Determining Habitat

A habitat is the environment in which a species grows best.  Habitat is made up of light levels, soil moisture and soil type.  Knowing what the habitat of the space you want to plant is very helpful for picking the right plant and giving it the best chance at survival.

Moisture Level


Moisture level is determined by a combination of soil type, topography, and water sources.  You may need to get your hands dirty to find out the soil moisture.  Grab the shovel and dig a couple holes.

Soil Type and Why Does it Matter?


Soil type, more than anything, determines drainage.  It makes the difference between Dry habitats (well-drained, sandy soils) and Mesic habitats (moderately-drained, loam or clay soils).  Exceptionally poor drainage can create wetlands, as with the presence of a semi-impermeable layer of clay that holds water at or below the soil surface.  This phenomenon can even create permanent wetlands well above the water table with no external source of water besides rain.    

The best way to determine your soil type is to touch it, roll it in your hands and rub it between your fingers.

Light Levels


The best way to determine the amount a light a spot gets is to observe that spot several times a day.  Take note of trees or structures that may block the suns rays.  And note what time of day this blockage may happen.  Remember the sun moves during the day so light level change change.

What "Habitat" is a Raingarden?

This category also includes retention basins and any other depression created to hold excess rain-water runoff from hard surfaces such as roofs and parking lots.  Because they are an artificial construct with abnormally fluctuating water levels, it is difficult to match them with any distinct native habitat.  A Rain Garden could be classified as anything from dry to wet depending on location, soil type, and overall design and installation technique.  

The best way to determine which plants are best for your rain garden or retention basin is by having the installer contact a specialist within your county’s conservation department, university extension office, the DNR, or a private consultant.  

Otherwise, if you’re on your own the best information you can gather to help us help you is to keep track of how deep the water gets in your rain garden after a substantial rain and how long the water remains visibly standing in the garden.  For rain gardens in general we try to choose plants that are highly adaptable and can tolerate a wide variety of soil moisture conditions.  This will usually cover everything except the driest and wettest rain gardens.  Soil type will largely determine which plants are best for your rain garden.  And keep in mind that the upper edges of your rain garden may require different plants than the bottom.