Steward – May ’14 RD


(Hint:You can click on a title to go straight to that article)

Identify and Manage Winter Damage to Plants

Rain Barrels

Rain Gardens: Hard Working and Beautiful


Identify and Manage Winter Damage to Plants

by Whitney Miller

A publication from the Virginia Coop Extension covers a wide variety of topics such as: desiccation, frost heaving, freezing injuries (trunk splitting and bark splitting), bud injury, root injury, and breakage.  Prevention plans are covered as well as ways to manage these injuries after they have occurred. It is an informative source.

Managing Winter Injury to Trees and Shrubs (VA Coop Ext site)

The Michigan State University Extension website has a newly published article by Rebecca Finneran.  The article covers the possible damage to foundation plants and a few different paths that you can take if yours are damaged.  The most interesting point is that we are NOT to remove any remaining snow. We could do more harm than good with our impatience to get digging.

Additionally, rodent damage is covered. We have seen the signs at some point or another, but how do you determine what to do when you find damage on your landscape plants? At the end of this article are some more helpful links to similar topics. This portion of MSU’s Extension website has a volume of information.  Spend some time on this site to explore plenty of garden information.

Shrubs breaking down? Recovering the landscape from Old Man Winter (MSUE site)


Rain Barrels

by Cheryl Gross

Humans have been collecting rain in cisterns and barrels for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  The idea is simple, collect water when it is raining to use when it is dry.  Today rain barrels are still a great idea and every homeowner should consider installing one or more of them to both conserve water and reduce surface water pollution.

It is estimated that 40% of residential water usage is outside.  Every gallon collected from rain, and used, is a gallon saved.  Rain barrel water is best for outdoor use as it is not considered ‘potable’ or safe drinking water.  Whatever is on your roof…squirrels, birds, leaves, sticks and insects and what they may leave behind can be washed into your rain barrel.  On the other hand, rain water comes without chlorine, fluoride, or ammonia than can be found in treated water.  Plants love it.

Secondly, reducing the run off from a roof slows surface water pollution.  Roof runoff is often collected in gutters which run into downspouts which may then run into other hard surfaces on its way through the watershed.  All runoff carries with it debris and pollution.  When run off is slowed or eliminated, less pollution is carried into surface water systems.  Use of rain barrels can significantly reduce the run off from residential roofs.  Using the collected water during dry spells does not effect run off.  The City of Kearney, Nebraska published the following formula:

  • 1 inch of rain on a 1000 sq ft roof yields 623 gallons of water.
  • Calculate the yield of your roof by multiplying the square footage of your roof by 623 and divide by 1000.

Rain barrels are readably available from hardware, big box, and landscape materials suppliers.  An estimated cost is between $80-$120 per barrel.  To use the water from the barrel, a short (approx 6 ft) length of hose is fastened to the lower spout on the barrel.  To install the barrel, place it under an existing downspout.  The downspout will need to be modified (shortened) to drain into the rain barrel.  Flexible downspout material may be used.  Retain the existing downspout for re-installation in winter.

Throughout the dry season fill watering cans or use a longer hose to water landscape plants and potted plants during dry spells.  Water can be used for car washing too.  In the fall, drain the barrel and store it.  Replace the down spout.  Freezing water in the barrel will considerably shorten it’s life.

Remember to keep it simple; collect water when it rains to use when it is dry.


Rain Gardens: Hard Working and Beautiful

by Cheryl Gross

The purpose of a garden design can be simply to create a thing of beauty…blending heights, colors, textures, bloom time and the like for artistry alone.  Taken a step further, and depending upon plant choices, a garden design can include habitat elements for birds, bees, butterflies, and others.  Add to THAT a water management function, and you have the idea behind a Rain Garden.

Humans create hard surfaces on roofs, driveways, parking lots, patios, and such.  When it rains, the water that cannot percolate into the soil runs off.  Runoff can be like a snowball rolling down hill picking-up speed and debris as is goes.  That debris is often in the form of surface water pollutants. There must be a better way to collect water and help it percolate and reduce runoff.  That’s the idea  behind a Rain Garden.  Create a depression to collect the runoff and populate that depression with hardworking, long rooted, flexible, Michigan native plants.

The ideal location for a Rain Garden is anywhere runoff gathers.  Rain gardens can collect roof runoff from residential gutters and downspouts.  Rain Gardens can collect runoff from commercial parking lots.  Rain gardens can be along driveways and roadsides.  Rain Gardens can be on mid-slope between houses.  Rain garden design will need to include allowing a distance from the house foundation, according to Carolyn Thayer, owner of Designs in Bloom and experienced in rain garden design and installation.  Websites are available to assist with these calculations.

Site:  Locate the site where water can be collected.  Site preparation, as in all garden planning, is foremost.  The depression needs to be deep enough and wide enough to collect the average amount of water from a significant rain event and have a proper proximity to the structure.  The formula here is to drain one inch of rain within four hours.  According to Rain Garden Designs Templates website,, The ideal planting material is comprised of:

  • Washed sharp sand
  • Double shredded hardwood mulch
  • Topsoil (weed seed free)
  • Peatmoss

Thayer suggests that these materials and their percentages can vary greatly depending upon the current soil structure.

Plants:  Michigan native plants are the best for Rain Gardens in Michigan.  The individual plants chosen need to tolerate wet roots for an extended period of time and dry roots for an extended period of time.  The planting material will aid in helping drain the water, but in rainy seasons, the plant may need to stand in water longer than normal.  The Michigan native plants suited for Rain Gardens are incredibly adaptable and their long roots allow them to withstand dry spells.  It is advisable to purchase young/small plants for a Rain Garden site allowing them greater time to adapt to their job.  Following are some examples of Michigan native plants that might be suitable for a Rain Garden.  According to Thayer, based upon… “the drainage around the area and the soil in the area (sandy, loamy, or clay) the rain garden may drain differently and the plants may need to be different.  The conditions of submerged in water to bone dry (in some cases) is the trick to these beds.”

Examples of plants to consider for a Rain Garden in Michigan:

Shrubs/Small Trees: 

  • Dogwoods:  Gray, Red Osier, Cornus racemosa or stolonifera
  • Serviceberry, Amelanchier laevis
  • American Cranberry, Viburnum trilobum
  • Spice Bush, Lindera benzoin


  • Canada Anemone, Anemone canadensis
  • Joe Pye Weed, Euptorium species
  • Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis
  • Spikenard, Aralia racemosa
  • Swamp Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata
  • Aster, Aster laevis
  • Blue Flag Iris, Iris versicolor
  • Purple Coneflower,  Echinacea purpurea
  • Boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum
  • Turtlehead, White, Chelone glabra
  • Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis
  • Great Blue Lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica
  • Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica
  • Beardtongue, Penstemon species
  • Phlox, Phlox divaricata
  • Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia species
  • Foam Flower, Tiarella cordifolia
  • Spiderwort, Tradescantia ohioensis
  •  Blue Vervain, Verbena hastata
  • Culver’s Root, Veronicastrum virginicum

 Grasses/ Sedges

  • Pennsylvania Sedge, Carex pensylvanica
  • Switch Grass, Panucum virgatum

As with any new plant establishment, the planted rain garden will benefit from attention and care the first season or two.  Water the rain garden during dry spells.  It will take these young plants time to develop their root systems to survive dry spells.  Weed to keep out the competition.

As a result of this rain garden, a place will be established to hold runoff protecting surface water from polluted runoff.  The planting materials and bed preparation allows for percolation into the groundwater.  The long-rooted plants create paths for the water to follow and use the water to create a wildlife habitat for birds and butterflies.  After a little effort, the plants takeover and manage the site creating a habitat that is both hardworking AND beautiful.