardscapes or roofing into mini rain gardens. The key to designing a rain garden is to measure the drainage area and multiply by 20 percent if its sandy soil, 30-35 percent for loam soil, and 45-60 for clay. This technique ensures your rain garden will hold as much water as possible.

Dry Creek Beds: Dry riverbeds or creek beds can solve runoff problems while adding natural beauty. This simple solution can slow the flow of water and give it time to seep into the soil while preventing erosion. To give it a splash of color, incorporate plants that like wet environments like ferns, reeds, and hedges.

Divots & Cross Pitches: Creating attractive divots with lush plants or constructing cross pitches that feed water to planted islands are other alternatives for retaining water.

A thoughtful landscape design takes advantage of the natural terrain to work with nature rather than against it. The results can bring benefits that are three-fold: Sustainability, beauty and functionality.

At TMS Architects, we offer full-service sustainable building and design that extends to landscapes as well. Contact us to set up a consultation.


  • Julie Myers says:

    Wow, this is such a good idea! We have been having troubles with rain runoff in our yard, because it has been causing erosion in certain areas. It would be really great if we could get some landscaping done that could prevent this from happening so often. Then we would be able to control the runoff, but still make sure that our yard looked good! I would love to start looking into getting some rain chains so that instead of having erosion from rain, it would just go right into the soil so that the plants could all get the water they need! Thanks for the great ideas!

  • Emily Smith says:

    My husband and I just moved into a new home. We are working on designing our landscape right now. We would really like a yard that can control rain runoff. Including a gravel walk way and mulched organic soil sounds like a good idea. We may gave to try it!

  • Controlling water movement with your landscape designs sounds like a great way to add a useful water feature to your garden! I especially like the permeable rock pathways. I want to put one of those pathways in near where our drainpipe empties the water out into the lawn.

  • Wow, I never would have thought that you could control rain runoff by setting up a backyard to do so. This is such a great idea! Thank you so much for sharing this with me, because now I am super interested in doing this to my backyard.

  • Landscaping has become quite the hobby of my wife, and I have to say she has started to really get the hang of things. I really like the dry creek beds that you have pictured here, and think my wife would like them too. Thanks for posting those, as they really do look great! I will forward this on to my wife.

  • Lucy Baker says:

    I think I’m going to try designing a rain garden that I’ll put in high-drainage areas. I’ll use mulch and soil that should retain a large volume of water. Thanks so much for helping me transform an ugly drainage spot into a beautiful home garden!

  • Growing up in the Northwest, we got a ton of rain. If you didn’t plan for the runoff you were likely to lose a good part of your soil each year. You make a great point to use stone to help with drainage in your landscaping architecture. It is a fantastic design element and goes well with many plans.

  • Jason Strong says:

    I’ve been wanting to learn more about irrigation and how it works. What I didn’t realize are the many details that go into this. After reading this, I now see where to start learning about it.

  • Mindy Jollie says:

    I have a lot of problems with water collecting in my yard. My husband and I have been trying to figure out what I should do to help reduce the amount of puddles that have been collecting. I have never heard of a rain garden, it sounds like a good solution to make the yard look great and help reduce the standing water after it rains.

  • Cal Driver says:

    Great tips! I live in western Washington where rain runoff is a serious problem. A lot of us out here use pipes, tubes and gutters to monitor and deal with water runoff. I’d never even considered landscaping for that. The ideas you showed are not just attractive, they also seem effective. Thanks for sharing!

  • Silas Knight says:

    I love to work with landscaping. However, I had never thought about using it as a tool for runoff, it’s a great idea! I have never heard of a rain garden before, but I will definitely look into it. Thanks for posting!

  • Judy Wilson says:

    It’s great that there are ways to control rain runoff with landscaping design. Excessive rain runoff can be a problem in my yard during the spring, so I should try out a few of these tips for my yard. I liked your suggestion for dry creek beds. If it can slow the flow of water and allow it to seep into my soil, then I should get to work on this before the end of spring. Thanks for posting this!

  • .linda Prin says:

    Thank you for posting this article about landscaping. My husband and I need some yard work done and we were able to reuse some of the larger rocks we dug up to embellish our flower beds. We were only able to put some of your tips to good use, but now we can’t wait to reuse some of the smaller stones to create creek beds. Loved your ideas!

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