Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Why I'm waiting until later in spring to clean up the garden...

...a late season, heavy,wet snow blankets seed heads left standing and tree limbs
...reminding us of the beautythat can be overlooked during those cold, blustery days 
...that will soon becom  a distant memory

Monday, March 23, 2015

Designs for rain gardens in clay soil in full sun

(from Rain Gardens - A how-to manual for homeowners)

(from Prairie Nursery - 184 plant garden in 192 sq ft will handle a rooftop run off for a 950 square foot roof area)

Red Milkweed
12 New England Aster
1 White False Indigo
Blue Flag Iris
Prairie Blazingstar
Wild Quinine
Smooth Penstemon
Yellow Coneflower
Sweet Black Eyed Susan
12 Stiff Goldenrod
Culver's Root

96 Fox Sedge

 Rose MilkweedJun - Aug3
 New England AsterAug - Oct3
 Joe Pye WeedJun - Aug2
 Rose MallowJul - Sep2
 Southern Blue FLagMay - Jul3
 Prairie Blazing StarJul - Sep4
 Sweet Black- eyed SusanAug - Oct2
 Wild SennaJul, Aug3
 Prairie DockJul - Sep2
 Ohio SpiderwortMay - Jul3
 Blue VervainJul - Sep3
 Common IronweedJul - Sep3
 Common Hop SedgeMay - Jul2
 Brown Fox SedgeJun, Jul3

While nearly all native plants develop deep root systems and can absorb many inches of rainwater in a short amount of time, the moisture-loving species in a Rain Garden are best placed in the central, low part of the area that will receive the most water. All the plants in Prairie Moom Nursey's rain garden design can be placed in the center, depression area but species like Joe Pye Weed, Common Ironweed, and Prairie Dock with their tall stature are often planted closest to the center. Shorter plants like the Sedges, Ohio Spiderwort and Southern Blue Flag Iris toward the edges will then not get overwhelmed by larger plants.


Rain gardens for clay soil in full sun

"Plants can adapt. 
They have done so for thousands of years and will continue to do so. 
Concrete cannot."
-Emily DeBolt

With climate change, how do we manage stormwater runoff from more frequent large storm events at unpredictable times? We need to design systems that can recover,  planning ahead with back up plans.   Green infrastructure systems such as rain gardens and other bioretention systems, can be more resilient than traditional gray infrastructure systems, such as dry wells and catch basins.

Instead of allowing rainwater to flow into storm drains, increasing flooding and municipal overflow, rainwater soaks into the soil in rain gardens recharging the water table.  Rain garden plants provide habitat for birds and butterflies as well.

The soil will retain the greatest amount of moisture at the center of your garden and should be planted with species native that tolerate wet, clay soils and that are native to your area. Note that these plant lists are most appropriate for the Northeast and upper Midwest:

Sweet flag (Acorus calamus)
Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)
New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae)
Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)
Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum)
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)
Prairie Blazing Star (Liatris pycnostachya)
Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)
Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum)
Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata)
Common Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata)
Fringed brome (Bromus ciliatus)
Porcupine Sedge (Carex hystericina)
Fox Sedge (Carex vulpinoidea)
Cord Grass (Spartina pectinata)

Species suited to the drier soil on the upper edges of the rain garden include:

Nodding Pink Onion (Allium cernuum)
Lead Plant (Amorpha canescens)
White Wild Indigo (Baptisia leucantha)
Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)
Purple Prairie Clover (Petalostemum purpureum)
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Stiff Goldenrod (Solidago rigida)
Sideoats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula)
Prairie Brome (Bromus kalmii)
Copper-shouldered oval sedge (Carex bicknellii)
Narrow-leaved oval sedge (Carex squarrosa)

Possible rain garden plants including non-natives  

spring/early summer bloomersred milkweed
shooting star
wild iris
summer bloomersnodding pink onion
prairie blazing star
late summer/fall bloomersNew England aster
Ohio goldenrod
sweet black-eyed Susan
grassesIndian grass
prairie drop seed
ornamental optionsNot only can these plants tolerate wet conditions, they also can withstand our Upper Midwest winters. Mixing trees, shrubs, flowers, and ground covers to create different plant levels will attract a greater diversity of wildlife to your garden.
treesred maple (prefers acid soil)
river birch
swamp white oak
shrubsglossy black chokeberry
northern lights azalea (prefers acid soil)
red-osier dogwood
perennials and annualsasters
cardinal flower
orange coneflower
Siberian iris
ground covers and fernscreeping willow
dwarf arctic willow
(Most mosses do well in moist, acid soils. Ferns need moist yet relatively well-drained soils.)
plants in wetland standsWetland gardens may have three zones – one in which plants are in for some occasional wading, one in which they continually have wet feet, and one in which they are completely immersed. Select plants accordingly.
wet meadow/prairie (occasionally wet feet, dry tops)blue lobelia
fox sedge
Joe Pye weed

meadow rue
New England aster
porcupine sedge
red cardinal flower
red milkweed
emergent (feet in permanent pool, dry tops)blue flag iris
marsh marigold
softstem bulrush
sweet flag
wapato duck potato
water plantain
submergentnative lilypad

Another option for implementing some storm water management in a clay-rich garden site is to replace turf grass with wet-tolerant native plants without creating a depression. Native plants will greatly improve the clay site by making the best use of water and soil resources, and also build up the soil. Landscaping in clay without a depression will not technically create a rain garden, but runoff will still be reduced since deep-rooted natives create channels for infiltration in even the tightest clay soils. This garden will also attract desirable wildlife and beneficial insects. Some wet prairie species that grow in clay soils include blue flag iris (Iris versicolor), water plantain (Alisma subcordatum), porcupine sedge (Carex hystericina), and some bulrushes (Scirpus atrovirens, Scirpus acutus).


Role of local Fox Cities stormwater retention ponds

In urban areas, rapid runoff during rain storms and spring thaw can result in flooding, erosion and the degradation of water quality as it carries debris and pollutants washed from impermeable surfaces of roofs and roads. Stormwater ponds are designed to collect stormwater during rain storms and spring thaw so contaminants settle as sediment, preventing them from reaching streams, rivers and lakes. Retention ponds store stormwater indefinitely and have no outlet. The water dissipates through infiltration, evaporation and transpiration. Detention ponds are more common in the Fox Cities.  They   store stormwater temporarily and have an outlet to discharge the water at a manageable rate to minimize flooding.  

CityNumber of PondsFirst Pond2014 Budget
Appleton461995*$18.9 million
Neenah162001$2.4 million
Kaukauna181998$1.6 million
Menasha151994$1.4 million
*Includes $7 million carried forward from 2013 for underground storage tanks at Appleton East High School.
Source: Municipal public works directors

Appleton owns and maintains 289 miles of storm sewers and 63 stormwater facilities: 39 wet ponds, seven dry ponds, 11 channels, four biofilters and two underground storage tanks. The city is removing 38 percent of the suspended solids and 28 percent of the phosphorus. Appleton's goal for the removal of suspended solids in the Lower Fox River watersheds is 72 percent, but the city is removing only 29 percent from the downstream section and 18 percent from the upstream section, largely through street sweeping. Appleton spent $11.8 million on stormwater construction projects this year. The city also  spends $250,000 annually for maintenance of stormwater ponds including management of the prairie grasses planted around the ponds, cleaning inlet and outlet grates, controlling pests like muskrats, and limiting algae growth through the use of aerators or chemicals.

Eventually stormwater ponds, by design, will become filled with sediment and will need to be dredged. Cities initially paid for stormwater projects through property taxes, but later established stormwater utilities to pay for the improvements through user fees, based on the area of impervious surface located on properties. A typical homeowner pays $155 a year.

Ponds may appear to be a cost-effective means of complying with state and federal water-quality standards because they are successful in removing impurities from the water, but once the water is treated the water often does not have a beneficial use.  Greater use of Green Infrastructure (GI) and Low Impact Development (LID) that  protects, restores, or enhances natural hydrolic conditions (soil absorption and infiltration, tree canopy capture, and vegetation capture) can play an important role.

Building codes that require rooftop drain be connected to storm sewers limit the use of stormwater harvesting practices (rooftop drains to rain barrels or planter boxes) or or infiltration practices (rooftop drains to rain gardens or infiltration swales). Additional green infrastructure (GI) like biofilters, permeable pavement and grass ditches also can play an important role. 

The local Lake Winnebago Watershed

The Lake Winnebago Watershed covers over 581 square miles with over 200 square miles of the watershed being lakes, the largest of which is Lake Winnebago. The watershed is located between Upper and Lower Fox Rivers in Wisconsin, and includes the cities of Menasha, Oshkosh, and Fond du Lac as the primary urbanized areas. The watershed also includes the High Cliff State Park, a 1,145 acre state park, located in Calumet County.
The watershed is above a sandstone aquifer and is primarily a glacial plain. The Niagara Escarpment, a bedrock ridge, forms the eastern boundary of the Lake Winnebago Watershed.
A Glacial Habitat Restoration Area (GHRA) is located in the watershed in Winnebago and Fond du Lac counties. The GHRA is an area where the state is restoring a patchwork of grasslands and wetlands over a large rural landscape enabling wildlife to coexist side-by-side with agriculture. The basin hosts resident and migratory neo-tropical songbirds in its open grassland/agricultural habitat.
There are several water quality issues associated with the watershed. Several urban stormwater outfalls discharge to Lake Winnebago from portions of the Cities of Oshkosh, Neenah, and Menasha. Runoff from peak storm events from commercial, industrial, and residential construction sites, and from plat developments in rapidly developing sections of these cities have been identified as sources of nonpoint source pollution problems. Water quality modeling done by Northeast Wisconsin Waters of Tomorrow (NEWWT) have indicated this watershed to be a major contributor of phosphorus and suspended solids to Lake Winnebago. Critical animal waste and soil erosion problems have been intensified by the steep slopes along the Niagra Escarpment. Average soil loss in Calumet County is estimated to be 2.7 tons per acre.  Both the Winnebago Comprehensive Management Plan and the Lower Green Bay Remedial Action Plan have identified this watershed as a high priority for the control of non point sources of pollution. The eastern portion of the watershed was selected as a nonpoint source priority watershed project in 1989. The primary goals of the watershed project were to reduce phosphorus and sediment loading to Lake Winnebago and decrease the loading of heavy metals from urban nonpoint sources.

Lake Winnebago Harbors
An important objective of Army Corps of Engineer lake operations is to reduce downstream flooding during spring snowmelt and heavy rains. The lake is drawn down in the winter in anticipation of spring rains and snowmelt. The lake’s storage capacity allows it to be used to reduce the incidence of downstream floods. After the threat of spring flooding has passed, the lake level is gradually raised during the spring season to its summer target for navigation and recreational boating.
Through regulation of the lake level, the Corps attempts to minimize therisk of ice damage by keeping the level as low as possible when the ice layer is weak.
The Lower Fox River is part of the most important industrialized region in the basin. Wisconsin’s pulp and paper industry makes extensive use of the river within this area. The river also provides water for navigation, hydropower, municipalities and  other industries along the Lower Fox River. Each user affects the quantity and quality of water available as a resource.
The Lower Fox River from Lake Winnebago to De Pere has a fall of 168 feet in a distance of 39 miles, making it a valuable source of hydropower. Currently, there are nine hydropower generating stations along the Lower Fox River. They utilize the power to operate numerous paper mills, factories and municipalities in the immediate vicinity of the Lower Fox River.
Winds typically blow stronger over the lake during fall. When the water is warmer than the air, the lower 500 to 1,500 feet of the atmosphere over the lake becomes unstable. Higher momentum air aloft becomes mixed down to the surface resulting in stronger winds being observed on the lake.  During the early spring when air temperatures begin to rise, the lake waters remain cold.  The colder lake waters actually produce a stable layer of air in the lower levels, inhibiting the turbulent mixing process, resulting in lighter winds in the spring.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

World Water Day, March 22nd, 2015

In 1993, March 22 was deesignated as World Water Day by the United Nations General Assembly.  In 2015, the theme for World Water Day is 'Water and Sustainable Development'.

Dangerous disparities in water access exist around the globe. Three-quarters of a billion people, mostly the poor and the marginalized, are still deprived of a most basic human right of safe drinking water. Nearly 1,000 children continue to die every day from diarrhoeal disease linked to unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation, or poor hygiene.

The World Water Development Report warns demand for water around the world will increase by 55% over the next 15 years. With current supplies, that means only 60% of the world’s water needs will be met in 2030. The reasons for the shortfall include climate change, which causes irregular rainfall and dwindling underwater reserves. The results of the shortage could have a  devastating impact on agriculture, ecosystems, economies, and health. New policies focusing on water conservation, and more optimal treatment of wastewater, will be needed to alleviate some of the shortfall.

 A young girl fetches water from a hand pump
 in an impoverished settlement in New Delhi, March 21, 2015.
(India World Water Day Altaf Qadri—AP)

Charles Fishman, in The Big Thirst (2011), reminds us that, unlike other natural resources, water is not being "used up".  All the water that existed on earth billions of years ago, still exists on the planet today, thought it may have changed states (between "molecular water" fused into rock 400 miles deep in the Earth, liquid, ice, and vapor states).   While water itself is not becoming more scarce it's disappearing from some of the places people have been accustomed to finding it, reappearing somewhere else.

 Fishman suggests there is not "a global water crisis", but many distinct local, regional crises, whose solutions must be local and regional. Local water problems cannot be solved by conservation in other areas of the world. But instead of relieving us or responsibility for our water habits and behavior, it means we must learn to take responsibility for our local water issues, becuase not one else on earth can or will. We have te technology to clean water to levels we need and within watersheds to deliver water where it needs to be.

He suggests that water scarcity is often the result of poor water management.  Agriculture uses close to two thirds of all water used today, and nearly half of that is wasted, especially in developing countries, ultimately undermining global food production. As old, leaky water systems are replaced, water efficiency should improve. And not all water needs to be cleaned to drinking-water quality standards, including water used for flushing toilets, washing cars, watering lawns,...   Fisherman identifies advances under way, from harvesting rainwater to the brilliant innovations devised by companies making impressive breakthroughs in water productivity.  Knowing what to do is not as big a challenge as changing our "water consciousness".

Friday, March 20, 2015


"The spring came suddenly, bursting upon the world as a child bursts into a room, 
with a laugh and a shout and hands full of flowers."
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The spring equinox (vernal equinox) occurs at 6:45 p.m. today, Friday, March 20, 2015.  The spring equinox occurs at the time the sun crosses the equator, moving from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere. Since the sun is right overhead of the equator, the equinox is often thought to be the date when there is 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night.

(Meteorological spring starts March 1 every year, makingnit easy to keep and compare statistics about  spring seasons.  Spring to meteorologists is March, April and May.) 

Sunrise and sunset times depend of the topography of an area. Earth is not a perfect sphere.  Sunrise is recorded when the very top of sun pops up over the horizon, and sunset is recorded when the top of the sun drops just below the horizon. So there is about six minutes of extra light at sunrise, and six minutes more sunlight at the end of the day.  Therefore Monday, March 16, 2015 was the day where equal day and night were actually recorded with sunrise a  7:02 AM and sunset at 7:01 PM (officially 11h 58m 46s of daylight).

Sunrise in Appleton, WI  6:55 a.m.
Sunset                              7:05 p.m.

Spring unlocks the flowers that paint the laughing soil.
~Reginald Herber

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Register now for the 2015 Outagamie County Master Gardener Conference on March 28th

Keynote Speaker:

Chasing the Rare & Unusual in Shade Gardens

"Collecting is much like dating.
You become aware; something in your peripheral vision, 
a mention in a casual conversation, or perhaps a photo. 
Best yet an actual sighting. One good look and you are hooked. 
The hormones kick in and the chase is on. 
You pester your friends for an introduction.
Finally you meet and a new relationship begins to form.
Gene tells all about the loves of his life as a collector of 
the rare and unusual in his Southern Indiana Shade Garden.
(Rated PG for references of a sexual nature and mild profanity)"

Additional Speakers:   

Kathy Baum - Perennial Report Card 2015
Tammy Borden - The Big Deal About Miniature Gardens

Gail Clearwater - Let's Talk Trash:  Trash to Treasure Gardening

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Traveling south to hunt for signs of spring

Despite recent record snowfall in southern states such a s Kentucky, travel a bit futher south to Hilton Head, South Carolina revealed some early signs of spring as clocks "spring forward" over the first weekend in March.

Daffodils in bloom in foreground
Camelia blooms overhead

...and below
...while a gator basks in the warm sun on the shore of a lagoon