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Going to share a rain garden with my next door neighboor.

I did a bid for a rain garden in Minneapolis today.  Yes, we landscapers work on Sundays too, especially in a tough economy.  It turned out we were standing in the back yard of the client’s house in the rain.  Finally, some rain for our Minnesota rain gardens!  I checked the depth of the moisture after the clouds broke and it was only 1/2 inch. A couple of hours of wind later, only 1/4 inch of retained moisture.  That’s the reason our gardens don’t all look lush, inspite of the nice, gradual spring:  no water.  It will come though, and when it does, my little green conscience wants that rain garden ready!

A green roof shed will lower the temperature of the roof, help use up water that otherwise would run off to storm drains -- and they look great.

A green roof shed will lower the temperature of the roof, help use up water that otherwise would run off to storm drains -- and they look great.

I also planned out a new rain garden area for my own yard which began with a good long look at the yard. I have plenty of plants, and plenty of run-off from the gutters and the peaks of the roofs of both my neighbor’s house and mine.  Location is not really the question.   What is?  My husband wants to put in a tool shed, and I want it to have a “green roof”.  The debate is on as to location of the shed.  My city lot has limited options, since I don’t want to offend my nextdoor neighbor by blocking her kitchen window view with a small building.

So, it looks like I’ll be opting for a back corner of the back yard for the shed and between our houses for a shared rain garden.   That’s going to mean digging out some old shrubs that I’ve been ignoring in that back corner, since they aren’t thriving anyway.  It will also mean taking out the mini-pond and building a bigger newer one at the other side of the back yard, within view of  both my patio and her kitchen.  One thing always leads to another, doesn’t it?  The preparation work is always more than the actual installation, too.  And it’s not just the gross shrubs.  There are several dozen hostas and an ornamental weeping Cherry tree in the way.  My husband is antsy to get started, but with the landscape season now in full swing,  I don’t see actual shed construction in my own yard happening until June.

In the mean time, there’s plenty of daily gardening.  I’ve been watering lightly with the hose a couple of times a week, so my gardens are a little more green than those who have waited.  So far, in the shade, the Elizabeth Magnolia is swelling its buds, as are the azalea and tree peonies. Pulmonaria buds are streatching out on their flower stems, coral bells are getting the color back in their leaves, and the wild ginger has popped its sharply folded leaves up off the forest floor. One red trillium is back, but no sign of the white or yellow ones yet.  The hostas that get a little sun are very close to the surface, but those in deep shade are sound asleep.  If you live in the Metro area and are in need of hostas or daylilies this year, let me know.  I have many varieties available.  They did so well, that by mid-summer last season, I could hardly find room to walk!

I’ve begun tearing out the granite path on the east side of the house to make room for expanded flower beds, but am debating the more appropriate medium to use for the replacement path.  My goal is to allow more rainwater to percolate into the soil, rather than the sheeting run-off from the granite.  I’d love to hear from you about what has or hasn’t worked for your garden paths.  People are so creative!

LOL,    Yah, you betcha!

Kathy Grubbs/ The Garden Lady
Minnesota Rain Gardens
1223 Dayton Avenue
Saint Paul, MN 55104
651-260-7885
minnesotaraingardens@gmail.com

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Gardening in Minnesota

Happy Spring!  Gardening in Minnesota presents us with challenges that those in warmer gardening zones don’t have to fret over.

In Minnesota, were in zone 4 for planting

In Minnesota, we're in zone 4 for planting, which means we should use plants that can survive winters with low temperatures that can go down to -20 or even -30 F.

We are in zone 4, and have been blessed with a nice gradual Spring, as opposed to, say, snow on Easter. Two days ago I had one crocus in one garden bed.  Today they are popping up all over the place.   I have been out in my yard taking photos of things that are just beginning to sprout so you can recognise them in your own perennial gardens and not “weed ” them out by mistake  during Spring cleanup. They will begin being posted tomorrow with a view from a distance of a couple of  feet and then a close-up of the plant leaf or bud.  It is such a joy to walk around the yard and see something coming up that wasn’t there yesterday.

If you are looking for your perennials and aren’t sure what they look like, resist the urge to weed the area until the plants are bigger.  Nothing is really crowded at the moment anyway.  Just pull or dig out what you are absolutely sure of.  For instance, most people can tell a dandelion, even before it flowers.  (You can always tell a dandelion, but you can’t tell it much!)  Getting those out now is so much easier than waiting ’til later.  At this point, it’s time to uncover the flower beds and let things dry out  if they are covered in leaves.

I confess that I don’t do much clean-up in the Fall.  I’m inclined to just let the plants die as Nature intends.  The dead leaves of the plant will serve as a protective mulch through the harsh winter, and it’s very easy to pull off  the dead material in the spring.  I also cheat on leaf raking in the Fall by blowing tree leaves onto my flower beds and leaving them as mulch too.  I am so antsy to get into the garden in the Spring that I actually enjoy Spring raking in the warming sunshine.  Since I am a professional gardener, I’m always busy cleaning up other people’s gardens and yards before my own in Autumn.  By the time I am done taking care of my clients, it’s pretty durned cold outside and I’m ready to run for the sofa, a comforter, and a good book.  The first year I put my garden to bed by “neglecting” it, Old Man Winter came pretty early and I just gave up, sighed, and decided that if things come back in Spring, fine.  Otherwise, I’d have room for something new next Spring.  After all, weren’t those plants supposed to be hardy in zone 4?  As it turned out, my perennials did come back, and with gusto!

A lot of my clients live in meticulously kept neighborhoods and want their flower beds pretty much bare before the snow flies.  My point is that it’s great if you can get it done, but don’t fret about the plants if you don’t cut them down and clean them out.  Mother Nature knows what she’s doing.  And if you get any snide comments from anyone about an unkempt flower bed in Winter, you have my permission to tell them that The Garden Lady in Minnesota says it’s a more natural way to protect your landscaping investment.

Back to Spring here in Minnesota, It’s pretty dry.  There have been grass fires in the news.  If you don’t water your flower beds yet, it’s OK.  The plants will just take a little longer to break dormancy.  I only water a flower bed in the Spring once I have it cleaned out.  That way, what is growing  is showing and looking good.  Watering all your flower beds before they are cleaned out just encourages early growth that can get smooshed by the leaves that have been there all winter and get matted down by being wet.

If you have gardening questions just let me know.  I’ll do my best to address them.

See you tomorrow,

Kathy/ The Garden Lady  since 1998
Minnesota Rain Gardens
1223 Dayton Avenue
Saint Paul, MN 55104
651-260-7885
minnesotaraingardens@gmail.com

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Where did rain gardens first start?

Illustration of how a rain garden works, from the Natural Resources Conservation services. Click on the picture to go to their website.

Illustration of how a rain garden works, from the Natural Resources Conservation services. Click on the picture to go to their website.

Rain gardens are a pretty new idea – they started in the late 1980s, when the Maryland Environmental Protective Department decided to set up a rain garden to capture the overflow of rain water that came off a parking lot.  The University of Maryland then started researching this idea, and Michigan and Wisconsin became big leaders in developing the rain garden idea.

The genius of rain gardens is that they are not just helping with infiltration and being a small part of the flow of water, instead, rain gardens are set up to actually stop the flow of water…they’re the last step before rainwater seeps into the ground.

Minnesota Rain Gardens
1223 Dayton Avenue
Saint Paul, MN 55104
651-260-7885
minnesotaraingardens@gmail.com

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Do rain gardens attract mosquitos?

Rain gardens do not attract mosquitoes.  In fact, rain gardens attract dragonflies (which eat skeeters!)

Rain gardens do not attract mosquitoes. In fact, rain gardens attract dragonflies (which eat skeeters!)

Another question customers ask when they are thinking about having a rain garden is worrying whether it will attract mosquitoes.  The good news – no, rain gardens do not attract mosquitoes!

  • 7-12 days of standing water are needed for mosquitoes to lay eggs and breed.
  • Standing water in rain gardens last only a few hours.

Minnesota Rain Gardens
1223 Dayton Avenue
Saint Paul, MN 55104
651-260-7885
minnesotaraingardens@gmail.com

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Tip for leveling an area for a rain garden

Rain gardens should be created once the ground has been made level.

Here’s how to level the space:

  • First, dig out the area to the right depth.  Then lay a long 2×4 across the area, with a carpenters level on top of the 2×4.  When you find low spots, fill them with dirt.
  • Keep moving the 2×4 aqround, filling in the low spots.  Rake smooth afterwards.

Minnesota Rain Gardens
1223 Dayton Avenue
Saint Paul, MN 55104
651-260-7885
minnesotaraingardens@gmail.com

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Rain garden building tip

Placing plastic or tarps on grass will kill it, thus making digging easier

Placing plastic or tarps on grass will kill it, thus making digging easier

While rain gardens take a while to build, there are some short-cuts. Here’s a great tip, with two options (one much more environmentally friendly)?

If the grass is dead where you’d like to place your rain garden, digging will be much easier.

  • If you are comfortable using Round-Up, you can kill the grass quickly
  • Or, you can place black plastic or tarps over the grass.  This takes longer, but uses no chemicals.

Minnesota Rain Gardens
1223 Dayton Avenue
Saint Paul, MN 55104
651-260-7885
minnesotaraingardens@gmail.com

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Typical size of a rain garden

Rain gardens are typically 100-300 sq ft.

Rain gardens are typically 100-300 sq ft.

The question many customers have is “What size should my rain garden be?”  The quick answer is that usually rain gardens are between 100 square feet and 300 square feet.

  • Smaller than 100 square feet?  It’s possible, of course, but such a small garden will have very little variety of plants.
  • Large than 300 feet?  Always possible, of course, but that’s a lot of digging, and becomes much more expensive at that point.

Here’s a handy way of finding out the best size for your rain garden:

  • Find the “size factor” (use the data sets below) which works for your type of soil and how deep the garden is
  • Multiply that by the drainage area (the size you are thinking for the rain garden).
  • Your answer?  If it’s more than 300 square feet, it’s recommended that you divide it into two or more rain gardens

Here’s the sets of data to use:

Rain gardens LESS THAN thirty feet from the downspout:

Sandy soil?

  • 3-5 nches deep:  0.19
  • 6-7 inches deep:  0.15
  • 8 inches deep:  0.08

Silty soil?

  • 3-5 nches deep:  0.34
  • 6-7 inches deep:  0.25
  • 8 inches deep:  0.16

Clay-type soil?

  • 3-5 nches deep:  0.43
  • 6-7 inches deep:  0.32
  • 8 inches deep:  0.20

Rain gardens MORE THAN 30 feet from the downspout:

  • Sandy soil?  0.03
  • Silty soil?  0.06
  • Clay-type soil?  0.10

We hope this blogpost helps!

Minnesota Rain Gardens
1223 Dayton Avenue
Saint Paul, MN 55104
651-260-7885
minnesotaraingardens@gmail.com

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