Rain Barrels: The What, Why & How
If you walk into our office, chances are you will see a blue or white barrel (or several) sitting out. These barrels are actually donated food-grade 55-gallon drums that we turn into rain barrels. Rain barrels come in all shapes, sizes, and designs -- but in simplest terms, a rain barrel is a container that captures water off of a roof via a downspout during a rain event. The captured water is most commonly used to water plants, grass, and garden beds but can also be used to wash cars or rinse off outdoor furniture. The only thing you shouldn't do with rain barrel water is drink it -- I repeat, this water is not for human or pet consumption because it could pick-up bacteria or other harmful substances from your roof.
As mentioned earlier, rain barrels capture water that falls on a roof during a rain event. When a rain barrel is not installed, rain water flows down your downspout either to a lawn/garden bed or the driveway/sidewalk. If your downspouts are buried, the water is then transported to an underground outlet into the storm sewers. If your downspouts direct water into grass or garden beds, sometimes this is okay but other times it can cause flooding or pooling of water depending on the grade and type of soil and the duration/severity of the rain event. When water is directed to the driveway or sidewalk, it cannot penetrate the asphalt or concrete and has no other choice but to runoff. In doing so, it can pick-up pollutants, fertilizers, litter and more on its way to the storm sewers, where it is transported to the nearest waterway untreated and unfiltered.
However, if a rain barrel is installed, it diverts water out of the storm sewers and prevents potential water pollution, flooding, etc. Installing a rain barrel can also save you money. Water is getting more and more expensive these days. However, setting up a rain barrel will reduce the amount you turn on the hose and therefore, put money back in your pocket.
Now that you know the what and the why, let's get to the how. Rain barrels can be purchased online from many vendors, varying in price and design. You can order one directly from our office for $52 (plus sales tax) by either stopping in the office or ordering one through our online store. These are typically made-to-order so you will be contacted when it is ready to be picked up. You can also participate in one of Toledo/Lucas County Rain Garden Initiative's Make and Take Rain Barrel Workshops, where you get to learn about and make your own barrel. You can follow either Lucas SWCD or Rain Garden Initiative on social media to learn of workshop dates as they are planned.
Lastly, you can purchase the materials and make one yourself. Check out this video (see below) as we walk you through the steps to making a barrel of your own.
Now that you have the how, we will wrap up with just a few tips and reminders.
Proceeds from rain barrel purchases and workshop registrations support your local Rain Garden Initiative.
"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago -- the second best time is now". - Chinese Proverb
Whether you are planting one tree, a few, or several hundred seedlings, it is so important to take care as you plant so that your tree(s) can be successful.
Below are a few tips for you to follow, or be reminded of, when planting a tree. Spring is a great time to plant trees because the temperatures are still cool and there are frequent rain events. Late fall, after leaf drop, is the other preferred time to plant because the tree is entering its dormant state for the winter. For evergreens, early spring is the preferred planting time.
1. First, prior to planting, you must decide where you want the tree to grow while also considering the site conditions the tree species will need to be successful (like sun, shade, dry soil, wet soil, adequate space, etc.). After you have your site selected and prior to digging, it is required by law to check for underground utilities by calling 8-1-1.
2. Identify the trunk flare on your tree, or where the trunk expands at the base of the tree. This should be at, or slightly above, grade once in the ground. Once identified, use the trunk flare as a way to measure how deep to dig the hole. The hole should also be 2-3 times wider than the root ball, so that the roots have room to expand easily.
3. Inspect the roots of the tree prior to planting. If there is a burlap bag, plastic container, or wire cage around the roots, it MUST be removed prior to planting. If the roots have developed a circular pattern, try to free them and straighten. For bareroot seedlings, ensure the roots are all separated and straightened.
4. While holding the root ball, place the tree inside the hole and have a friend or family member ensure that it is straight. Also, ensure the hole is the correct height so that the trunk flare is at, or just slightly above, ground level.
5. Fill the hole with soil around the roots of the tree, while either pressing or gently stepping on each layer around the root ball to remove any air pockets that could otherwise dry out the roots. Depending on the size of the tree and hole, you could also water as you add soil into the hole to eliminate air pockets.
6. Once the hole has been filled and the trunk flare is confirmed to be visible at, or slightly above grade, add a 2-3 inch layer of mulch (leaf litter, pine straw, shredded bark, peat moss, or wood chips) around the tree to hold moisture, moderate soil temperatures, and reduce weed/grass competition. The mulch layer should start 2 inches away from the base of the tree to avoid bark decay. Do not volcano mulch your new tree! Instead, think more like a donut around the base of the tree. Learn more about proper mulching, and why volcano mulching is bad, in this article.
Other things to consider include staking your new tree, especially seedlings, to help stabilize and promote straight growth. However, stakes and ties should be flexible and secured on the lower half of the tree and also removed after a year of growth. You could also add a tree shelter around the tree if wind or wildlife are a concern.
At this point, your new tree is planted and it is time to water, monitor for any signs of stress, and watch it grow. Water your new tree once a week, barring rain, and more often during hot and/or windy weather. Some trees may require pruning but avoid doing so until after one year of growth in the new location.
We are always willing to help with your tree questions but if we can't answer it, there are other great resources available to you. You can locate and contact a local certified arborist or reach out to the OSU Extension horticultural office at (419) 578-6783.
It's Ohio Native Plant Month!
In case you hadn't heard yet, it is Ohio Native Plant Month! In July 2019, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine designated the month of April as Ohio Native Plant Month, making it the first state in the Country to have a law recognizing the importance of native plants for a whole month.
Well, it is 2023 and here we are still celebrating native plants in Ohio and the incredible role they play in our environment! Native plants are plants that occur naturally in an area and that have evolved in harmony with wildlife to coexist and support one another. They provide many benefits, so many that I'll highlight just a few.
Ohio is home to almost 2,000 different species of native plants which include flowers, vines, grasses, shrubs, and trees. It is critical now more than ever, to choose native this spring when making landscaping decisions. If you're wondering, how do I "choose native"? There are several native plant sales going on already this spring that have a fantastic variety of native flowers, grasses, shrubs and trees to choose from! Listed below are a few of those sales:
Simply put, native plants are those that have existed in an area for a long enough time to have evolved in harmony with the soil, climate, and other plants and animals surrounding them.
Native plants offer many benefits to the landscape, wildlife, and to us -- they attract beneficial insects and pollinators and also provide seeds and berries to wildlife; native plants' root systems are much longer than non-native counterparts and are therefore able to help stabilize soil, retain more water, and bring nutrients out of the soil. Also, native plants are adapted to the existing soil conditions as well as climate and after establishment, should not require watering or fertilization to see success.
Now that we know the what and the why, let's get to some myth-busting and uncover the truth about native plants. Below are a few myths, or reasons, we hear as to why people often choose not to plant natives.
Myth #1: Native plants look unkempt and unattractive (aka "weedy"). Sure, some native plants can look more unkempt than others but this is true of non-native plants as well if they are not properly maintained. Native plants are beautiful! They offer so many colors, textures, and bloom times throughout the year. The trick is to find the natives that you like and then before purchasing them, do your homework -- find out how tall they get or if they tend to spread uncontrollably, how long they bloom, when they bloom, the color of the bloom, etc. If space is limited, start with plants that stay on the shorter side. And understand that all plants need some sort of maintenance in terms of pruning/trimming, especially when they are planted as landscape plants.
It is also okay to mix native and non-native (not invasive, there's a big difference!) plants in your landscape. Some very attractive and successful gardens include combinations of more traditional landscape plants mixed in with natives. Experts say 75% natives and 25% non-natives is an ideal ratio. And of course, I do concur. However, in my opinion, 75% non-natives and 25% natives is better than 100% non-natives. Baby-steps are better than no steps at all -- over time we can shoot for the stars!
Myth #2: It is too hard to find native plants for purchase. Yes, maybe this was once the case, but sources of native plants are now more common. If you live in and around Lucas County, there are several agencies and organizations that either sell native plants at various times of the year or put out lists as planting season begins of where to get them. The Toledo Zoo, Wood County Parks District, Oak Openings Green Ribbon Initiative, and the Lucas SWCD have native plant sales annually. You can also find a comprehensive list of these and other sources of native plants here. There are also plant exchanges you can join to get free plants!
Myth #3: Native plants are too hard to maintain. Keep in mind, all plants need some form of maintenance but once established, native plants require much less than non-native plants simply for the fact that they are built for growing in our climate and conditions. It is also important to remember that new native plants should be watered regularly until they are fully established. But once established and growing, they rarely need watering, if ever. Also, certain plants benefit from dead-heading or dividing just as many non-native plants do.
Also, no fertilization is required for native plants to be successful; though mulching does help keep them healthy. Bottom line, if maintenance is a concern, do your homework and learn about the plants you are considering to make sure they are right for the size and conditions of your intended planting site.
Myth #4: The insects that native plants bring to your yard are bad. Repeat after me… INSECTS ARE GOOD! I know some of us may have been raised to think of insects as big, bad, creepy-crawly, biting, chill-inducing, bug-eyed, house-eating, critters. But, the truth of the matter is, without them, Earth as we know it would not exist. Insects are a food source for countless animals. Insects also help decompose materials and return them to the soil as part of the natural cycle of life. Insects are often pollinators; it is believed that one in every three bites of food we take is as a result of pollination! Simply put, insects are cool and you want them in your yard! If bee allergies are a concern, obviously choose your planting sites wisely to reduce the risk of stings.
Myth #5: To make a difference, I have to plant a whole field of native plants/flowers. While a whole field planted in natives is amazing, so is a few natives sprinkled in your existing landscape or transitioning a portion of lawn into a small, native prairie -- every native plant that is added back to the landscape has a purpose and a benefit to all living creatures and the environment!
If this has inspired you to plant native this spring, fantastic! If you still have questions about native plants, please contact our office at (419) 893-1966.
“We have allowed alien plants to replace natives all over the country. Our native animals and plants cannot adapt to this gross and completely unnatural manipulation of their environment in time to negate the consequences. Their only hope for a sustainable future is for us to intervene to right the wrongs that we have perpetrated.”
Author: Penny Bollin
Urban Conservation Technician
This month's blog is tailored to those of you who would consider yourself new to gardening or a beginner. But for those seasoned gardeners out there, below you'll find some great reminders!
It is so easy, even for us experienced gardeners, to get excited by all the choices and to buy, buy, buy so many plants and seeds that we could plant 10 gardens. And then we end up tucking our new plants willy-nilly into any place they might (or might not) fit or we give them away. Or, even worse, the poor things sometimes get put in a corner only to be forgotten and then found mid-summer shriveled beyond redemption. Do not fall into that trap, trust me! Your life will be so much easier and you will have a much more successful beginner garden.
Now, write down a list of vegetables or fruits that you might want to grow -- things that you and your family like to eat. A suggested list of easy to grow produce, as well as how to grow by either direct seeding into the garden bed or transplants, include:
Next, it is time to do some research. Look online for well-known garden supply centers. If you like paper, request a catalogue. If not, peruse their websites looking for your chosen favorites. These sites often will tell you the growing specifications for each plant and you will possibly get sidetracked by all of the choices out there. However, gently pull yourself back to your goal. There is always next year to spread your wings. This is not to say you can’t change your mind… just be cautious.
Try to not get overwhelmed by all the information available to you online or in catalogues. Here is a list of just a few things you will want to learn about each of the plants you are considering:
Enjoy this time of gardening leisure and excitement! If you don't already have it on your calendar, plan to attend Toledo GROWs Annual Seed Swap event on February 25th at Scott High School from 12-3pm. More information on this event can be found here.
Please reach out to me if you have questions about any of the information mentioned above.
Lucas SWCD staff