|Rain, Rain Quench My Yard|
After watching the welcome rain last weekend, I dreamed of skipping my yard-watering duties. But when the skies cleared and I went out to plant my bareroot berries, those hopes turned to dust. The first few millimeters of soil were wet all right, but underneath, my shovel bit into dry ground. And that isnít abnormal. The average neatly trimmed lawn can only absorb water for the first 10 minutes of a rain eventÖ the rest of that lovely wetness flows on across your lawn, over the driveway and right into the gutter.
About 300 years ago, this New England land we call home could soak up rainwater like a sponge. Then came the European Invasion, as some have termed it. Pre-settlement New England was 95% forested, but in the space of just 50 years in the mid-1800ís, we practically clear-cut our home, leaving only 25% in forest. Denuding the land of trees so quickly resulted in massive erosion as rains washed unprotected soil off the land and into rivers and stream. Bye, bye topsoil.
Then, after basically ripping off the top layer of our soil sponge, we brought thousands of livestock to New England, mostly sheep. In Vermont alone, we topped out at 1.7 million sheep in the mid-1800ís (compared to 15,000 sheep and 625,000 people today). All those plant-munching animals roaming around compacted the remaining soil. The rich soil that once supported lush plant life came to resemble water-repellent concrete.
Howís this for a paradox: while plants do indeed need healthy soil to grow, they also make healthy soil. Gradually, as plant roots grow down through soil, they fluff it up and create little passages for insects to crawl and water to trickle. Then, as roots and other plant materials die back, organic matter is created. Itís this nutrient rich organic matter that has the best potential to hold and store water. The bigger the plant, the more the roots and the more power it has to both stabilize and enliven soil.
So, whatís keeping your yard from absorbing rainwater? That short green carpet of lawn sure doesnít help. Little skinny short roots canít loosen up the soil much. Now think of the other big thing in your yard that repels water. Think really big Ė your house! Yeah, that thing that rain hits and rolls off of as you sit inside warm and dry. As that precious liquid rolls off, whooshing across your yard and into streets and streams, it carries along more that just valuable topsoil. Fertilizer, pesticides, pet waste, car oil; they all go right into the river.
But you like a good solid roof? Then turn that protective surface into a source of water for horticultural plenty; build a raingarden. Simply stated, a raingarden is a cluster of deeper-rooted plants set into a shallow depression into which rainwater runoff is diverted. The purpose of this moisture-friendly garden is to trap that otherwise whooshing rainwater, giving it time to soak into the soil and thereby provide a longer-term drink for the thirsty plants in your yard.
Questions? Objections? Donít worry, weíre not talking mosquito pond here. Just a little garden that will hold standing water for the few hours it takes to soak in. There is plenty of information out there to help you figure out how to choose plants and where to place the raingarden to collect roof or driveway runoff, including a brochure produced by the Winooski Conservation District. Check it out on-line at http://www.vacd.org/winooski/winooski_raingarden2006_brochure.pdf ., or visit your local conservation district for a copy.
How big does your raingarden need to be? You can whip out a calculator and get super specific with the sizing and depth of the raingarden to maximize your rainwater runoff collection potential. The bottom line, though, is that anything you can do on your yard to help combat our water issues will be a good thing. Yes, you can design your yard to suit both recreational and water quality needs. For inspiration, visit a local raingarden at the Dummerston Covered Bridge on Route 30.
Sylvia Harris is the Agricultural Resource Specialist for the Windham County Natural Resources Conservation District (WCNRCD) and the five other southern Vermont Conservation Districts. Her responsibilities include helping farmers protect groundwater resources (F*A*S Program), assisting in the stateís watershed planning efforts, and advising the agricultural community on accepted agricultural practices (AAPís).
|Last Updated ( Saturday, 06 October 2007 )|
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