Winter and early spring are ideal times to look for areas in your yard where problems may be brewing.
Rainwater and snowmelt accumulation can spell real trouble for you and the environment. Some low spots where puddling occurs after a heavy rain, like the one that has developed just in front of my perennial garden should be filled in, but others, those located in areas where the land is below grade may be just the spot to plant a rain garden.
Rain gardens are designed to direct runoff water into a low, vegetated area, where it can be captured and filtered by Mother Nature. The gardens are planted with attractive flowering plants that tolerate the extremes of wet soils and very dry periods.
Ideally rain gardens are best located near impervious surfaces such as driveways, sidewalks and down spouts to capture the rain as close as possible to the location where it falls. Areas adjacent to ditches that flood when it rains are another option. Commercial architects are beginning to incorporate these vegetated infiltration strips and into parking lot designs.
Storm water run off is a huge problem in developed areas where natural vegetative growth has been replaced by hardscape such as buildings, roads, sidewalks, driveways and parking lots. Rainwater has no place to go and gushes into sewers and drainage ditches taking the express route, smack into our lakes and streams.
Rainwater picks up pollutants in the air and as it flows over the landscape it picks up the residue of grease, and toxic chemicals from vehicles; viruses and bacteria from failing septic systems, road de-icing salts; heavy metals; and water-soluble fertilizers and pesticides from turf management.
This heavily polluted runoff water becomes a water quality issue when it flows directly into our lakes and streams. The pollutants, harm fish and wildlife populations, kill native vegetation, foul drinking water supplies, and make recreational areas unsafe.
Rain gardens consist of native vegetation plantings strategically located to intercept this runoff. They are natural biofilters that that have the ability to clean and purify contaminated water and allow it to filter back into the ground water supply the way Mother Nature intended
Building a rain garden in not difficult, but there are some important considerations that should be addressed including watershed hydrology, existing drainage patterns, and aesthetics. The good news is, it’s not rocket science and you don’t need to be a landscape architect to install one.
Plant selection is key to success when making a rain garden. Most perennials need well-drained soil and cannot survive in areas that remain wet for any length of time. So it’s important to choose those that thrive in damp soils and tolerate standing water for short periods of time. Choosing native plants has several advantages, they are adapted to the local climate and, once established, seldom need watering or fertilizing and they tolerate drought. They are also attractive to diverse native butterflies and provide habitats for wildlife, especially birds.
Rain gardens are not intended to detain water for long periods, so mosquitoes should not be a problem. Ideally, runoff will not be detained for longer than four days. It takes 10 to 14 days for a mosquito to go from egg to adult.
African violet tip
Cindy Merritt of Troy e-mailed with valuable advice regarding watering African violets. She’s been growing them for over thirty years and attributes much of her success to her watering techniques.
She fills a clean gallon milk jug with warm tap water. (Cindy lives in Troy, so this is city water.) She then inserts 2 tea bags into the jug, draping the strings over the side and lets the potion sit and brew for two days. This trick acidifies the water. Merritt then adds liquid African violet fertilizer according to the package directions and waters her plants.
Merritt uses ceramic self-watering pots that are especially designed for growing African violets. The 2 part ceramic pots contain an inner pot onto which the plant is planted and it fits into a second pot that holds the supply of liquid. The water is wicked through the inner pot to the plant. As long as the container is filled with water the plant will receive the right amount of moisture. That takes the mystery out of when and how much to water.
I have seen these pots, priced between $4 and $12, at Wal-mart, Home Depot and English Gardens.
Merritt keeps one of her beauties blooming on her desk at work because
She has a work light directly overhead. She says she is always
surprised by how many men love gardening and comment
on her plants.
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