Woodland Spring, 2013

Local parks and nature preserves are great places to familiarize yourself with native plants. The following photos, taken in and near Milwaukee this spring, show May-blooming woodland plants native to the region.

On the woodland floor: Wild Ginger, False Rue Anemone, Solomons Seal  - Riveredge Nature Center, Newburg, WI:

 

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) - Havenwoods State Forest, Milwaukee, WI:

Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)  - Ice Age Trail, Hartland, WI:

 

Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflorum) - Wehr Nature Center, Milwaukee:

 

Large Flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) - Wehr Nature Center, Milwaukee:

 

Virginia Bluebell (Mertensia virginica) - Wehr Nature Center, Milwaukee

 

False Rue Anemone (Isopyrum-biternatum) - Riveredge Nature Center, Newburg, WI:

 

Dutchmen’s Breetches (Dicentra cucullaria) - Riveredge Nature Center, Newburg, WI:

 

Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) - Ozaukee Interurban Trail:

 

White Trout Lily (Erythronium alba) - Estabrook Park, Milwaukee, WI:

 

Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) - Wehr Nature Center, Milwaukee:

 

Early Meadowrue (Thalictrum dioicum) – Ice Age Trail, Hartland, WI:

 

Trial and Error on an Erosion Prone Site

Before returning to the United States after five years in Istanbul, Sharon bought her new house in McFarland, Wisconsin sight-unseen. The sellers neglected to share any photos of the back yard, and upon her arrival she understood why. The yard was jammed with 45-year-old overgrown arborvitae and piles of junk. An army of buckthorn and honeysuckle from the neighboring forest marched into the yard. Much of the grass was dead.

Action was needed. Luckily for this piece of land the new occupant saw it’s value. Sharon Yildiz is a middle-aged woman who works full-time and volunteers as a dog trainer for Occupaws Guide Dog Association. A bad back and bad knees were not going to stop her from doing what needed to be done – let the work begin!

With the exception of a few trees tagged by the DNR and downed by a friend with a chainsaw, all of the labor for the clean-up was done by Sharon, alone. Her tools: a 10” Felco pruning saw, an 8” chain saw on a pole, and a truck.

What follows is a photo documentary of Sharon’s trials, tribulations and accomplishments in realizing and solving a landscape dilemma.

JUNE 2012
Seriously overgrown arborvitae dominate the property.

JULY 2012
The trimmed arbovitae and cleared ground set the stage for a beautiful woodland planting.

JULY 2012
After hauling away a few truckloads of trash the Buckthorn is revealed, creeping out of the woods along the hillside that runs to the back of the property.

Another view of the buckthorn that completely blocks any view of the forest.

NOVEMBER 2012
The removal of nearly 200 buckthorns, plus a few honeysuckles, reveals a hillside transition from forest to yard.

The clean-up was extensive. Sharon spent two weeks of dragging brush to the road for the semi-annual village chipping-day, hauling 25 truckloads of brush to the brush recycling station.

Finally in 2012. A fence was installed for her two dogs. A view of the forest now reveals the beautiful old oaks with plenty of breathing room.

In the fall Sharon decided to plant Prairie Nursery’s No Mow Lawn Seed Mix inside the fence in hopes of controlling erosion in the now-bare soil. She ordered the Seed Mix online without calling us with her questions – she did wonder if the area would be too shady. Upon receiving her No Mow she scattered the seed mix on the slope, by hand. Because of the drought, she set about watering it 30-60 minutes a day (with a sprinkler) for several weeks.

The fescue blend grew well, even though it is not recommended for heavy shade. However, when it started to sprout most of it was no longer on the slope! The seeds had rolled downhill.

MARCH 2013
By the time the snow melted this spring, most of the slope was bare soil again. In the steep corner of the yard, large gaps were already visible under the fence due to the erosion. It was apparent that her expensive new fence was going to slide down the slope before the loan was paid off.

With very little money left to deal with erosion mitigation and needing an immediate solution Sharon wrote to Neil Diboll at Prairie Nursery. Neil wrote back with a simple, inexpensive plan involving a combination of Virginia Wild Rye seed and erosion blankets.

Sharon ordered 2 lbs of Virginia Wild Rye, plus some native flower seeds to add in the fall. Erosion blankets! (A completely new idea to Sharon.) They were on sale at Menards and came with biodegradable stakes. The blanket and stakes never have to be removed, and will degrade naturally over about 8 months.

APRIL 2013
As soon as the snow melted, in a single 16-hour day, Sharon went to work:

  1. Picked up two trash cans full of compost from the city ($2).
  2. Spread the compost under the fence to fill in the erosion-caused gaps.
  3. Loaded 2 lb. of Virginia wild rye seed from Prairie Nursery into a hand-crank seed spreader. Forgot to close chute on spreader. All seed fell out between the garage and the slope.
  4. Picked-up spilled wild rye by hand and with a shop-vac.
  5. Spread the now 1 lb. of seed on the bare slope.
  6. Laid out erosion blankets, starting at the bottom, and overlapping up the slope. (Fell down the slope several times. Sprained foot and jammed a finger.)
  7. At top of slope, bridged the blankets inside and outside the fence by tucking squares of the erosion blanket under the fence. This served to hold the fresh compost in place. Total coverage: 1200 square feet covered with 1500 square ft. of overlapping erosion blankets.

After watering anywhere from daily to once every 3 days, depending upon rainfall, here is the result, 18 days after planting. Sharon’s dogs pose in the photos for the sake of perspective, but the photos still don’t convey just how steep the slope is.  (Also, note the buckthorn still in the forest – Sharon plans on girdling them this summer.)

Virginia wild rye peeking through the erosion blankets:

Inside the fence, hostas and periwinkle (vinca) appear, planted by some former home owner in a non-native attempt at erosion control.

Outside the fence, in the conservation forest, a Jack-in-the-pulpit grows through the erosion blanket with no problem.

The erosion blanket was key to success. The Virginia Wild Rye now grows very thick on the slope and erosion is controlled. Sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know. If ever in doubt, give us a call – we’re glad to help solve problems or point you in the right direction.

For Sharon, this project was no small undertaking and we congratulate her on her decision, hard work and perseverance! Many thanks for the photo documentation, too!

The Beneficial Beauty of Rain Gardens

The photo below is one of the most inspiring rain garden images I’ve seen … what if all streets were lined with rain gardens? Think of the benefit to water quality and life. What if rain gardens were as common as lawns?

Rain gardens are designed to capture rain water and prevent the rapid release of excess stormwater into municipal water systems. A well placed rain garden reduces runoff and flooding, and filters pollutants carried in stormwater runoff. Along with the municipal benefits and the conservation of a valuable natural resource, rain gardens create excellent habitat for birds and butterflies. Amazing. So why aren’t they as common as lawns?

First, lets look at some basic misconceptions…

  • Misconception #1: Standing water in rain gardens can breed mosquitoes.
    Rain gardens are designed to drain in less than 24 to 48 hours – not enough time to create a mosquito breeding environment. Rain gardens in areas with better soil drainage will drain even faster – down to 12 hours.

  • Misconception #2: Only plants that require wet growing conditions will thrive in a rain garden.
    A rain garden is not a pond. It is dry most of the time. A variety of plants that tolerate a wide range of conditions work best. Plants located in the lower part of a rain garden may stand in water on occasion, but they must also tolerate long periods of drought. Plants on the sides of the garden will vary between occasionally wet soil and dry conditions. Plants at the highest points may never experience standing water.

  • Misconception #3: Rain gardens look wild and weedy.

    Gardens look weedy when: plants grow too tall and flop over; too many plant varieties are used; plants are not in distinct groups; or gardens don’t have defined edges. By using plants in scale with the garden size, placing taller plants in the middle of the garden, maintaining well-defined edges, and creating attractive plant groups, rain gardens can make beautiful additions to a landscape. (see photo, above)

Why do we need rain gardens?

As urban communities expand (replacing forests and agricultural land) the increase of solid impervious surfaces becomes more problematic. The solid surfaces that make up our cities create a rush of water during rain storms, known as ‘stormwater runoff.’ The massive volume of stormwater runoff from roofs, parking lots and roads increases flooding and carries pollutants from streets, parking lots and lawns into local streams and lakes. This leads to costly municipal improvements in stormwater treatment structures.

With larger or more frequent storms, increased water flows can contain more water than a municipal water system can handle. In some municipalities, excess unfiltered stormwater (overflow) that can’t be dealt with is let directly into lakes. Large stormwater flows also carry debris, clogging storm sewer exits and contributing to flooding. Refuse that runs with the storm water will also pollute the end catch basin, whether a drainage ditch or trout stream. Lawn pesticides and fertilizers wash off with the rain water, causing nutrient loading, decreased oxygen levels and subsequent algal blooms within our local lakes and rivers. Decreased oxygen levels have proven to produce declines in fish populations and overall decreases in aquatic species diversity.

A rain garden is a personal contribution to clean water in your community

To reduce stormwater runoff from your property look at your property and identify where the water goes. A rain garden should be positioned near a runoff source like a downspout, driveway or sump pump to capture rainwater runoff and stop the water from reaching the sewer system.

An individual rain garden may seem like a small thing, but collectively they produce substantial neighborhood and community environmental benefits. Rain gardens improve water quality – they can reduce the amount of pollution reaching creeks and streams by up to 30%.

Resources to get started

The construction of a rain garden is a task that an average homeowner can undertake with a bit of guidance. Good sources of information on rain gardens is available through a Wisconsin DNR and UW Extension publication developed by Roger Bannerman:  Rain Gardens: A how-to manual for homeowners (PDF).

One of the keys to a successful rain garden is chosing plants that not only soak up excess water, but are also drought and heat tolerant. Midwestern plants that grow in clay soils fit that criteria. Read Neil Diboll’s list of plants for Midwestern rain gardens on clay soils (PDF).

Prairie Nursery offers a selection of pre-planned rain gardens in various sizes and for various soil conditions. Gardens come with planting instructions and layout.

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Benefits of a Rain Garden

• Filter runoff pollution
• Recharge local groundwater
• Improve water quality
• Protect streams and lakes from pollutants carried by
urban stormwater – lawn fertilizers and pesticides, oil and
other fluids that leak from cars, and numerous
harmful substances that wash off roofs and
paved areas
• Remove standing water in your yard
• Reduce mosquito breeding
• Protect communities from flooding and drainage problems
• Create habitat for birds, butterflies and beneficial insects
• Create drought tolerant green areas
• Enhance the beauty of yards, neighborhoods and parks