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

Backyard Conversation

"Berry" Merry Fruit-bearing Native Plants!


Dogwoods (Cornus sp.)

Dogwoods are a versatile and varied genus of berry-producing shrubs and small trees. Two notable Ohio-natives are Cornus florida, the Flowering Dogwood tree, and Cornus amomum, Silky Dogwood. Flowering Dogwood is a fairly small tree, topping out around 30 feet, that produces large white flowers in spring and clumps of red berries in fall and winter. Its tolerance to clay soil and adaptability to full sun or part shade make this tree a popular landscaping choice. Silky Dogwood is a 6-12 foot shrub that prefers well-drained wetter areas, but can still tolerate drought. If left to its own devices it will happily form thickets, making it a great replacement for invasive honeysuckle hedges. A stunning winter shrub, new branches are reddish-purple with clumps of large blue berries at the ends. Thanks to its thicketing growth habit this shrub is a favorite for small winter songbirds like Chickadees and Dark-eyed Juncos.

Winterberry (Ilex verticilata)

No decorative native shrub article is complete without a nod to our native holly! The dense clumps of bright red berries are classic and a staple for any wreath-maker. Most varieties of this shrub don't grow over 3-4 feet tall, but wild types can reach 15 feet. If you have a wet area in your yard a clump of winterberries is a perfect solution, but they can tolerate drought and medium-wet growing conditions as well. This plant needs at least one male plant for each 6-10 female plants (The females produce fruits, males do not). Nurseries usually have the sexes labelled so you can plan your landscape accordingly.

American Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens)

This plant is a little different from the rest in this article, because it's a vine, not a tree or shrub. It's a very managable twining vine and it will happily grow horizontally or vertically, making it well-suited for growth along walls, poles, fences and trellises. Like Winterberry, it needs both male and female plants to produce fruits. However, nursery varieties becoming available are able to pollinate themselves. The fruits of this plant are housed in brilliant orange capsules that pop open in late fall to reveal bright red fruits that are quickly eaten by Bluebirds and Robins. This plant is not to be confused with the highly invasive Oriental Bittersweet, Celastrus orbiculatus, which has yellow, not orange fruit capsules and is still sold at some nurseries.

American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

Not a true Ohio native, but native as far north as Maryland and Missouri, this shrub is currently rocketing in popularity among native and traditional gardeners alike. Beautyberry lives up 
to its name with stunning clumps of bright purple berries in late summer. The timing of the berries' arrival lines up perfectly with fall warbler migration in Ohio, making this shrub a great option to attract the colorful little songbirds to your yard.


Native Plants: One Solution for Multiple Problems 

What do birds, pollinators, climate change and drinking water all have in common? If you’re up to date with current events your first thought is probably that these are all worrisome topics. Bird and pollinator populations are declining, while the effects of climate change increase, and our drinking water is under threat from pollution. Luckily, the one thing that ties all of these issues together is a simple solution: Native plants, especially trees.
One species of native tree can support hundreds of species of insects. Everything from caterpillars and leafhoppers to bees and beetles rely on trees for food and shelter. Pollinators depend on native trees. Early in the year, before many wildflowers are blooming, bees can be heard buzzing high in the tops of maple trees, whose thousands of small, nectar-filled flowers bloom as early as January. Every one of Ohio’s 200 bird species depends on insects that only live in native trees to raise their young each year. Native trees don’t just provide for wildlife, they provide for us too.
The large sprawling root systems of a mature native tree like an oak can absorb up to 100 gallons of water per day and release it back into the air. The evaporation of that water creates a cooling effect of ten room-size, residential air conditioners operating 20 hours a day! This means that areas with dense populations of native trees have less water pollution and erosion issues, and can be several degrees cooler than similar neighborhoods that don’t have as many trees. Stumped trying to find the perfect tree for your yard? Flip to page 28 of Cleveland Metro Parks' native plant guide. 

Black Gum, Nyssa sylvatica, is an underrated native tree that's rising in popularity. Also known as Tupelo, its flowers are an important source for pollinators in early spring. 

While native trees do a lot of heavy lifting, native shrubs and perennials are beneficial too. If you have a not-so-green-thumb or don’t have a lot of time to spend in your garden, native plants are a great landscaping choice. They’re adapted to live in Ohio, so while non-native plants might struggle through droughts, or one of our infamous 40 degrees one day, 90 degrees the next weather patterns, native plants will be more resilient.
Reading about the benefits of native plants is the easy part, the hard part is picking out plants, digging the holes and getting them rooted into the ground. If you feel overwhelmed remember the Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative’s slogan “All you can, where you can” and know that your yard doesn’t need to be a full blown forest to make a difference in your life and the lives of pollinators and other wildlife!


Fall Lawncare

Ahhh, Fall. The season of vibrant colors, rich aromas, comfort food, and layered clothing. While we participate in many pleasant activities during its bright, crisp days, autumn also brings a less pleasant chore- dealing with leaves. Whether you pile, compost or bag them, there are some best practices to keep in mind to protect water quality and your local infrastructure.

Leave the Leaves

Grass clippings and leaves return nutrients and organic matter to your lawn and soil, and prevent soil compaction caused by rain and foot traffic. Shred fall leaves with your mulching blade or make multiple passes until they’re about the size of a dime (glass blades will still be visible) so they’ll break down quickly by spring. Too many? Use excess leaf material in garden beds or add it to your compost bin for a good carbon (“brown”) source. Dead leaves also provide cover for wildlife during the colder months. According the National Wildlife Federation, “Removing leaves also eliminates vital wildlife habitat. Critters ranging from turtles and toads to birds, mammals and invertebrates rely on leaf litter for food, shelter and nesting material. Many moth and butterfly caterpillars overwinter in fallen leaves before emerging in spring.”

Leaf Collection
If your township has curbside leaf collection, rake leaves to the grassy area between the street and the sidewalk or to the edge of your lawn, if there are no sidewalks. Do not rake or blow leaves into the street. “Leaf piles will not kill grass, although they may cause it to temporarily discolor. The grass will grow back, rich and green, in the spring. To prevent grass from discoloring, rake your leaves immediately before your scheduled pickup date.” (from the City of Dublin Guidelines for Safe and Efficient Leaf Collection). If your township has curbside yard waste recycling, remember to put the leaves in trash cans marked “yard waste” or in the large paper bags sold for this purpose at grocery, hardware and home stores. Leaves will not be collected if they are in plastic bags.

Don’t Dump
If you live along a ravine or stream, do not dump your leaves “over the edge.” The leaf piles will form thick mats that won’t decompose over the winter. The vegetation under the leaf piles will then die, leading to erosion on the streambank or ravine. Erosion leads to water quality problems and loss of property as the bank slides, slumps or becomes undercut by high water. The other water quality problem with leaves being introduced into streams, either through the stormwater system from street drains or through dumping over streambanks, is the depletion of oxygen that can kill fish and other stream organisms. When organic matter decomposes in streams, bacteria use up the dissolved oxygen that is needed for aquatic organisms to live. This process is what causes the “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Erie.


Hazardous Waste

As we get into the dog-days of summer it is a good time to take inventory of potentially hazardous products that have accumulated over the year and decide what you can safely store and what needs to be disposed of. Old mower gas, paints, stains, pesticides, fertilizers, pool chemicals, CFL light bulbs and batteries are just some of the more common items you may have in your basement, garage or storage shed. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average home can accumulate as much as 100 pounds of hazardous waste! That’s 100 pounds of household chemicals with labels that say: poison, corrosive, toxic, flammable, or Keep Out of Reach of Children/Pets, in YOUR home, so now's a great time to properly dispose of them or put a plan together or where they should go.
When dealing with potentially hazardous products, the way you dispose of them makes a difference. Hazardous waste disposal is essential for both human and environmental health. Small amounts of hazardous waste being released may not cause an immediate impact, but over time, small releases have the potential to contaminate the environment and have serious health implications.

To start, first look for ways to store excess materials for future use, or perhaps donate what you can’t use to your neighbors, family or friends. If something must be disposed of, check to see if it is considered a hazardous waste. This is easy to do by simply looking for those key words we mentioned earlier (poison, danger, caution, flammable, corrosive,use in a well-ventilated area). These types of products are considered hazardous and should never be thrown in the trash or poured down a drain, as they can end up contaminating our soil and water. Common household hazardous wastes include lawn fertilizers, pesticides, pool chemicals, cleaners, paint, and used fluids (oil, gas, antifreeze) from engine maintenance. In Franklin County, the best way for residents to dispose of these household wastes is through mobile collection events or at the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) Household Hazardous Waste Center(


Stormwater Ponds: Management and Maintenance

When it comes to ponds, most people are familiar with either farm ponds used for crops or livestock, or recreational ponds for fishing, boating and swimming. However, most of the ponds we receive calls about are actually stormwater ponds, which function much differently.

Stormwater ponds are designed and constructed to store and/or treat the stormwater that flushes off of our developed landscapes (including roadways, roofs, and lawns). This helps prevent downstream flooding and keeps pollutants from being discharged directly to our lakes, streams, and other water bodies. It's important that stormwater ponds should be inspected and maintained regularly to ensure they function as designed. Common things to look for include bank erosion, invasive plants, and clogged structures or pipes.

If you own property on which a pond is located, you normally are responsible for managing and maintaining the pond. If the pond was built after 2009, you are also responsible for inspecting it on a regular basis.
It is also equally important to educate residents on good landowner practices that will reduce the amount of pollutants making it into the pond to begin with. Litter/trash, grass clippings, leaves, fertilizers, fluids from leaking vehicles, and soap from washing vehicles are all common pollutants that negatively impact stormwater ponds and the stream they discharge into.
Does your HOA need some guidance? Check out our Ponds section for more tips and information, including our Stormwater Pond Management and Maintenance brochure.


Only Rain Down the Drain

Do you ever notice the storm drains along the side of the street as you’re driving?  When it rains, water running off our roofs, driveways, sidewalks, and parking lots into our streets is directed into these storm drains and begins its journey to the nearest waterway.  Often this is a direct journey, with the storm sewer running straight to a river or stream.  Stormwater picks up oil, other automobile fluids, trash, fertilizer and other pollutants and in many areas is discharged untreated into our streams.  Even when this water passes through a pond or other stormwater feature, pollutants are not entirely removed and still make their way to our waterways.

We swim, wade, kayak and fish and in these rivers and streams.  Moreover, people rely on water from these water bodies for their drinking water.  The vast majority of people in the Columbus metropolitan area drink water taken from our rivers and streams.   The more pollutants that go into our streams, the more money we have to spend to clean the water for drinking.  

Reducing pollution is everyone’s job.  Keeping stormwater from polluting our streams depends on all of us.  Only rain should go down a storm drain.  It’s not just a saying or a good idea.  It is the law.  What can we do?

  • Sweep grass clippings and lawn care products back onto the lawn.  
  • Pick up trash.
  • Wash your car at a commercial car wash.
  • Absorb and clean up and auto fluid spills.
  • Fix leaking automobiles.
  • Use drip pans to catch engine oil and other pollutants while repairing cars.
  • Recycle used motor oil.
  • Sweep driveways clean instead of hosing them down.
  • When walking your pet remember to pick up the waste.  
  • Record and report illegal dumping down storm drains.
  • Don't dump waste into storm drains.
  • Water your lawn by hand, or adjusted sprinklers to avoid over-watering. If any water flows off your lawn, you're using too much water.


Pollution is not the only problem associated with storm drains.  These structures are designed to prevent our streets from flooding.  Debris doesn’t just pollute streams.  It can also clog drains and cause flooding.  You can help keep our storm drains doing their job and do your part to stop stormwater pollution. Only rain down the drain!  


Yard Waste: It's not just leaves, sticks and clippings!

There are lots of things in our own backyards that can cause nutrient pollution. Homeowners can reduce nutrient pollution in our streams in several ways:
  1. If you have a household sewage treatment system (septic system or aerator), make sure that it is functioning properly and being maintained regularly. Most systems require routine maintenance every 3-5 years?

  2. Keep lawn waste out of the street, where it can wash into storm drains, and out of our streams. Sweep lawn clippings back into your lawn so the nutrients from the clippings can be recycled back into the lawn instead of polluting waterways. Pledge to Get Grassy and get a free rain gauge!

  3. Minimize the use of fertilizers. Apply the appropriate kind at the proper times and in the right amounts. Sweep up any fertilizer from sidewalks, driveways, streets and other hard surfaces, so that it doesn’t wash into storm drains.

  4. Wash your car in an area where the wash and rinse water drains to a grassy area and not the street, or save water and wash it at a commercial car wash.

  5. Install practices that infiltrate rain water into the ground (such things as rain barrels or cisterns (watering lawn and/or garden with stored rain water), rain gardens and paving that allow water to go into the ground (e.g. brick pavers).

  6. If you have exposed soil on your yard, keep it in place as best you can, especially if it could be washed into a storm drain or creek. Covering it with straw is often a simple, low cost way of keeping the soil from being eroded by the rain.

  7. Pick up pet waste and dispose of it properly. Dog waste contains millions of fecal coliform bacteria that can get carried into storm drains by runoff and pollute waterways. Take our PUP pledge and receive free poo pick up bags!


Soak It Up With Rain Gardens!

In last month's newsletter 67% of readers said they didn't have a rain garden, but wanted one, wow! Rain gardens can seem a bit more intimidating than the average garden project. The excavation of the site and potential re-routing of downspouts can make it seem like a job better suited for a contractor or construction crew than a homeowner. Many people are surprised to hear that the water routing and digging can usually be completed with hand tools in a day's work as long as you plan ahead! In this article we'll go through the general steps of construction, and provide some resources to help you wrap your head around the process of building your own rain garden. 

Step 1: Assess your site

  • Call 811, or use their handy website so you know where your property's underground lines are running and don't dig near them. 
  • Figure out where the rain for your rain garden going to come from. Put on a raincoat or grab your umbrella during the next good rain so you can get an idea of how water flows over your property. If all the water running off of a driveway, patio or sidewalk is all headed in the same direction you can build your garden to intercept that water. For most people, the roof of the house will be the largest source of runoff, so you'll be disconnecting your downspout, or intercepting the underground part of the downspout that runs from your roof to the road.
  • Make sure the area for your garden that's at least 10 feet from the foundations of homes and structures. Collecting water any closer to a foundation is asking for trouble in the long run. 

Step 2: Calculate The Garden's Size 

  • Dig an 8" deep hole that's about 4" in diameter in the area you'd like to have your garden in. 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.

Step 3: Excavation

  • Determine the shape of your garden and mark it using spraypaint, rope or a garden hose. Re-measure the area of the garden to make sure it matches your calculations from the last step.
  • Dig down 2" BELOW the depth you found from your test hole, then till or loosen the top few inches of soil at the bottom to offset compaction
  • Add 3-4" of compost to assist with water infiltration (You can get this delivered after you've dug the initial hole to save some work!)
  • Make sure the bottom of the hole is graded evenly. The easiest way to do this it to use a 2x4 as a large level.

Step 4: Plants (The fun part!) 

  • Choose plants that can tolerate drought AND having their feet wet once in a while. Here is our extensive list of rain garden plants.
  • Design first, buy second. Visiting nurseries to see their stock is ok, but generally you want to have a design made before you buy your plants to get the best-looking garden. General landscaping rules are: Keep short plants in front and tall ones in back; If using flowers, try to have something blooming in spring, summer and fall; Plant perennials in groups of threes or fives for maximum attractiveness. Here are some of our favorite design ideas.
  • Always use potted perennials, trees and shrubs. Annuals don't have the deep root structure necessary for rain gardens and starting seeds in a rain garden is very complicated.
  • Plant native plants. There are some non-native perennials that do well in rain gardens, but native plants will usually survive better AND provide habitat for wildlife. Pepper in non-natives as accents if you're set on certain species, or trying to maintain a theme in your landscape.
  • Don't forget that native trees and shrubs will fill a lot of space in your garden with less effort than planting swaths of perennials. 
  • Once you're done planting mulch the garden with 2" of of double-shredded hardwood mulch. 

Step 5: Route water into the garden (Notice this is the very last step!)

  • This is probably the most difficult part of the process. There are several methods for getting water into your rain garden including:
  • Conveying water with a swale or dry creek bed
  • Installing a pop-up drain
  • Disconnecting your downspout and routing it into the garden 
  • No matter what you do, make sure you have a contingency plan for if you receive a very large rain event that your garden can't accomodate. Where will the excess water go? A nearby vegetated area or the rest of your underground downspout can serve as good locations for overflow water. Use the videos above to use swales or tubing to get the water where you want it to go once it reaches an overflow point.
That's it! Maintaining a rain garden is very similar to normal garden maintenance. Your plants will need water weekly immediately after planting, but after a growing season should have deep enough roots to not need water. Make sure the area where water enters your rain garden doesn't get blocked by debris like fallen leaves. 
For more resources and a map of local rain gardens you can visit for ideas visit our website: You can also download a printable version of this step-by-step guide here


Got Flooding?

One person’s flooding is another’s inconvenience. When flood water threatens our health or property, finding solutions and help is not always easy or available.  Let’s put flooding into perspective.  Water getting into our homes is not a good thing for anyone.  Changes in channel shape along streams and ditches can cause backups and overbank flows.  High groundwater and flat land can cause pooling and standing water. Understanding our position in the landscape and how we can affect drainage is  a key to understanding flooding.

The question asked “Do you ever have flooding issues in your yard?” of Backyard Conservation participants resulted in 77 respondents (61%) indicating yes and they didn’t know how to fix them.  Let’s look at differences between flooding and drainage. Flooding is covering dry land with excess water, while drainage is the act of removing surplus water. Changes in ground elevation cause the movement of water. Without positive changes in the grade, poor drainage occurs and the chance for excess water to accumulate can result in flooding.

Many urban residents aren’t aware of the drainage landscape around them until large storm events or blocked infrastructure causes excess water to find the natural flood flow pathway that existed prior to development.  Many urban streets are designed with this major flood routing built in.  Most subdivisions are graded with drainage easements in rear and side yards to carry runoff away from structures towards collection facilities like detention ponds and catch basins. When these systems are blocked or full, excess water and overland flow will occur and may result in flooding.

The act of flooding is a natural process and one that occurs regularly and can be managed to a certain extent. Recognizing the severity of a storm event and the condition of drainage features around us help to explain the many issues we see.

A lot of drainage problems we respond to in the county are normal seasonal fluctuations in ground water and functioning drainage pathways. Much of our natural water cycle involves groundwater and plant activity to recycle water.  Winter months result in increased groundwater and surface flows. Without an elevational change, standing water ensues that can freeze and add to the problems. Put your issues into perspective and ask yourself if these important conditions occur with your site.

  • Standing water for extended periods that kill vegetation or require vector (mosquito) control
  • Water elevations that threaten structures

If your answer is yes to either question there are several avenues you can take. The first would be to contact your local municipal service department. In some situations you may have to contact a water or drainage contractor to address the issue. If you find yourself stuck with a drainage problem you can always call our office at 614-486-9613 and we’ll try to connect you to the proper resource!

Turf doesn't do well in soggy conditions, but several native trees and perennials would in fare well in an wet area like this one.

If your answer to both of the above questions was no, then although you don’t have a serious drainage problem, there are still some options.  If the site is always moist/wet, or if there is wetland soil or compacted soil, some landscaping with rain garden perennials, shrubs, or trees could work well, click here for a list of native plants that tolerate moist soils and standing water. Some residents elect for infrastructure like a French drain or dry well, while others find they have to repair a broken lateral, or add fill to modify the existing grade. Our office can assist you remotely with something simple like a landscape plan with native plants, but for more complex solutions a call to a drainage or water contractor will probably be your best bet.


Climate Change

While some are still hesitant to accept the reality of climate change, it's getting more difficult to deny it as its effects become more measurable and apparent in our daily lives. In Ohio, we're beginning to see more flooding; Columbus broke it's record for annual rainfall last year, a record that was set only 7 years before in 2011. We're also experiencing more variability in temperature, with an increase in unseasonable temperatures. Our 2016- 17 winter was one of the warmest for much of the country; in Columbus it was the 7th hottest on record. Average temperatures are expected to continue rising, and by 2095 Ohio is projected to have an average annual temperature similar to that of present day Oklahoma.

While it's good to know the facts, as people who care about the environment we also want to know what actions we can take to help. There are two types of actions we can take in response to climate change. We can combat climate change by trying to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, and we can adapt to the effects climate change is causing or going to cause with increased temperature and rainfall. Last month's poll painted our readers as a hopeful bunch, most interested in combating climate change, so that will be the focus of our advice this month! If you look at the graph above you can see that a future with lower emissions could have a drastic affect on temperature increases. While reversing climate change may not be an option at this point, we're still capable of "leveling out" and stopping what could be a runaway train of exponential temperature increases caused by high emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly CO2.  

You Can Combat Climate Change By:

1. Going Electric, or Carless!
There are lots of ways to reduce your carbon footprint. One of the best ways is to reduce your mileage in or completely eliminate your gasoline-powered car. While a lot of people think this isn't feasible in Central Ohio, think again! Our friends at Smart Columbus are embracing the reinvention of transportation and can help you catch a bus or switch to an electric vehicle. Check out their resources here!

2. Using Renewable Energy
This is a huge step, but there are a lot of resources to help you get started in your journey to using solar or wind energy instead of fossil fuels. Green Energy Ohio is a non-profit devoted to alternative energy in Ohio, and their website is a great place to go for inspiration and resources.

3. Planting More (Woody) Plants
All plants absorb carbon dioxide, but woody long-lived trees store more. Choose native, long-lived, moderate-to fast-growing species such as elm hybrids, tuliptree, or honeylocust. Larger trees also do double-duty when planted strategically for shade or windbreak to reduce cooling and heating costs- just three trees, properly placed around a house can save up to 30% of energy use. Tree canopy also intercepts rainfall, while roots absorb water and prevent runoff. In addition to woody plants, consider replacing turf, which often requires gas-powered lawnmowers and leafblowers to maintain, with native plants. You might also install a rain garden so your landscape can better accomodate high-volume rain events. Our annual Tree Sale is a great place to find the native plants you’re looking for!

4. Eating Less Meat
While not nearly as large of a problem as fossil fuels, meat production contributes to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. When you do eat it, try to choose meat from local sources to cut down on the amount of fossil fuels used to transport animals and their products from place to place.
Want to expand your knowledge on climate change? Check out NOAA's state climate summary page for Ohio.
Want more inspiration and a more expanded look at what Columbus' role in combating and adapting to climate change should be? View Columbus' Climate Adaptation Plan. It's pretty rigorous, but you have the option to read it one chapter at a time, or to only download the chapters that interest you. 


Salt and Stormdrains

Snow and ice removal is a balancing act between safety and cost. When freezing weather hits, sidewalks and driveways can become dangerously slick. Salt has been used on roadways for snow and ice removal since the 1930’s and remains the most cost-effective de-icer. However, without proper use, it can easily be transported by melting water to groundwater or stormdrains. Because rain and snowmelt are moved through stormdrains straight to rivers and streams without treatment, chloride ions are often delivered to receiving streams in concentrations that can harm aquatic wildlife.  Even runoff that is directed to vegetated areas is not safe for surface waters. The chloride ion remains in ground water as it moves through the soil profile and can contaminate streams months later when the stream receives ground water as base flow.

So what are the alternatives for safety, cost, and environmental sustainability?  Alternative chemicals include magnesium chloride, potassium acetate, calcium chloride, calcium magnesium acetate, potassium chloride, and agricultural by-products (ABP) but alternative de-icing chemicals can also have environmental drawbacks, so it becomes a matter of doing less harm rather than no harm.

Knowing that doing nothing is just not possible, we find ourselves asking, what can be done to at least minimize runoff concerns?

  • One consideration often overlooked is the design of parking lots and sidewalks. Pervious paving systems have been shown over the last decade to withstand the rigors of northern winters and to reduce the need for de-icers. During the day when snow melts from sunshine, the water moves through the paving material leaving a drier sidewalk that won’t re-freeze when the sun sets.
  • Another option to reduce the risk of de-icing chemicals is implementing the correct storage. Leaving an uncovered pile of salt in the corner of a parking lot or storage area allows melt water to carry dissolved salt to the nearest storm drain inlet. This practice can also lead to a citation for illicit discharge to a storm sewer system
  • Anti-icing or pretreatment has been shown to reduce the amount of de-icing chemicals used. Applied before a snowfall, pretreatment prevents bonding between snow and paving, and makes snow removal quicker and easier.
  • Most importantly- proper usage! Use the minimum amount of deicer or anti-icer. It’s only supposed to break the bond to make shoveling easier

Read more opinions on salt application from various central Ohio professionals in this Columbus Dispatch article.


Hazardous Waste Disposal

Now that the fall season is wrapping up, it is a good time to take stock of any excess chemical products or wastes from summer projects or other maintenance activities and decide what can stay and what can go.  First, look for ways to store excess materials for future use, or perhaps donate what you can’t use to your neighbors, family or friends.  If something must be disposed of, check to see if it is considered a hazardous waste.  This is easy to do by simply looking for key words on the container such as poison, danger, caution, flammable, corrosive, or use in a well-ventilated area.  These types of products are considered hazardous and should never be thrown in the trash or poured down a drain, as they can end up contaminating our soil and water.

Symbols denoting hazardous waste (Flammable, Corrosive, Explosive and Toxic) 

Paint is one of the most common household wastes and can be the most confusing to deal with.  First, read the label and identify whether the paint or stain is water-based or oil-based. Water-based products can be disposed of in your regular trash, but must be hardened first using kitty litter or other paint hardening product. Be sure to leave the lid off the can so your waste hauler can confirm the product is dry or else they may refuse to collect it.  If the product is oil-based it is considered a hazardous waste and should be taken to hazardous waste center where it will be properly recycled or disposed.Other common household hazardous wastes include lawn fertilizers, pesticides, pool chemicals, cleaners, and used fluids (oil, gas, antifreeze) from engine maintenance.  In Franklin County, the best way for residents to dispose of these household wastes is through mobile collection events or at the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) Household Hazardous Waste Center.

You can drop off Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) at the Hazardous Waste drop-off location at 1249 Essex Avenue, Columbus, at the corner of E. 8th and Essex avenues.

HHW drop-off location hours are:
  • Wednesdays Noon to 6 p.m.
  • Thursdays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Fridays Noon to 6 p.m.
  • Closed on Holidays

For more information, call (614) 871-5100


Fall Cleanup

As things cool down it’s time to start thinking about cleaning up around the outside of our homes, putting summer toys into storage and making sure we’re prepared for freezing temperatures.

Rain barrels: As you can imagine, large containers full of water don’t hold up well in freezing temperatures. Aside from potentially breaking your barrel, all that water turning to ice means your downspout is at risk of backing up, so it’s important to drain and disconnect your rain barrel, and patch up your downspout. Here’s a handy video on how to winterize your barrel. The good news is that it’s a pretty quick process!

Compost Bins: We recommend an insulating layer of straw or leaves on the top of your compost to keep things warm and active below. This is a good option if you’re planning on adding scraps to your pile throughout the winter months. Finally, you can put partially composted material onto empty garden/landscaping beds. It will slowly continue to decompose over the winter and will be compost by the time planting season rolls around.

Plants: While it’s tempting to trim back dead stems and seedheads, leaving them be helps provide homes for insects and food for birds over the winter. You can trim them back once new growth starts to appear in the spring.

Leaves: Overwhelmed by the thought of raking all your leaves? Mulch them with your mower and let them act as natural fertilizer for your lawn. If you must rake, make sure you’re properly disposing of your leaves through yard waste collection or composting. You can also put leaves on top of your garden beds to provide overwintering sites for insects and fertilizer for next year’s garden plants! For info on the county's yard waste compost program check out this article:

Swimming pools: Chlorinated pool water cannot be discharged into a storm drain. De-chlorinated pool water can be discharged in a storm drain, but check with your local zoning officer. Salt water pools should be discharged to the sanitary sewer system only or properly disposed by a licensed contractor.


Protecting Our Streams Is Everyone's Job

Sycamore Run in Gahanna

In order to take care of our streams, we need to realize that their “edges” extend far beyond their banks into stormwater ponds, storm sewers and catch basins.  Keeping pollutants out isn’t just a matter of keeping them away from stream banks.  It also means stopping them from getting into storm drains.  Anything getting into a storm drain may well be getting into a creek.  Let’s keep our trash, pet waste, grass cuttings, leaves, automobile fluids, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, paints and other chemicals off of pavement and out of storm drains.  The creek boundaries are closer than you may think.  Only rain should go down the drain.

Additionally, if you see someone dumping in a storm drain or stream, or see a potentially dangerous substance in the water refer to our Pollution Reproting Guide. Your report can make a difference! 

Do You Have a Stream on Your Property?

Many homeowners have watched as a lovely little stream running through their yard grew into a raging torrent after every rain. This is often the result of land use changes upstream, such as when development occurs. The rainwater that once soaked into the ground or was intercepted and used by trees now runs off roofs, sidewalks parking lots and roadways. It is then directed through storm drains to the very brooks that once babbled and now roar.
As a consequence, landowners are losing property and streams are carrying heavy loads of sediment—soil that was once part of now-eroded streambanks. The least expensive methods of slowing streambank erosion before it becomes catastrophic also happen to be the healthiest for the stream and the wildlife that live in and on the banks of central Ohio waterways.

  • Plant native plants along stream edges. Turf grass roots are quite short compared to native grasses or landscaping shrubs and trees. You have probably pulled up a clump of grass growing into a flower bed; it wasn’t that difficult was it? Turf grass roots don’t hold streambank soils as well as longer-rooted plants do.
  • Do not dump grass clippings or other yard trimmings down the bank of a stream. The clippings will kill whatever vegetation they cover and eventually leave the streambank soil exposed to erosion.
  • Plant native shrubs and trees along the stream. You can also plant non-native landscaping plants, but they may require more nutrient input and pruning to retain the desired appearance. If you plant with native plants you will receive the added benefit of many hours of wildlife watching. Birds and butterflies will appear when you plant their favored food and nesting plants.
  • If much of the stream bank is already exposed, plant dormant live stakes such as willow or elderberry. Live stakes are two or three-foot long sticks that will root along the stem once planted. They tend to form thick mats of intertwined roots that hold soil in place.


Wallflowers: 5 Late-Summer's Forgotten Native Plants

While at a rain garden talk recently I realized that several native plants commonly available at nurseries often fall off the radar, simply because they bloom in the heat of late summer. Nursery stock is constantly rotating and some of our summer favorites get forgotten as smart gardeners know that trying to add plants to the garden when it's hot and dry can be quite the challenge. Luckily, forecasts for the coming weeks show cool temperatures and scattered rain, so we encourage you to get out to your local nursery and see what's blooming, you might stumble upon some great plants that you haven't seen before! Here are five of our favorites.

Clethra alnifolia- Summersweet

Photo credit: Missouri Botanical Garden

This compact shrub is covered in fragrant, showy blooms and will attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. It needs a decent amount of moisture, but is happy in full sun to full shade and will tolerate tough clay soil. It is a slower-growing shrub and while it can reach heights of 3-6' it's easy to keep small with minimal pruning. Summersweet will bloom even in shady spots, which is a fairly unique quality among shrubs.

Pycanthemum muticum- Mountain Mint, or Blunt Mountain Mint

Growing up to 3' tall and forming attractive clumps, this prairie plant does well in many soil types and is very drought tolerant. It's happiest in full sun, but will survive in part shade as well. This year was the first I started noticing this plant in larger commercial nurseries in Central Ohio. I assuming it's gaining popularity as gardeners realize how many pollinatores it attracts! Mountain Mint takes off in the summer and by August is covered in small pinkish-white blooms that are adored by bees. The whitish leaves stand out among the typical greens of most prairie plants, adding dimensionality to the garden.

Agastache foeniculum- Anise Hyssop

An incredibly tough plant, Anise Hyssop is currently thriving in a dry, full sun rocky clay soil section of my garden where I have trouble getting other things to grow. It will also do well in slightly wet soils and part shade. The leaves taste exactly like sweet black licorice and can be used to make tea. The flowers attract lots of interesting bees such as Mason Bees and Two-spotted Longhorn Bees. This plant can reach to almost 5' tall in full sun, and can be used to form a nice looking hedge.

Solidago sp.- Goldenrod

Photo Credit: Missoui Botanical Garden

Goldenrod gets a bad rap from its reputation as a roadside weed and its visual similarity to allergy-causing ragweed (Goldenrod pollen is much to large to float around in the air, so it does not cause allergy problems.) The most common species of goldenrod in Central Ohio is Canada Goldenrod, and it's not one commonly sold in stores. You're more likely to find our compact and beautiful Showy Goldenrod, Solidago speciosa, Stiff Goldenro, Solidago rigida (pictured), or varieties that have been bred to look nice in a landscape setting such as Goldenrod "Goldenmosa". Take a chance on Goldenrod! This plant is incredibly important for Monarch butterflies migrating south to Mexico, as it's one of our latest blooming pollinator plants. It's also important for honeybees, whose hives take on a strong vinegar odor from the Goldenrod honey they make in the fall!

Allium cernuum- Nodding Wild Onion
Photo Credit: Sara Ernst

A plant of woodland edges, Nodding Wild Onion perfers partial shade and wetter soils, but it is drought tolerant and can handle a decent amount of sun. Nodding Wild Onion's leaves are slender and grass-like, making this a perfect plant to put near the front of of a prairie garden along with other grass-leaved shorties like Blue-eyed Grass and Prairie Dropseed. Bumble Bees love the light purple blooms and watching them try to forage from the upside down blooms is pretty entertaining! 

It should be noted that Summersweet and Nodding Wild Onion make great rain garden plants! If you're considering installing a rain garden find a complete plant guide, step-by-step instructions and more at Happy gardening, let us know if you find any great native plants at your local nursery!


Water Pollution

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.