Category Archives: Raingarden Tips and Tricks

Clever tips from the pros on improving your raingarden to reflect the seasons, the local climate, and YOU!

The Garden in Spring

In the early part of spring, after the snow has melted and before new growth has started for the season, gardeners can remove last year’s decaying growth. We call this decaying plant material ‘duff’. Duff is a wonderful thing to let stand throughout the winter months as it provides habitat and food for over wintering birds, helps to insulate the ground during the coldest days of the year, and it can provide visual interest in the garden throughout winter. Once temperatures begin to rise, however, new growth will start to peak up through the soil and it will be good to have last year’s duff out of the way. Not only does this help to warm the soil by providing a little extra sunlight, it can be a very exciting time visually as well. Fresh new green popping up in the garden is a most welcome sign of the warm seasons to come.

There are many species of weeds that will take advantage of this time of the year. Cool season weeds will start to germinate in the spaces between your desired raingarden plants. This is an excellent time for pulling these weeds out before they become established. Typically, your desired perennial plants will have a larger more distinct clump as well as a designed pattern in the garden. Raingarden design employs multiple specimens of the same species organized into groups. This can be another clue to help in identifying which plants will want to be left, because weeds are very randomly spaced.

Spring is a good time to assess your mulch. New mulch is more easily applied in the spring because plant material has not grown in the way. It is easier to see bare spots where mulch is thin and soil is peaking through. A good rule of thumb for mulch is to maintain a 3” layer. This will provide a good barrier against weeds and will help to keep the soil moist for desired plants. Remember to always use double shredded hardwood mulch in raingardens because it binds together and doesn’t float during large rain events. Check the Blue Thumb webpage for local distributors of double shredded hardwood mulch. It is typically available in bags or in bulk and can be either picked up or delivered for a small fee.

Spring is also an appropriate time for replanting any bare spots in the garden. There are many options for how to approach replanting. By following the planting plan for a project, gardeners can choose to use the same plant variety they have in the design and replace missing plants with what is shown in the plan. Another option is to replace with a different type of plant altogether. This is a particularly good approach if several plants of the same species have completely died out. Perhaps the designed plant variety is not as well suited as the designer had originally thought and some experimenting with a new variety might warrant better results. Replacing with a new variety can be a fun way for participants to further engage and take ownership of their garden. As mentioned earlier, the Blue Thumb Plant Selector Tool can be an invaluable resource for choosing plants and learning a given plants’ characteristics.

Another great activity for spring gardening can be the division of established perennials. This is an activity for more established plant material that has reached maturity. Many varieties of established perennial plants can be dug up completely from their home in the garden and then divided into smaller specimens for use in other areas of the yard. This can be particularly useful for gardeners wishing to add another raingarden to their yard without the expense of purchasing new plants. Spring is the best time for division and transplanting because it gives transplants time to establish new roots throughout the coming growing season. A good rule of thumb is to try and find specimens for transplanting just after the new foliage has begun to peak up out of the soil. With a little research online, gardeners can discern which of their plants would be most appropriate for division and use in other spots of their yard.

Seasonal Raingarden Maintenance Practices

Seasonal Raingarden Maintenance Practices

Each season has a small list of tasks associated with good raingarden maintenance practices. By staying on top of maintenance each season, problems can be avoided and maintenance can be a small task compared to a major chore. By taking a few minutes to peruse the garden, major maintenance headaches can be avoided. What follows is an overview of maintenance tasks for each season so that readers may avoid these major problems and have a pleasurable gardening experience.

Spring:

In the early part of spring, after the snow has melted and before new plant growth has started for the year, remove last year’s decaying growth. We call this decaying plant material ‘duff’. Duff is a wonderful thing to let stand throughout the winter months as it provides habitat and food for over wintering birds, helps to insulate the ground during the coldest days of the year, and it can provide visual interest in the garden throughout winter. Once temperatures begin to rise, however, new growth will start to peak up through the soil and it will be good to have last year’s duff out of the way. Not only does this help to warm the soil by providing a little extra sunlight, it can be a very exciting time visually as well. Fresh new green popping up in the garden is a most welcome sign of the warm seasons to come.

There are many species of weeds that will take advantage of this time of the year. Cool season weeds will start to germinate in the spaces between your desired raingarden plants. This is an excellent time for pulling these weeds out before they have a chance to become established. Once weeds, especially invasive trees, are established they become a real problem to remove. What could be 10 minutes spent easily hand-pulling tiny saplings becomes hours spent digging out substantial root structure. This not only makes maintenance a horrible chore, it affects the health and performance of the desirable plants in the garden.  Check out our blog for photos of cool-season weeds here.

Typically, your desired perennial plants will have a larger more distinct clump form, as well as a designed pattern in the garden. Raingarden design typically employs multiple specimens of the same species organized into groups. This can be another clue to help in identifying which plants will want to be left, because weeds are very randomly spaced.

Spring is a good time to assess your mulch. New mulch is more easily applied in the spring because plant material has not grown in the way. It is easier to see bare spots where mulch is thin and soil is peaking through. A good rule of thumb for mulch is to maintain a 3” layer. This will provide a good barrier against weeds and will help to keep the soil moist for desired plants. Remember to always use double shredded hardwood mulch in raingardens because it binds together and doesn’t float during large rain events. Check the Blue Thumb webpage for local distributors of double shredded hardwood mulch. It is typically available in bags or in bulk and can be either picked up or delivered for a small fee.

Spring is also an appropriate time for replanting any bare spots in the garden. There are many options for how to approach replanting. By following the planting plan for a project, gardeners can choose to use the same plant variety they have in the design and replace missing plants with what is shown in the plan. Another option is to replace with a different type of plant altogether. This is a particularly good approach if several plants of the same species have completely died out. Perhaps the designed plant variety is not as well suited as the designer had originally thought and some experimenting with a new variety might warrant better results. Replacing with a new variety can be a fun way for participants to further engage and take ownership of their garden. The Blue Thumb Plant Selector Tool can be an invaluable resource for choosing plants and learning a given plants’ characteristics.

Another great activity for spring gardening is the division of established perennials. This is an activity for more established plant material that has reached maturity. Many varieties of established perennial plants can be dug up completely from their home in the garden and then divided into smaller specimens for use in other areas of the yard. This can be particularly useful for gardeners wishing to add another raingarden to their yard without the expense of purchasing new plants. Spring is the best time for division and transplanting because it gives transplants time to establish new roots throughout the coming growing season. A good rule of thumb is to try and find specimens for transplanting just after the new foliage has begun to peak up out of the soil. With a little research online, gardeners can discern which of their plants would be most appropriate for division and use in other spots of their yard.

Summer:

Throughout late spring and summer, it is a good practice to peruse the garden on a semi-regular basis. The longest I would go between visits would be two weeks. During these garden visits, keep an eye on your plants. Watch as they change with the season. As early blooming varieties fade, you may want to prune away any decaying plant material you find unattractive. This will typically be fine for your perennials and it is common practice for gardeners to do what is called “dead-heading”.  Dead-heading is simply the removal of any plant material which starts to decay during the growing season. This is really a judgment call on the part of each gardener, as it is a matter of aesthetic preference. Remember that perennials will bloom and then produce seeds on what were once blooming flower stems. Gardeners can choose for themselves whether or not they would like to keep this material around or not. Perhaps a gardener will want to keep seed heads around for the benefit of feeding birds or for the possibility of growing more of a particular variety from the newly developed seeds. On the other hand, a gardener may want to spruce things up in the garden to highlight the aesthetic of blooms that have yet to come. This is purely subjective and gives gardeners the ability to more fully engage in the look and function of their garden.

Summer is also a good time to keep a look out for invasive weeds that will take advantage of warmer temperatures. Typically we talk about “cool season” and “warm season” weeds because each season will have different weedy culprits. This is why it is suggested that gardeners plan to weed in spring and summer. If you get into the habit of perusing your garden on a semi-regular basis, then this may not even be necessary as you may have developed the habit of taking a couple of minutes to pull out the weeds as you go. This approach is hardly a chore at all and more like a pleasurable little moment of time spent in the garden.  Should it happen that this habit is not entirely working, then it is at least important to plan at least some summer weeding to avoid the headache of tree saplings getting to large for easy removal.

Autumn:

Autumn is a good time to get at any of the weedy invasives that you may have missed during the summer. Make sure to inspect the garden for any invasive trees or turf grass that has made its way into the garden. By now gardeners can start to think about how they would like to leave their garden for the winter. Many native and ornamental grasses and sedge species can be particularly beautiful during the winter months. There are also many varieties of perennials that look attractive after they have gone dormant and seeds from these plants can be a good source of food for over-wintering birds. Remember that “duff” can be left all winter and removed as part of spring maintenance, but it also possible to remove anything that may be unattractive in the garden over the winter months. It is an aesthetic judgment that gardeners can make depending upon their own preference.

Another good thing to think about in late autumn and into the winter months is pruning shrubs that you may have in your garden. Prune shrubs after they have lost all of their leaves and have gone dormant for the winter. It is best to prune no more than 30% of living tissue from any shrub at a time. Remember that pruning is strictly an aesthetic practice. Many shrubs look fantastic if left alone until they have reached their mature size, so research your shrub species to learn about their height and width at maturity. Ultimately, however, shrubs can be pruned to fit a gardeners aesthetic preference so fastidious pruning can be an activity that gardeners use to create a desired look.

‘Garden’ is both a noun and a verb

One final note regarding raingardens…a garden is a noun and a verb. It is a place in your yard, but it is also the act of caring for that place in your yard. It is often the case that raingardens are planted and then left on their own with no maintenance. This results in an unsightly, weedy mess that for all intents and purposes is not in fact a raingarden at all. To have a raingarden implies the action of gardening. Gardening is maintenance… It is the care required in order for there to be a garden. Remember that gardening is as much of a chore as one makes it. With a little bit of effort, gardening can be a very rewarding experience!!

Raingarden Maintenance: Plant Replacement and Establishment

As you may have read in our recent blog postGreen Streets for Blue Waters’, our two year project in partnership with the City of Bloomington just wrapped up. The project included the addition of 18 newly installed curb cut raingardens and a fabulous vegetated bio-swale.  After installations were complete, we were charged with ensuring these new practices are maintained by residents so they continue looking great and functioning properly.  When raingardens aren’t maintained they can fill with sediment, lose their ability to infiltrate water, get taken over by weedy species and lose their aesthetic appeal, which leads to poor public perception.  It’s an issue everywhere raingardens are installed, so making sure homeowners have the tools they need to maintain their gardens is no small task!

To kick off our maintenance education in Bloomington, each participant had the opportunity to meet one on one with Metro Blooms designer and maintenance expert Andrew Novak. Our hope with these visits was to instill a sense of confidence and ownership in participants as they care for their new raingardens. Gardening can be a very rewarding experience, both physically and mentally, and good maintenance is the most important aspect for ensuring the longevity and success of each garden.

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Winter Garden Maintenance

It’s certainly been cold in Minnesota this last month, but it’s going to warm up this weekend and with that warm-up maybe you’ll start thinking about the up and coming garden season!  Or maybe not, but in either case, we wanted to remind you of some winter maintenance practices for your garden so it’s ready to perk up again come spring.

Snow Removal: Do not plow or shovel snow into your raingarden.  It may look like a natural place to pile the white stuff, but resist the urge!  Excess snowpack on your garden can compact the soil and minimize its infiltration capacity.  Mark the boundaries of your garden to ensure that snow plows and shovels don’t cause damage.  Do your best to keep de-icing salt and sand out of your garden area as excessive accumulation of salt and sediment can be toxic to your plants and inhibit infiltration.

Speaking of salt, a couple of tips:

  • Salt is most effective at melting ice when the temperature is at least 15 degrees Fahrenheit.  If it’s colder than that, salt isn’t very effective.
  • Salt is harmful to our water bodies, so before you use it remember that very little salt is needed to melt ice.  Always apply according to package instructions and don’t overuse!

Next Year’s Plan:  Plan your next raingarden installation.  Use your available time in the winter to dream up your new garden possibilities.  Review photos of your raingarden to see if there are any bare spots or plants that have overgrown their space and plan for new plants or dividing existing ones.   Need some inspiration?  Come to one of Metro Blooms’ raingarden workshops! We’re going to be hosting a couple at the end of February this year so you won’t have to wait long to begin your design.

Equipment Maintenance:  Clean and repair garden tools so that they are in great shape to be put to use in the springtime.  You may also still be able to find some sweet deals on garden tools at your local hardware store, in case you need to replace a shovel or buy some fancy new gloves.

If dreaming up future gardens just isn’t enough for you, I recommend hopping Sunken Garden at Como Zoo and Conservatoryin a Car2Go and taking a trip to the Como Zoo to breathe in some of the conservatory air, sure to remind you that flowers still bloom and the world is colorful, even in the depth of winter.

Photo Credit: Como Zoo and Conservatory 

Fall Raingarden Maintenance

Well folks it’s time.  It seems to me like our spattering of 70 degree days are done for the year, which means you can trade in your lawn mower for a rake and don’t forget to wear your helmet when walking down the street, because those acorns hurt!  It’s also time to put your plants to sleep for the winter.  Below are some tips on what to do in the fall to make sure your raingarden comes back more beautiful than ever in the spring.

Inspection: Check to see if all original plant species are still present in the garden.  Fall is a good time to plant replacements or any additional species.  Remove leaves from drainage ways to ensure free flow of water into the garden. If a specific plant continually shows poor performance, fall is a good time to re-evaluate its placement and potentially move it.  Consider shade-sun tolerance and soil moisture (too wet or too dry) as the main factors of poor performance.

Clean Up: Remove excess leaves.  A small layer (less than 2″) of leaves may be beneficial to the garden as a source of nutrients and will often break down by next year’s growing season.  Trim shrubs and trees during cool periods of late fall.

Perennial Division: Divide any large or overgrown perennials to plant elsewhere in the yard.  These plants can be excellent gifts for neighbors and friends.  To divide, dig up the entire plant, roots and all, and use necessary force (typically clippers are all you need, but maybe an ax is necessary?) to separate into smaller individual plants.

Mulch: Add mulch if necessary to maintain a 3″ depth.

Deadheading: Leave all non-diseased plant material in the garden over the winter.  This provides food and habitat for many species of birds and small mammals.  Also, leaving your plants up for the winter can create scenic value.

 

For more information on raingarden maintenance check out Metro Blooms’ complete maintenace guide on our website.

Warm Season Weeding

Weeds.  They can be daunting at times, especially when you’re looking at your garden or yard thinking, these can’t ALL be weeds, can they?! Weeds can be tricky to identify, so the first step is knowing what those common weeds look like.  Generally, weeds are split into two categories: cool season weeds, and warm season weeds.  We’re well into the warm season now, so I’ll cover the common ‘warm season’ weeds below.  However, if you want to know more about cool-season weeds, check out our blog post on that.

Quackgrass:  Hard to eliminate perennial grass.  Be careful not to break the rhizomes when you dig it up, or you’ll have hundreds of new shoots.  Best way to take care of this grass is with herbicide when the plant is actively growing.  Apply when there is no wind and no rain for 48 hours.

Crab Grass:  Annual weed that pops up in yards.

Garlic Mustard:  A prohibited noxious weed that should be controlled by pulling.

Barnyard Grass: A vigorous competitor for space and nutrients, you should hoe young plants before they form seeds.

Common Ragweed:  Best to hoe or hand-weed young plants.

Creeping Charlie: Pull early or use a dethatching rake.

Foxtail:  Pull these before your dogs get to them.  Dry plant heads often wind up stuck to pets’ skin.

Reed Canary Grass: Typically grows in wetlands but can pop up in wet areas of gardens as well.

Volunteer Trees:  These are often the most prevalent weeds in a garden, especially if you have a nearby Maple tree!  If you’re not up for removing the seeds when they first fall, you may have quite a few volunteer trees to pull throughout the summer.

maple seedling

Maple Seedling

 

Ash Seedling

Elm Seedling

Hackberry Seedling

Boxelder Seedling

Buckthorn Seeding

 

Summer Raingarden Maintenance

I hope you’ve been enjoying your time in the garden this summer and if you just haven’t had the time to do much maintenance yet (gasp!) it’s about time you get out there!  So here are a few tips for you when taking care of your garden for the remainder of the summer.  Don’t worry, I’ve got fall tips I’ll share with you later…

Pull Weeds:  Pull all warm-season weeds (crab grass, creeping charlie – pictured, foxtail) Creeping Charlieand volunteer trees (ash, elm, hackberry, boxelder, buckthorn) prior to the Fourth of July (eek, don’t worry you can still pull them now, and should as soon as you see them pop up; besides we all know weeds don’t just stop growing after the 4th of July!).  Monitor weed emergence throughout the growing season and pull as necessary.

Inspection:  After large rain events, make sure the garden is draining in less than 24 hours.  Always inspect for signs of erosion throughout the season.  If erosion occurs, re-grade the eroded area and replant with a clump-forming grass or sedge, such as Side-Oats Grama, ‘Karl Forester’ Feather Reed Grass, or Bebb’s Oval Sedge.  If the erosion continues, place large cobblestones or boulders in the eroded area.  This will minimize the incoming water’s energy.  Pay close attention to the side-slops of the garden as these areas are especially susceptible to erosion.

Water:  In times of drought, give your garden a drink.  This is especially important during the first two years of the garden’s life, when plants are establishing their root systems.

Take Pictures:  Please remember to document your garden and its progress.  Send us your pictures and we might nominate you for a garden award!

Metro Blooms’ complete raingarden maintenance guide can be accessed on our website and highlights the essential maintenance activities for every season.  Remember, if you do the little things now you’ll ensure that you have a beautiful and efficient raingarden for years to come!

Springtime Raingarden Maintenance

Now that the sun is finally beginning to shine a little longer and our days are getting a bit warmer (I said a bit, not a LOT warmer yet), we wanted to remind you of some simple spring time maintenance activities to help preserve the effectiveness and beauty of your raingarden.  You should try and complete the following by Memorial Day, but if you see those weeds popping up early get ’em!
Mulch:
Apply new mulch in areas that are thin to maintain a 3″ layer across the garden.  This will help to deter weed growth and hold in moisture (just in case we have another dry year!).

Don’t Let Spring Melt the Erosion and Sediment Controls on your Site

First published by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Erosion issues are at their worst in the spring with melting snow and lots of rain.  Before snow melt or rainfall, make sure all erosion and sediment controls on construction sites are in place and functional.

Erosion_control_blanket1

Inspect and maintain:

  • Silt fences
  • Biorolls
  • Mulch
  • Erosion blankets
  • Sediment basins
  • Inlet protection
  • Other erosion and sediment control BMPs

Check for sediment deposits in:

  • Surface waters
  • Drainage ditches
  • Site exits
  • Curb and gutters
  • Catch basins
  • Sediment basins
  • Infiltration areas

More information at:

www.pca.state.mn.us/stormwater

Splash Rocks and Dry Creeks

As water flows into a raingarden, the entrance point often receives the most stress from the incoming force of water. If water is coming off the street or driveway, this is also where the most sediment builds up. This build up can be unsightly and even harm your plants if it gets too extensive.  Read more »