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1404 Goodale Boulevard, Suite 100
Columbus, OH 43212
Phone: (614) 486-9613
Fax: (614) 486-9614

Backyard Conversation

The easiest way to think about non-point source pollution is to picture a stream or river and its watershed, similar to the picture below. A watershed is simply all the land area that drains to a particular body of water.

When it rains, water sweeps over the land, gathering up anything in its path and taking it down and down until it reaches the stream or river. In most areas of the United States, the most common pollutant is dirt, or if we want to be technical, sediment. Sediment is tiny particles of gravel, sand or soil that get picked up by runoff water. If you see brown water running into a storm drain during heavy rains, that's a sign of sediment pollution!

Muddy Waters belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, not in storm drains!

The biggest challenge we face when dealing with sediment pollution is that it’s non-source point pollution. Sediment can be picked up from many different places. Development projects that expose bare earth, pastures torn up by cows and the dirt pile your neighbor has yet to flatten out after constructing his new deck can all be sources of sediment pollution. Any place where dirt can be washed away can be a source of sediment pollution.

Non-point Source Pollution Reduction is a Group Effort

Since sediment pollution, and all nonpoint source pollution, can come from lots of different sources, everyone has to be on board if we want to see a reduction. What can you do to help?

  • Cover bare soil to prevent it from washing into our streams-  Grass, mulch and gravel can be good for reducing erosion where the water is flowing across the surface of the ground.  Native plants work well to help water soak into the ground and hold soil along stream banks.
  • Pay attention to what you’re sending down the drain- Lots of everyday activities can send pollutants down a storm drain!
  • Contain leaking car fluids 
  • Sweep yard waste and excess fertilizer off of hard surfaces
  • Wash your car at a car wash or in the lawn instead of a hard surface like your street or driveway
  • Pick up and responsibly dispose of pet waste

  • Report pollution- Water pollution is a crime! For example, construction projects are required to make an effort to reduce soil erosion and protect storm drains and waterways from sediment pollution. If you see large amounts of sediment-polluted water that’s going into a storm drain, or a waterway that’s not a storm water pond, call the appropriate contact. Other water pollution crimes include dumping anything directly into rivers or storm drains. You can find our handy list of water pollution contacts here.


Size Matters When It Comes To Rain Gardens!

The most popular question from our readers this month was one we receive pretty often- How do you keep mosquitoes out of a rain garden? It's kind of a trick question since a properly designed rain garden will not hold water long enough for mosquitoes to breed in it. But how do you ensure your rain garden is properly designed to drain quickly enough?

Before you even begin digging out and planting your garden dig an 8" deep hole that's about 4" in diameter in the area you'd like to have your garden in. This area shouldn't be too close to any structures, but should be close enough that you can easily direct runoff from a roof or paved surface into your garden. Fill the hole completely with water, let it drain then fill it again and return 24 hours later. The depth that the water has drained will be the depth that you will dig your garden. This simple step ensures that the water collected by your rain garden will be absorbed into the ground within 24 hours, which is not nearly long enough for mosquito (or any insect!) eggs to be laid and hatch. This step also keeps your garden from being too dry or too soggy which can affect the health of your plants and the functionality of your garden. 
In addition to the depth you'll want to calculate the correct area of your rain garden so that it doesn't remain too dry, or worse, flood over its edges. Take the area of whatever surface you're collecting stormwater from and divide that area by the depth of the garden to figure out what area the garden should be.

Example: I have 240 sqft. of rooftop draining to a downspout I will disconnect. My test hole drained 4” in 24 hours. My rain garen will be 4" deep. I then divide 240 by 4, and my rain garden will be 60 sqft.

If you're working with a small planting area you can always get creative and direct the overflow to somewhere appropriate like back to the downspout that flows out to the road. 

You can find tips like this and much more on our Central Ohio Rain Garden Initiative website . You can also visit our nursery partners where we've conveniently placed signs on any plants being sold that are suitable for rain gardens.


Spring Flooding

Flooding. No matter where you live you've probably had the experience of squelching through your saturated lawn. As our climate changes, Ohio is seeing more "Significant Weather Events", including rainfall events of over 2", so as inconvenient as it is, flooding is something we have to accept and adapt to. Let's rewind, because the term "Significant Weather Event" is kind of ambiguous and a 2" rain event can be difficult to wrap your head around. Thinking of rain in inches doesn't give you a very good idea of how much water has actually fallen. If you know the area of your property you can multiply the square footage of by .625 to find out how many gallons of water fall on your property when it rains. (You can use this formula for your roof area too, if you don't know your roof area there's a handy calculator tool here.) A .5 acre plot is 21,780 square feet. 

21,780 x .625= 13,612 gallons of water during a 1" (typical) rain event

That's A LOT of water. The good news is that healthy lawns will soak up most of the rain, and a functioning gutter system will funnel roof runoff into a storm drain. Our storm sewer system, a network of underground pipes that start at the storm drains we see on roadsides and end at local rivers and streams, conveniently reroutes water away from our property and into the nearest storm drain, so we don't have to worry about it... Right? Not quite. It's important to remember that almost all storm drains lead straight to waterways (In urban areas, this process usually takes only 15-30 minutes) so even if we're diverting the water from our property, we're still sending thousands of gallons to rivers and streams, and spending millions of tax dollars on concrete stormwater infrastructure such as curbs, gutters, pipes and culverts. But enough about the problem, let's talk about some solutions for spring flooding. This list of tips comes from our Watershed Coordinator, Kurt Keljo. 

  • Keep debris off of the streets and out of storm drains. Grass clipping, leaves and trash can all clog storm drains, resulting in runoff backing up onto streets, parking lots and adjacent properties.  

  • Reduce rain runoff from your property by planting a tree.  Trees provide multiple benefits to our communities, including reducing stormwater runoff.  They capture rainfall with their leaves and help rainwater infiltrate into the soil.  

  • Planting a tree that can handle periodic wet periods in a depression and directing downspout runoff there enhances the stormwater impact of that tree, allowing it to function like the native plants in a rain garden (click here to learn about woody rain gardens.)  

  • Put in some deep-rooted, native plants in areas around your property, especially where water tends to runoff your lot, if there is such a location.

  • Protect bare soil from erosion with vegetation and/or mulch, reducing runoff as well.  

  • Replace hard, impermeable surfaces (e.g. cement or asphalt) with more permeable surfaces (e.g. pavers, mulch, stepping stones or crushed rock).  


Lawn Fertilization in Spring

The snow has melted, tulips and crocuses are popping up and your lawn is turning an oh-so-springy shade of green. If you're like most people your first inclination is to give your lawn some food after its long winter dormancy, but research shows that it's better to hold off on the fertilizer until Mother's Day at the absolute earliest. (That being said, an established lawn really doesn't need to be fertilized until fall.) In March and April your lawn is focused on root growth, setting a solid foundation for itself so it can survive when the rain tapers off in summer. When you fertilize your lawn during this time the grass will reroute its resources to grow more leafy foliage instead. Your lawn needs healthy, plentiful roots to stay healthy through the year. Cutting root growth short with fertilizer means your lawn will get browner, faster when things get dry.

When you do fertilize, make sure you're following the instructions on the fertilizer label and sweeping up any extra product that falls on the street or sidewalk since it WILL end up washing down a storm drain into your local river or stream. Despite fertilizer's direct negative impact on waterways, turf or lawns that are managed properly pose minimal threats to (and can even help) water quality. Rate, timing of application and type of fertilizer are key factors- never fertilize before heavy rain or on frozen, bare, or snow-covered soil. Moreover, while weed and feed products seem like a good idea, seldom do weed control and timing of fertilizers coincide. Spot-treating problems and using these products separately is better for your lawn and the environment. As mentioned above, you might not even need to fertilize until the fall. It depends on what type of turf you have, but most lawns are happiest with one fertilizer application in September and another optional application in November. More in depth information on different lawn types and their fertilizer needs can be found in this helpful guide from Purdue Extension.

If you still feel lost the best place to start when it comes to fertilizing is with a soil test. New lawns, for example, benefit from phosphorus that older lawns may already have. Consider too that environmental factors such as compaction will not benefit from fertilization, but from cultural practices like aeration.

Thanks to those of your who voted in last month's poll! We wish we had time to answer each question in depth, but you can find resources on the other questions below!

Removing turf to plant a garden

From a reader: 

"When I wanted to put a small triangle garden in my corner lot, I purchased bags of soil and placed them where the garden was to be. After a few weeks, the bags had wilted off the grass, turning it into compost.  I just sliced opened the bags and dumped them, making my new, slightly raised, bed."

This is our preferred method, often referred to as "smothering" or "lasagna mulching". Simply cover the area with newspaper, plastic, mulch or cardboard (or bags of soil!) and wait 6 weeks or so for the grass to die back and it will compost itself. You can even poke holes in your cover and begin planting your garden plants in them if you're eager to get them in the ground! 
Here's a guide to removing turf and what to replace it with

Why topsoil is important, and tips for better soil performance 

Here's an article on soil preparation for a beautiful lawn!


Native Plants- A Lazy Gardener's Guide

Everyone who has ever tried to grow plants has failed at some point. Maybe you set the cactus your aunt gave you for your birthday in the window only to watch it shrivel slowly despite watering it on schedule, or came outside one morning to see your newly planted bell pepper nibbled to the ground by a slug. It can be disheartening, and you probably have a friend who’s sworn off plants forever thanks to their “black thumb”. But no matter what your gardening frustrations, native plants are here to help. In this article we’ll talk about how you can plan a native garden that will require about a month of commitment, and then thrive on its own for years with just light weeding. That’s right: no water, no fertilizer, no pesticides.

Step 1: Know your soil and light profile
Native plants are adapted to live in Ohio. The top reason I’ve seen native plantings fail is because the plants were planted in a location that doesn’t meet their soil requirements. Light is pretty easy:

Full sun- sun touches the spot for the vast majority of the day

Part sun- is sun for a little more than half the day

Part shade- shade for a bit more than half a day

Full shade- shade most of the day

Soil moisture and texture are a little harder to figure out, but can still be done without special tools. Dig a small 3-5” hole in the spot you want to plant in and do a ribbon test with the soil from the bottom of the hole. This video from Clemson Extension describes the ribbon test in depth, and how to determine if your soil is primarily sand, loam or clay-based. After the ribbon test check your hole every few days for a couple weeks and note how much moisture stays in the soil. A simple observation of wet (saturated, nearly dripping), moist (slightly wet to the touch) or dry (crumbly) is sufficient. This will give you a good idea of how wet or dry your soil usually is. Armed with this knowledge, and your knowledge of how much light hits your plot, you’re ready to choose your plants.

Step 2: Pick the right plants
You might like a plant for the colors of its flowers, the time it blooms, or because it attracts butterflies, but these are not good first thoughts when choosing plants. Your first thought should always be “Can this plant thrive in the conditions I have?” My go-to resource is Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center’s native plant search feature. Not only will it show you a list of Ohio native plants commonly sold at nurseries, but it will also let you narrow down your search by soil moisture and light requirements.

Step 3: Watering- A short commitment
Just like people, plants take a little while to settle into a new environment. Most perennials will require 2 weeks to a month of regular watering until their root systems are large enough to support the plant without your assistance. Trees will likely need more. During this time, make sure you’re really soaking the plant, especially if it’s in clay soil since the water will take a while to make it down to the roots of the plants. A soaker hose is a great investment for newer plantings, but if you’re using a watering can or standard hose, don’t hesitate to water the base of each plant, or group of plants, for 15-20 seconds before moving on. After a while you’ll start to notice that your plants are starting to grow noticeably and are less prone to wilting, and at this point you can taper off waterings. When perennials pop up the second year their root systems will be large enough that they won't need watered!

Step 4: Weed now and then and enjoy!
Some native plants are more tolerant of weeds than others. Anyone who’s grown Common Milkweed can attest to its ability to overrun any other plants that attempt to crowd it out. Other plants, such as Scarlet Beebalm and Royal Catchfly, will need more weeding to keep them from being overtaken by other species. A layer of mulch laid after planting does wonders for reducing weeds and helping soil retain moisture.

Step 5: Put off Pruning for a few months
It's tempting to dead-head flowers and cut back old, dead growth once fall rolls around. However, native plants have an important job to do during winter- provide food and housing to wildlife. Once new, green growth starts to emerge in the spring, you can take the hedge trimmers to the old dry stalks.