Sustainable Gardening for Spring
The Milwaukee Art Museum 2016 “Art in Bloom” was held March 17-20. This show is all about art and gardening, so I try to attend every year! (If you have a choice, the weekdays are way more relaxed than the weekend and parking is infinitely easier to find.) If you want to learn more, take a look at this page.
On Thursday 03/17/16, there was a presentation by Breanne Plier. Titled “Sustainable Storm Water Solutions,” Plier advocated for better storm water use. Breanne works for the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD). Even if you are not in the City of Milwaukee, you may be covered by the MMSD. MMSD serves 411 square miles with 1.1 million customers including nearly all of Milwaukee County (except the City of South Milwaukee), the eastern portion of Waukesha County including parts of Brookfield, Muskego, and New Berlin and all of Butler and Elm Grove, and parts of Germantown in Washington County.
Plier explained that MMSD wants us to keep storm water on our property to allow it to soak into the soil, allowing it become groundwater. Not only is this better for the environment, but it helps to avoid over-taxing the MMSD sewer system.
The best way to do this is to create a rain garden! Rain gardens should always be depressed in the ground or beamed to better hold runoff water from down spouts, sump pumps, and from solid surfaces like driveways and patios. Build your garden with a flat and level bottom to hold more water.
Put your rain garden nearly anywhere that has good drainage is a great place for a rain garden. Place it in full sun and in an area that generally doesn’t have standing water after a rain. Keep it away from tree canopies, roots, sewer laterals, basements, and foundations (10′ away if possible, 5′ minimum.) It’s also important to call Digger’s Hotline before digging! Breanne recommends having your sump pumps discharge to the rain garden instead of to the sewer. Not only will this stop a large source of storm water from hitting the sewers, but your garden will absolutely thrive with the additional water!
Planting native plants make your rain garden a destination for birds, bees, and butterflies. These plants have long roots which also break up southeastern Wisconsin’s hard, clay soil. Plier specifically recommends seeking out hardy salt and drought tolerant plants. She also advises a 50/50 mix of grasses and flowering plants. Grasses help stop erosion and are something for the flowers to lean against as they grow.
What else can you do? Plier discussed adding native landscaping around your home. Don’t just use common grass; look for native species with long roots, ones that support pollinators, are silt, salt, and drought tolerant, and are overall hardy. Like all landscaping, native vegetation requires maintenance. However, if you dedicate yourself to pulling weeds once a week, you should expect only 20 minutes of work each week.
Also, have a landscaping plan! Dropping plants into place without a plan is a recipe for disaster. If you need help, seek out a good landscaper or assistance from a greenhouse. (Remember, if you use free help from a greenhouse, please don’t buy your plants somewhere else. The greenhouse’s time is money, too!)
Rain barrels are easy to install and maintain. Did you know that plants prefer storm water? Storm water has a different PH, isn’t chlorinated, and has different minerals than municipal water. To avoid breeding mosquitos, either empty (use!) your water every three days or have a closed top on your barrel.
If you want to keep a lawn, remember that lush, healthy grass comes from mowing, aeration, top dressing, fertilizing, and overseeding. (“Top dressing” is a fancy way to say “add compost.” Aeration usually involves running an aerator in the grass which yanks out small plugs. You can rent an aerator at most big box lawn and garden stores.) Plier advises fertilizing with Milorganite. Since Milorganite is slow release, it won’t burn your lawn. This means that adding too much won’t harm anything! It also won’t kill worms or weeds- Milorganite is only a feeding fertilizer and not a pesticide. Plier recommends using Milorganite four times a year for best results; Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, and just before Thanksgiving before a snowfall. Do your overseeding in early fall. Mow first, clean up clippings, and aerate. Put the seed on the lawn and then top dress. Remember that a thick lawn means fewer weeds too!
Are you planning some landscaping changes? Not only will I be happy to point you to landscaping professionals, but I will be happy to discuss which changes will best improve your home’s value! Please send an email or call me; I’ll be happy to help!