Garden to improve water quality

July and August are great times to enjoy thriving gardens. In the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District we are encouraging and recognizing gardening practices that help improve our water quality, reduce erosion, control flooding and provide new habitat for our wildlife.

Through the Watershed District’s Landscape Ecology Awards Program, many residents, businesses and public properties have been recognized for gardening practices that use Minnesota native plants in the landscape to create buffers (a strip of vegetation between developed land and a lake, stream or wetland) and natural habitats, have areas where rainwater is infiltrated (allowed to seep naturally into the ground), and require limited use of fertilizers and pesticides. The winners, selected by District’s Natural Resources Board, have attractive signs posted on their properties to identify them as contributing to improved water quality as well as to the aesthetics of the community. A list of winning properties and pictures are posted on the District’s Web site (

The Watershed District also uses native plants in its shoreline stabilization, flood control and water quality improvement projects. Phalen Lake, now in its final year of a five-year restoration project, has 1.2 miles of restored shoreline. A newly published Lake Phalen Shoreland Restoration Walking Tour and Plant Guide provides close-up photographs and descriptions of 84 native plants, as well as common invasive weeds and how they are managed around the lakeshore. The guide also provides a brief history of the shoreline alterations that have taken place since the late 1890s from dredging, to filling marshy land adjacent to the lakeshore to installing riprap to stages of the restoration project. With guide in hand you can identify the plants along the lake from early spring to late fall. The guide can be purchased for $10 at the District office at 2346 Helen St., North St. Paul, at Minnesota’s Bookstore at 660 Olive Street, St. Paul or by calling 297-3000.

Also, the Maplewood Nature Center features demonstration gardens for water quality and wildlife.

Rainwater gardens, located on the north side adjacent to the Brand and Ferndale entrance, and in the neighborhood north of the nature center, handle stormwater runoff. Blending engineering and horticulture know-how, the garden plants filter nutrients and chemicals washed from neighborhood streets. Swales along streets gather runoff from driveways and streets. By keeping as much rainwater as possible close to where it falls, the gardens help reduce the negative impacts on our lakes and streams, as well as on the local wildlife.

The center’s butterfly gardens, located to the south and west of the interpretive building, use prairie grasses and wildflowers to attract monarchs, tiger swallowtails and other butterflies to feed on flower nectar and lay their eggs. Munching caterpillars can be found on butterfly weed all summer. Adult monarchs feeding on nectar peak in August through the first frost.

Southeast of the Green Heron Pond, the Nature Center is home to 1/3 of an acre of restored prairie. The center’s oldest garden, dating back to 1980, is dominated by tall Indian grass, big bluestem and prairie wildflowers. This little prairie demonstrates the tall grasses once common in Minnesota.

To get started on converting to native plant gardening, the Watershed District, in partnership with the Ramsey County Conservation District, will provide free technical assistance for restoration projects that create habitat and protect our lakes, streams and wetlands. Through the Native Vegetation Landscape Restoration Program, Ramsey County residents are eligible for assistance and to apply for up to 50% of the cost of materials not to exceed $600. The program application and brochure can be obtained by calling the Ramsey Conservation District at 266-7270.

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