There are many benefits to landscaping sustainably, but it's especially important along our rivers and lakes. Chemicals and fertilizers, even organic fertilizers, used for lawns and gardens can run into our waterways during heavy rains and encourage algae growth. As it falls, rain carries particulates in the air such as pollution, soot, and sulfates. Likewise, pesticides can also be funneled into our waterways and negatively impact aquatic insects, fish, and mammals if attention is not paid to divert and absorb runoff before reaching the lake.
Fortunately, the remedy is not difficult nor is it expensive. Homeowners looking to reduce their impact on the environment and make the most of their landscaping budget can easily do so by planting to protect water quality and reduce pesticide use at the same time.
The first step is to simply identify the natural course of water as it makes its way to the lake during a rainstorm. Then, locate an existing or create a low area on your property downhill from your home and uphill from the lake, and plant it with perennials for a low maintenance rain garden. The low area will pool water while the plants absorb the runoff and the fertilizers. Chemicals are filtered through soil instead of running directly into the lake, much the same way a septic system drain field functions.
After determining the proposed location on your property, you will also need to perform a percolation or 'perk' test to be sure the water will drain sufficiently. The goal is to have the water filter through the soil at such a rate as to leave no standing water in the rain garden that would create a breeding ground for mosquitos.
Before you purchase your perennials, determine the amount of sun or shade the area will receive, so you select plants that are best suited to and will thrive in your rain garden location. A call to your local county extension service or a quick check on the internet will help you determine the USDA growing zone in which you live, and will guide you in selecting plants that are hardy in your area.
The perennial plants in your newly minted rain garden will aerate the soil with their strong roots, hold the soil in place, and create compost to add nutrients and improve the soil condition as they decompose in the winter. These same plants will attract song birds, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators, create a food source, and provide habitat in which to breed, procreate, raise young, and hide from predators.
In addition to providing food and shelter, many of the plants that will thrive in a rain garden are also highly attractive to beneficial insects, in other words, the good bugs that eat the bad bugs. It is rarely necessary to use chemical pesticides when you have created an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategy. While this may sound very scientific, it simply means that if you are letting nature take its course. IPM is defined as the method used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, pets, property, and the environment. Pesticides are indiscriminate in that they will kill both the good bugs and the bad bugs. By encouraging the beneficial/predatory insects to thrive, they will return the favor by eating the insect pests in your yard.
It is important to point out that the Minnesota Department of Agriculture has issued new statutes regarding labeling of plants. Any plants advertised as being beneficial to insects or useful in attracting beneficial insects MUST NOT have been treated with insecticides known as neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are generally applied in granular form (not sprayed on plant foliage) so are systemic, meaning they are taken up in the plant tissue. Neonics have been linked to harm in pollinators and beneficial insects visiting that plant AND the birds, bats, and small mammals that feed on bugs exposed to these chemicals.
Gracie's Plant Works has practiced IPM since 2008, and does not use chemical pesticides or neonicotinoids. For a happier, healthier, more vibrant yard, we recommend you read our blog to explore many in-depth articles about biological insect pest control and gardening in general.
For more information on Gracie'sPlant Works, go to our website:
Gracie's Plant Works, owned and operated by Kathy Cyriacks and Patty Richter, started in 2003 by offering organic vegetable plants for gardeners concerned with preserving heritage varieties and reducing their impact on the natural world. In the last seven years, an entire array of garden products has been incorporated, including flowering annuals, perennials, and trees and shrubs. The focus has remained on chemical free growing and controlling insect infestations with an integrated pest management strategy. Kathy is a Master Gardener and frequently speaks to groups on topics such as chemical free gardening, pest management, container planting and design, and creating habitat for pollinators.