Updated “Landscaping for Water Quality: Garden Designs for Homeowners” now available

Improve water quality by preventing erosion, reducing flooding, saving water and providing habitat through simple landscape features designed to collect and treat run-off.

Michigan is known to many as the “Water Wonderland” due to its abundance of high quality lakes and streams. One issue that continually threatens the quality of these priceless water resources is storm water runoff.

Normally, rainwater and snowmelt fall onto the ground and is absorbed and filtered by vegetation and soil; this water eventually recharges groundwater supplies. In an ever-increasing number of ways, vegetated areas – particularly those on and/or adjacent to waterways – have been replaced by impervious surfaces which prevent water from filtering into the ground naturally. In these situations, storm water collects and has no other place to go but over concrete and other impervious surfaces, causing flooding and erosion. Along its journey, it picks up fertilizer, sediment, pesticides and other pollutants, carrying them into storm drains and ditches. These in turn are connected to area waterways such as lakes, streams, rivers and wetlands.

One key to maintaining the quality of Michigan’s vast water resources is to manage rainwater on-site using a variety of attractive, low-cost landscaping techniques. These techniques, collectively known as Low Impact Development (LID), utilize vegetation, soil and other landscape features to collect and absorb rainwater, and allow it to be naturally filtered on-site back into the ground. These management techniques can help prevent runoff of storm water into drains and ditches.

LID techniques such as rain gardens and buffer strips using native plants hold water in place and allow it to be filtered and absorbed back into the ground. Native vegetation also serves to hold soil in place, thereby preventing erosion and keeping it out of water bodies. Native plants in buffers and gardens can also provide much-needed habitat for a variety of songbirds and butterflies. Other storm water collection techniques such as rain barrels capture and store rainwater, allowing the water to be used to irrigate other garden areas, thus saving water.

The third edition of a popular educational publication, “Landscaping for Water Quality: Garden Designs for Homeowners” is a full-color resource guide that can help homeowners improve water quality by preventing erosion, reducing flooding, saving water and providing habitat for wildlife. This resource guide includes tips on garden planning and designing, including assessing your property, developing a base map, considering the desired uses and needs for the particular garden area, ways to encourage infiltration, preparing the site, and installing the garden.

The guide provides a variety of sample garden layouts for various situations. Plant lists are also provided to help homeowners select the right plants for their particular site. In addition to the common and botanical name, plant height, bloom time, flower color, water needs, light preference, native vs. non-native status and notes regarding the plant’s outstanding features are included. Additional resources are provided for those interested in more information.

This resource was produced by the Van Buren Conservation District with funding by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) Non-point Source Program with technical review form the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership. It is available at the MDEQ Non-point Source Program website.

A great companion resource for those living on inland lakes is the “Natural Shoreline Landscapes on Michigan’s Inland Lakes: A Guidebook for Property Owners.” This resource guide, Michigan State University Extension bulletin number E3145, is available from the MSU Extension Bookstore.

For additional information and resources, visit the Michigan Natural Shoreline Partnership website.