GLBT AMERICA gardening Transform your garden into a stormwater collector

Transform your garden into a stormwater collector

Updated February 12

Kristen Andres, the associate director for education at the Association to Preserve Cape Cod, led a presentation about how to use landscaping to collect stormwater on one’s property for climate change mitigation. The Zoom event was hosted by the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC).

Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that between the years 1880 and 2021, 2021 was the sixth warmest year. Andres said these warmer and disrupted climates result in longer droughts, increased storm intensity, frequent flooding, rising sea levels, and erosion. 

“What can we do to deal with some of these impacts?” Andres asked. “When we talk about climate action, there’s always those two words that show up: mitigate, which means to take steps to reduce the problem …and adapt: make adjustments in our behavior, our practice, and our design of our infrastructure to deal with changes in our environment, for resiliency. So we can bounce back and cope with these changes adequately.” 

The impact of stormwater, which comes from rain and melted snow and ice, can have consequences for communities, according to Andres. This water can make the roads slippery and cause infrastructure damage. According to Andres, the “old way” of dealing with stormwater is to make a channel in the road so the water, and whatever animal waste and debris is in there, is moved to a local body of water. Additionally, lawns don’t retain the water well and some of the water will escape the soil if on a slope. 

“[Monoculture] lawn does nothing. It does very little to slow the velocity of the rainwater as it hits the ground,” Andres said.

The modern way also considers preserving water quality. Andres says “nature does it best.” This method, otherwise known as “green infrastructure,” uses local plants in a garden to mimic nature. Some plants local to the Cape and Islands, which have deep roots, include switchgrass, little bluestem grass, and prairie dropseed, among others.

Another way to mitigate the impact of rainwater is to build a rain garden. There are three main qualities of a rain garden: a shallow depression of soil planted with deep-rooted native plants, captures stormwater, and the gardener must find “right plant, right place.” The Association to Preserve Cape Cod also has a rain garden “with lots of nice plants with deep roots” at its headquarters in Dennis. Andres said a good way to conserve water is to get a rain barrel to collect rainwater. 

Andres also said it is important to minimize hardscape. 

“The more hardscape we have, obviously the more land space we have that can’t receive water and can’t infiltrate into the ground,” Andres said. She acknowledged that sometimes hardscape is needed, such as ramps or parking spaces.

Alternative hardscape to asphalt is available, such as porous paving or Perk-Crete, according to Andres. 

Planting a diverse range of native plants will also help the local environment by offsetting some of the carbon emissions, Andres said. She also recommended reducing lawn sizes, using garden maintenance methods that do not emit carbon emissions, and reducing, recycling, and reusing. 

Andres suggested taking a look at the book “Energy-Wise Landscape Design: A New Approach for Your Home and Garden” by Sue Reed and the websites of Polly Hill Arboretum, BiodiversityWorks, and the Arbor Day Foundation’s national tree benefit calculator as resources.

After the presentation, a question and answer session was held for the audience. Attendee Julia Livingston asked about warming temperatures threatening plants. 

“I’ve heard that about some species,” Andres said. “With too much drought, too much heat, they may not survive … After these past few years I recommend anyone to maintain drought-tolerant plants. 

Another attendee asked how to maintain rain gardens. 

“It’s a garden, so you can manage it however you want. We sort of let ours go,” Andres said. “You do have to watch out for any undesirable thing that’s coming in there, like mugwort.”

This was the second in a series of events about climate change hosted by the MVC. The next one will be on Monday, Feb. 28, at 5 pm and is about green infrastructure and strategies against climate change. the Zoom event can be accessed at https://bit.ly/3rKyjQ4

Updated with a correction from watering can to rain barrel.

Transform your garden into a stormwater collector