Managing stormwater and using native plants
Posted on 06/26/2019
Native plants have deep roots that help retain water.MSU Extension held an Eco-friendly Landscaping for Water Quality workshop on May 30 at the Northville Community Center that educated approximately 20 people who attended this first-time event. Mayor Ken Roth welcomed the group and encouraged them to become stewards of their environment. He said that he and his wife had converted their home’s landscaping from lawn to plants, groundcover, and stone several years ago – and now there’s less maintenance and reduced watering.

Beautification Commission Chair Diane Pittaway introduced the presenters and welcomed their knowledge. She said she was there to learn and plans to incorporate native plants on the Griswold traffic islands (midway to 8 Mile) – one of the City’s gateway streets – and also in a raised bed next to a downtown parking area.

During the education portion, an MSU Extension educator described the area’s watershed, noting there are 470 square miles of the Rouge, which amounts to 126 miles of flowing river. The Johnson Creek collects stormwater and feeds into the Middle Rouge River in Northville. A good way to manage stormwater is to have most of it soak back into the ground where it falls, with only minimal runoff. One technique to use is a bioswale. It’s a landscape feature that collects and filters stormwater, keeping debris and pollution out of surface runoff water. Wikipedia notes that it “consists of a swaled drainage course with gently sloped sides and filled with vegetation, compost and/or riprap.” A bioswale can have tiers (or earthen steps) that allows water to drain gradually.

The wetlands are nature’s way of dealing with stormwater, yet 90% of the wetlands in Wayne County are gone (mostly due to development), the educator said. Plants planted near water provide a riparian buffer to prevent stormwater from entering a body of water. Native plants have deep roots that hold soil together and are good at filtering and absorbing stormwater. For walkways, a curved path is better than a straight path because when water runs off, it goes into nearby plants and groundcover rather than straight down the concrete toward a storm drain. Porous pavers also allow water to seep back into the ground rather than become runoff. Ideally, water after a rain should absorb into the nearby ground within 48 hours.

Most of those who attended said they had greatly increased their knowledge of watershed basics and low impact development.

“It was a great group to work with,” said Terry Gibb, one of four presenters. “We could get around and answer questions during the hands-on portion and they (attendees) could interact and keep each other engaged.”

The hands-on portion involved drawing a sketch of a yard or public garden that the participant wanted to improve and adding in new plantings and landscape features. Each got a guidebook that lists many native plants and the preferred type of growing conditions. Participants were encouraged to show their drawing to a member of the MSU Extension for their input about plant and tree recommendations.

Most participants said they planned to make “stormwater friendly” changes to their landscaping, such as adding a rain barrel, planting near water and using more native plants. The MSU Extension team advised participants to focus on one section of their yard when making changes. “Think of your yard as a house, and do one room at a time.”

Before any planting begins, it helps to know what type of soil you have, so you can amend it for better growing conditions. Garden centers have Ph test kits for sale. The MSU Extension has a mail-in test specimen. Gibb noted that compost can amend the soil – reducing the clay component or making it less sandy – but it’s not a fertilizer. She also cautioned not to over water your lawn, noting that grass only needs about one inch of water weekly to grow well.

If you plan on digging deep to plant bushes and trees or make landscape changes, check for ordinances and easements. Also call Miss Dig so you’ll know where utility lines are located.

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