Tag: Native plants

Why Native Plants Rock – 4 of 4

Street side bioswale full of colorful flowers
Street bioswale

BIOSWALES AND RAIN GARDENS

The fundamental basis for encouraging use of native plant species are for improved soil erosion control in waterways, and the slowing of storm water run off. Many homeowners have a problem with seasonal, storm water accumulating on their property. Again, the solution lies with the installation of native plants in bioswales or a rain gardens. The difference between the two are: A bioswale is generally sloped to facilitate the movement of water, and a rain garden holds the water to be infiltrated into the local soil. Both are great for the environment and also promote and provide wildlife habitats.

Bioswales (also known as infiltration swales, biofilters, or grassed swales) are vegetated open canals purposely designed to reduce and treat storm water runoff. Like open ditches, they convey storm water from one source to a discharge point, but unlike ditches, they deliberately promote slowing, cleansing, and infiltration of the water along the way.

There are some design variations of the bioswale, including grassed channels, wet swales and dry swales. Grassed channels are primarily grass, and are the easiest to install, but it lacks in the slowing of storm water and removal of pollutants. A wet swale involves standing water at times, and is not usually wanted by homeowners. The dry swales are the most beautiful and functional of the three. These generally include many different types of plants, and the best method for the slowing and pollutant removal in storm water. Because they are made to move higher volumes of water, they may include an underlying rock reservoir, and / or a perforated drain-tile.

One of the biggest benefits of a bioswale is its pollution filtering properties. Above ground plant parts (stems, leaves, and stolons), retard flow and thereby support particulates and their associated pollutants to settle. The pollutants are then leeched into the soil where they may become immobilized and/or decomposed by beneficial bacteria.  A well-constructed bioswale installed along a roadway could reduce the amount of carbon-based pollutants like motor oil in the environment. Among the many benefits of vegetative swales, they also provide stabilization and prevent erosion, cost less to install than traditional curbs, and again, are much nicer to look at compared to concrete and asphalt.

cross section of a rain garden

Rain Gardens are landscape features designed to treat storm water runoff from hard surface areas such as roofs, roads and parking lots. They consist of depressed garden areas, where runoff can pool and infiltrate into the native soils below. Storm water enters the rain garden via an inlet pipe, such as the downspout of a residence. Small storm events can usually be temporarily stored until they infiltrate into the ground. Most rain gardens are designed to pond no more than 2-3 inches above the soil bed. Where native sub-soils have low infiltration rates, rain gardens often have a drain rock reservoir and perforated drain system to take excess water to another point. The constructed soils of the rain garden, and the overlying mulch layer, are designed to replicate many of the pollutant removal mechanisms that operate in wetland ecosystems. Though rain gardens do remove pollutants from runoff water much like a bioswale, if the pollutants are of a higher concentration, a bioswale may be a wiser choice.

There are many native plants adapted to having “their feet wet”. Some wildflower, fern, grass, and sedge options for the Lake County area are:

  • Aster puniceus, Purple-stemmed aster
  • Caltha palustris, Marsh marigold
  • Eupatorium maculatum, Joe-pye weed
  • Eupatorium perfoliatum, Boneset
  • Geum rivale, Bog avens
  • Helianthus grosseratus, Big-toothed sunflower
  • Liatris pycnostachya, Prairie blazing star
  • Lobelia spicata, Pale-spiked lobelia
  • Mimulus ringens, Monkey flower
  • Solidago spp., including S. gigantea, S. ohioensis, and S. riddellii, Goldenrods
  • Verbena hasta, Blue vervain
  • Vernonia gigantea, ssp. gigantea, Tall ironweed
  • Thelypteris palustris, Marsh fern
  • Calamagrostis canadensis, Canada bluejoint
  • Carex comosa, Bottlebrush sedge
  • Carex muskingumensis, Palm sedge

Population growth of Lake County will cause stress on the native environment unless residents are informed of mitigation efforts and encouraged to use native plants in their landscape. By using native plants, a community can reduce water use, pesticide/herbicide use, and maintenance cost/time. The extended root systems of natives help stop erosion and promotes soil health.  Native plants restore the surroundings, and encourage native insects and animals to inhabit the area.

Here’s a great link to the Wisconsin Extension Natural Resources Departments “How To_Build_RainGardens”, one of the best I’ve scoped out. It has ‘recipes’ for rain gardens that supply all the names of plants that do well in different types of soils and light requirements.

© The Naturarian

 

Why Native Plants Rock – Part 2 of 4

Dutchman's breeches white flower
Dicentra cucullaria – Dutchman’s breeches

OUR NATIVE PLANT SPECIES

Encouraging native plant use in the landscape can help the community save local native species, help with water related issues, and reduce pollution. Using native plants will help correct the problems connected with compaction and soil health.

Native plants can be defined as being indigenous or occurring naturally in a given geographic area and not introduced to that area by humans. When it comes to native plants, the “geographical area” is a 50-mile radius. The distinction between native and non-native species is important because native species have generally adapted and evolved with the competing species, predators, and diseases of an area over many thousands of years. Native species are therefore generally in reasonable ecological balance with their associates and competitors, and have pests, predators, or diseases that limit their abundance.

chart showing how deep our native plant roots goThe Lake County area was part of the tall grass prairie lands, and the soils are the richest of all the soil orders. The reason for this is native plants have extensive root systems which improve the ability of the soil to infiltrate water and withstand wet or erosive conditions. When comparing root systems of non-native to native plants, the differences are obvious. Most native plants roots are 2-3 times longer and more fibrous than non-natives are. The root systems of a native plant are on an average 7′ feet deep, with some reaching up to 15′ feet. Because roots reach these depths, the soil becomes very rich with nutrients at lower levels.

Soil taxonomists have assigned the name “Mollisol” (soil order) to this type of soil, characterized as having a dark-colored organic surface layer of approximately 1”-3” (O horizon), and an extensive next layer of dark loamy soil (A horizon) from 3’ – 18” down.

A homeowner can reduce their time input, money, water use and pollution output by just reducing the lawn size of their property and adding native plant gardens. After a native plant garden establishes itself (1 – 3 years), the maintenance time involved plummets. More garden areas mean less lawn areas, and all the maintenance requirements of it. The cost of a native garden can be very affordable, as seeds can cost as little as $30 covering a 500 square feet area. After removal of the lawn (sod remover rental of $48/day), installation is as easy as a disk tiller (rental for the day $32), some hard work, and the seed. This method is for a patient person, as some flowering, native plants (forbs = flowering plants) can take up to 3 years to bloom. Most homeowners would like to have something to look at quickly, so mature plants would be best, or another possibility is a mix of plugs (immature plants) and seed.

The newly seeded/planted area will need extra water to germinate/get started and throughout the first season. However, after a native garden becomes established, the plants can withstand most droughts, only needing a small amount of water in desperate times. This saves time, money and resources.

Lastly, native plants do not need any commercial fertilizer, which pollutes the environment. Natives are happy to receive compost as a method to get vitamins. Compost application can be as easy as leaving vegetation and leaf residues to over-winter, taking free manure from any of the horse farms nearby (remember to dig deep for the good stuff!!) or from your compost bin. Many natives, mostly of the wetland type, can actually extract toxins from the soil, mitigating damage done from commercial fertilizers.

Stay tuned! Tomorrow we’ll discuss some ‘lawn substitutions’ for those die-hard lawn fans.

© The Naturarian

Why Native Plants Rock – Part 1 of 4

canadian white violet flower
Canadian White Violet

Many native plants, animals and insects have become endangered as the world’s population grows and expands into areas previously untouched by humans. To mitigate these issues, residents should be encouraged to use native plants in their landscape. Not only do natives promote habitats, a community can save water and reduce erosion and flooding problems.

Lake County, Illinois’s 2010 census has the population at 703,462 with projections of 786,000 by 2020. Lake County is one of the fastest growing counties in Illinois, and that will mean many, large subdivisions being built here.

dead dirt
The ‘Dirt-Pile-Of-Death’…..

One of the problems is the builders of these new communities strip off a deep, top-layer of earth before building, and pile it up in the corner of the land. This “top-soil” looses nutrients, becomes compacted, and looses it’s air circulation promoting harmful, bacterial growth within it. As the houses are being built, heavy construction equipment collapses and compacts the lower horizon of soil (generally clay here) promoting poor drainage. After building is complete, the piled up, nutrient poor, mediocre topsoil is replaced. Aside from installing a water greedy lawn, the neighborhood is usually left with little other vegetation.

NON-NATIVE AND INVASIVE SPECIES

Another problem is when new people move to a new area, they want to bring or install the plants they remember from home. Most non-native plants are not deleterious, but they will use up more of your time and resources. However, sometimes these non-native plants can become extreme bothers; these species are called invasive species. A fable many, naive people believe is that an area overrun with non-natives will “go back” to native plants if an area is left alone; this is untrue!

There are many non-native plants that are generally no danger to the local environment. Though many of the non-invasive, non-native plants that people use in their gardens are stressed in the different environment, they may acclimate over a few years. Despite the fact that the plant may look healthy, it may be because of all the additional water, fertilizer and care a person must give to it. Because of all these added requirements these plants often become a maintenance issue, pollution concern (fertilizer run-off) and accrue costs accordingly.

burning bush type of plant with red leaves not on fire haha
Euonymus alaus – Burning bush

The real danger to the native landscape is non-native, invasive species. An invasive plant has the ability to thrive and multiply aggressively outside its natural range (everything is native to somewhere). Some invasive plants are worse than others.  Many invasive plants continue to be admired by gardeners, and sold illegally by nurseries that may not be aware of their weedy nature, or just want to make money. Others are recognized as weeds but property owners fail to do their part in preventing their spread.

Examples of some of the plants that were just recently added to the invasive species list for this area were: Acer platanoides – Norway Maple, Berberis thunbergii – Japanese Barberry, Euonymus alata – Burning Bush, Viburnum opulus – European Cranberry Bush, and Lonicera spp. – all exotic honeysuckles, to name a few.

Some of the characteristics used to classify an invasive species are:

  • They produce large numbers of plants seasonally.
  • They tolerate many weather conditions and soil types.
  • They spread proficiently by wind, water, and animals.
  • They grow rapidly, allowing them to displace slower growing plants.
  • They spread rampantly and are free of the checks and balances of their native range.

If people continue to use non-native plants in the landscape, many native species of plants, insects and animals will be lost. Aside from this, the cost of non-invasive plant maintenance and the time needed to care for them are higher, as the non-natives cannot fight out the invasives (increased weeding time and/or herbicide use). However, a native plant garden that is established and has it’s biosphere in check will be able to fend off most non-natives.

Check in tomorrow for the next part of the four day series

© The Naturarian