by Laurie Broccolo, Broccolo Tree & Lawn Care

Wetland with native plants - cattail, goldenrod, jewelweed,  boneset, & joepye weed

More and more, we are hearing the phrase “go green,” where communities and businesses are taking action to protect and conserve the environment in which we live, so that future generations will have the opportunity to enjoy our community as we do today.

Many don’t realize the immense impact we have on the environment, and the small steps we can all take to improve our quality of life, and the quality of life for our children. Rain gardens are a way for homeowners as well as businesses to participate in the reduction of polluted water runoff, simply by planting a specialized garden. Rain gardens are an infiltration technique-where water is captured in a garden that features native plantings. Here, the water has the chance to slowly filter into the ground, rather than run off into the storm sewer. This has become an extremely popular way to reduce non-point-source pollution along the East Coast and elsewhere. It is Broccolo Tree & Lawn Care’s hope to educate the Rochester community on the many ways businesses and homeowners can protect our area.

Groundwater is important because it replenishes our streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands, and most of us get our drinking water from wells that tap into groundwater. However, in most of our urban environments, rain falls on roofs, roads, and parking lots-areas where it can’t be absorbed. Gradually these surfaces cause problems-as our urban areas increase, so do the problems. Rain gardens help to protect and restore natural hydrology, allowing rainwater to soak in instead of running off, and they also help trap pollutants that may be in the runoff.

When looking for a solution to these issues, why install drainage when you can plant a colorful year-long garden instead? Those stagnant, wet lawn areas which are perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes can become a balanced natural ecosystem. We can control those pesky mosquitoes by inviting colorful dragonflies to dine on them. We can enjoy a chorus of toads and frogs by creating a home for them to breed and eat the mosquitoes. Hardy, healthy plants that are adapted to wet springs and dry, cracked clay soils in summer are perfect for the busy working professional because they require minimal maintenance.

Monarch  Caterpillar

For example, Asclepias incarnata, swamp milkweed, has erect, shrubby yet herbaceous stems that are loaded with clusters of fragrant pink flowers all summer. This plant’s nectar is a magnet for many butterflies, and it and other milkweeds are the only food source for the Monach butterfly caterpillars. Who by Laurie Broccolo, owner and cofounder of Broccolo Tree & Lawn Care, Henrietta, New York wants to plant milkweed in their garden when you can plant Asclepias-a more melodic sounding name, recalling the ancient Greek god of healing.

Additionally, for the winter months, we recommend a contrast against white snow, and nothing beats the red- and yellow-twig dogwoods (Cornus sericea selections) or the brilliant red berries of winterberry, Ilex verticillata. Why struggle with finicky exotic ornamentals when there are so many stunning native plants that could be used in your garden?

Native plant beauties are endless and their contribution to our environment is priceless. Their availability to gardeners is growing. The added bonus is that rain gardens are alive with colorful birds and butterflies and are the natural way to landscape your property.

If you are interested in ways to beautify your home or business, please call me at 585.424.4476  or visit our web site at www.broccologroup.com.

Originally published in the Rochester Civic Garden Center Bulletin August 2007, Vol. 64, No. 4

Photos copyright Kimbery Burkard, 2009.