gardening

Updated App, New Rules & Soggy Summer: Time For a Rain Garden

rain garden
Coneflower and blazing star are in bloom in the rain garden behind the baseball field at East Lyme High School.

Story and photos by Judy Benson

July’s wet weather may have dampened plans for beach days and barbeques, but it’s also a reminder of an environmental problem homeowners can help solve in their own yards.

The excess of rainfall—about twice the amount normally seen so far this month—means more stormwater tainted with lawn chemicals, oil and gas residues and other pollutants has been entering our streams, rivers and Long Island Sound. The polluted runoff flows off roads, driveways, roofs and parking lots into storm drains that carry it directly into our waterways, untreated, sometimes resulting in high bacteria counts that recently closed swimming areas at Ocean Beach in New London and Rocky Neck State Park in Niantic for a few days.

“A lot of people think stormwater goes to a treatment facility, but most of it just drains directly into a water body,” said David Dickson, faculty member and extension educator for UConn CLEAR (Center for Land Use Education and Research).  “Runoff is one of the top water quality problems, especially here in Connecticut.”

But it’s also a problem where small-scale efforts with muscle and a shovel can make a big difference. And thanks to a recently updated, user-friendly app and the added motivation of new state requirements for stormwater—set against all the recent rainfall—there’s no better time for individual action than right now.

Dickson and his colleagues at UConn CLEAR are proponents of rain gardens, an elegantly simple, relatively inexpensive solution that can also enhance outdoor spaces for both people and wildlife. This is basically a bowl-shaped area planted with native grasses, shrubs and flowers tolerant of both extreme wet and dry conditions where runoff is channeled and absorbed into the soil, filtering out pollutants along the way.

Over the past four years, more than 45 rain gardens have been installed at schools, town halls, museums and other public spaces throughout New London and Windham counties, led by the Eastern Connecticut Conservation District. Judy Rondeau, assistant director of the ECCD, quickly ticked off some examples: gardens at East Lyme High School, the Mystic Art Association, Whalen’s Wharf in Stonington, the Groton Social Services Building and the Lebanon Historical Society among them, all collecting runoff from adjacent roofs and pavement.

Sue Augustyniak built this rain garden on the property of of the William A. Buckingham Memorial as her service project for the Coastal Certificate Program.
Sue Augustyniak built this rain garden on the property of of the William A. Buckingham Memorial as her service project for the Coastal Certificate Program.

One of the newest rain gardens in the region can be found at the William A. Buckingham Memorial in Norwich. It was built by Master Gardener Sue Augustyniak as a service project for the Coastal Certificate program, a joint offering of Connecticut Sea Grant, the UConn Master Gardener Program and the Long Island Sound Study. The garden collects water that had been running off the historic home property onto the road, with pussy willow, sweet pepperbush and other plants gracing the shoulders.

“It’s helping keep the Thames watershed clean,” she said. “It’s a great way to help my own community.”

Rondeau encourages people to visit one of the local gardens.

“Seeing them can give people an immediate understanding of where the water’s coming from,” she said, adding that plans are in the works for another 20 rain gardens over the next year.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to get some in this summer, if it ever stops raining,” she joked.

But rain gardens in public places are only part of the solution. Rondeau and Dickson are hoping to spur interest among homeowners to build rain gardens in their own yards. The gardens would not only help solve water issues on their own properties but would also help the cities and towns where they live. Starting this year, all but the most rural towns in the state are required to divert 1% of runoff away from pavement and out of storm drains each year.

“A very easy way to do that is to push rain gardens,” said Rondeau. “It’s a way individual homeowners can make a bit of a difference and beautify a corner at the same time. But even if you don’t like gardening, you can just put in a grass garden. It functions the same.”

So how do you build a rain garden?

David Dickson spots a skipper butterfly and several bees pollinating on the flowers in the rain garden at East Lyme High School on July 12.
David Dickson spots a skipper butterfly and several bees pollinating on the flowers in the rain garden at East Lyme High School on July 12.

That’s where the newly refurbished rain garden app, co-created by Dickson and his CLEAR colleague Michael Dietz, comes in. Launched nine years ago with funding from Connecticut Sea Grant, the updated app is now a web-based tool usable on mobile phones, desktop computers and everything in between. It gives step-by-step guidance on choosing a site, calculating the size, testing the soil, choosing plants and digging the hole the right way to the right depth.

“Especially with some of the heavy, flashy rains we’ve been getting, it’s important to divert as much of that water as possible,” said Rondeau. “It will relieve stress on the storm drain system and direct the water to where it will infiltrate into the soil.”

The free rain garden app can be found at: https://nemo.uconn.edu/tools/app/raingarden.htm.

Judy Benson is the communications coordinator for Connecticut Sea Grant. 

Healthy Soils to be Focus of 2021 Coastal Certificate Program

This year’s Coastal Certificate Program will take place virtually over four days in mid-May. Led by Judy Preston, CT Sea Grant’s Long Island Sound outreach coordinator, this year’s classes will emphasize healthy soils at the root of healthy gardens, landscapes, and ultimately the watersheds that are essential to clean waters and a healthy Sound.

The classes will also look at how soils fuel diverse gardens that sustain wildlife, including pollinators. Co-sponsored by Maggie Redfern, assistant director of the Connecticut College Arboretum, it will also feature guest speakers.

The classes will be from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on May 11, 13, 18 and 20. Class is limited to 35 students.

To register, visit: https://mastergardener.uconn.edu and go to the Garden Master Course Catalog: https://uconnmastergardeners.gosignmeup.com/Public/Course/Browse

For information, contact: Judy Preston at: judy.preston@uconn.edu; (860) 395-8335

Download a pdf of the flier here.

Original Post

Compost Sale

compost facility

Spring 2021 UConn Compost Sale Details

Pick-up date: Friday, April 16th 1-4 PM and Saturday, April 17th 10 AM – 3 PM
Rain date(s): Friday, April 23rd and/or Saturday, April 24th

$25 per yard. Customers must purchase a minimum of ½ yard.

Payment must be made online by credit/debit card only.
*Payments must be received by 5 PM on Thursday, April 15th.*

Pick-up Location: UConn Compost Facility, 1396 Stafford Rd., Storrs, CT 06269.
Please follow the signs.

Make online payments here!

IMPORTANT RULES:

– Please bring Proof of payment (A picture of your payment receipt or the actual printed receipt.) Those who have not prepaid online will be turned away.
– Customers must wear a mask and stay in their vehicles.
– No boxes, pails, buckets or bags.  Compost will not be loaded by hand (shovel) by customers or UConn Staff.
– Trucks and trailers only. Compost will be loaded by a UConn tractor.

You will be asked to leave if you do not follow these rules.

Please contact Mary Kegler at 860-486-8567 with any questions.

Virtual Connecticut Master Gardener Association Symposium

flower in pot on porchOn Saturday, March 20th starting at 9:00 am, Connecticut Master Gardeners, guests and the public will have the opportunity to hear national and regional experts talk about  “Gardening Any Time, Any Place”  by virtually attending the Connecticut Master Gardener Association (CMGA) 28th annual garden symposium.   Registration and information about the virtual event is available at ctmga.org/symposium-event-2021  The cost for the two featured  speakers and a choice of two of five breakout session speakers is $60 for CMGA members and guests; $90 for non-members and includes a “virtual event bag” with coupons, promotions and special offers from symposium sponsors.  Contact: symposium@ctmga.org

What is Extension – New Video Released

UConn Extension connects thousands of people across Connecticut and beyond each year, with the research and resources of the University of Connecticut’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources. We are comprised of more than 100 educators and a vast network of volunteers. UConn Extension works collaboratively to build more resilient communities through educational initiatives aimed to cultivate a sustainable future and develop tomorrow’s leaders. The work of UConn Extension connects communities and individuals to help make Connecticut a better place to live, and a better place for future generations.

Sarah Bailey Receives Mehlquist Award from CT Hort

working in garden
Hartford County Master Gardener Coordinator Sarah Bailey and a Master Gardener volunteer work in Burgdorf. Photo: Chris Defrancesco.
Congratulations to Sarah Bailey, coordinator of our UConn Extension Master Gardener Program on receiving the 2020 Mehlquist Award from the Connecticut Horticultural Society.
 
“… Sarah’s reach and impact on Connecticut’s gardening community has been significant. Sarah’s work to transition the MG class to an online platform in 2018 helped bring the Program into the 21st century. This shift makes it easier for students that are still in the workforce to participate, as the in class commitment was reduced to 4 hours per week. Each day, Sarah leads her team of County Coordinators to provide science-based information to home gardeners. She works tirelessly to meet the challenge of sustaining the MG Program with limited funding from UConn and federal sources. The program is largely
self-sustaining with revenue from MG and Advanced MG classes. …”
 
Visit http://bit.ly/CTHort_Sarah to read more. Congratulations, Sarah!

Apply to Become a UConn Extension Master Gardener – 2021 Class Will Be Online

Master Gardener logoGarden harvests are underway, and it’s a great time to plan ahead for next year. Apply now for the 2021 UConn Extension Master Gardener Program. Classes will be held in Bethel, Brooklyn, Farmington, Haddam and Stamford. The deadline for applications is Friday, October 16, 2020.

UConn Extension Master Gardeners have an interest in plants, gardening, people and the environment.  Specifically, they are willing to share their knowledge, passion and enthusiasm with their communities, providing research-based information to homeowners, students, gardening communities and others. They receive horticultural training from UConn, and then share that knowledge with the public through community volunteering and educational outreach efforts. UConn Master Gardeners help with community and museum gardens, school gardens, backyard projects, houseplant questions and more.

“The Master Gardener Program opened my eyes to the wonderful world of horticulture, gardening, and the fragile ecosystem we share with animals and insects,” says Pat Sabosik of Hamden, who completed the program in 2017.

The 2021 class, that runs January through April, will be entirely online. Each topic consists of online educational material to be reviewed before the class date and a weekly interactive online session providing more depth and application of information to real-life situations. The classroom portion runs from 9 AM – 1 PM. There are five class cohorts available; each affiliated with one or more Master Gardener offices. This year’s Haddam class will be held on Saturdays.

“The combination of in-depth classroom learning with subject matter experts, extensive reading materials, and hands-on projects and outreach experiences is a good balance of learning experiences”, says Anne Farnum who also took the class in 2017.

Classes begin the week of January 9, 2021. Subject matter includes basic botany, plant pathology, soils, entomology and other aspects of gardening such as plant categories, native plants, and pest management. After the classroom portion, students complete 60 hours of outreach experience during the summer, along with a plant identification project.

The program fee is $450.00, and includes all needed course materials. Partial scholarships may be available, based on demonstrated financial need.

For more information, visit the UConn Extension Master Gardener website at www.mastergardener.uconn.edu , where both the on-line and paper application are located.

There is Still Time to Garden

school garden plant
Photo: Molly Deegan

August is just around the corner, and somehow you never got your vegetable garden started. Perhaps you had a wonderful early-season harvest but didn’t plant any later-season crops. The garden bed is just sitting there, empty except for weeds.

Don’t think the garden season is over! There are plenty of short-season crops and cold-tolerant veggies you can grow starting right now.

Connecticut’s first frost dates vary from mid-September in the area of Coventry to early November along the coast in the Bridgeport area. For most of the state, that frost date falls sometime in October. (You can check your specific area at  https://www.plantmaps.com/interactive-connecticut-first-frost-date-map.php) That means most of us have anywhere from eight to ten weeks (55 to 70 days) of growing season left.

There are plenty of short-season vegetables to choose. Once you have determined your likely first frost date, select plants and varieties that will mature in that time frame. This includes vegetables such as beets, bush beans, some cabbages, lettuce, kale, Asian greens, scallions, radishes, turnips, spinach and Swiss chard.

Some vegetables can tolerate cooler temperatures and even a light frost. These selections provide a little extra insurance against an early frost. These include small, round beets, short carrots, radishes, bunching onions, mustard greens, Swiss chard, kale, and spinach. The cooler temperatures will actually improve the sweetness of carrots, cabbages and beets.

You can extend your season further by using plant protectors such as floating row covers, cloches and other similar devices that will give your plants a little extra warmth when the temperatures drop.

So, don’t put the garden tools away just yet. Get started on round two – or three – of your garden to table season!

Article by Sarah Bailey, State Coordinator, UConn Extension Master Gardener Program

Raised beds for my vegetable garden?

Raised BedsThere’s a growing interest in using raised beds in vegetable gardens, and if that’s your interest, read on. It’s always a good idea to plan a project before jumping in and consider the many variables. Let’s explore some of these.

Why you’re considering raised beds. Many people are interested in raised beds as a way to eliminate as much bending and stooping over in the garden as possible; the higher the beds, the less bending required as you tend your plants. This, in turn, will impact the type of material your beds are made of and the amount of soil your beds will have in them. If you’re interested in portable raised beds (perhaps to be able to move your beds during the day to get the maximum amount of sunlight), that will limit the size each bed will be and what they’re made from.

Space needs and sizes of beds. If you’re a patio-gardener, and have limited space, your beds will need to be smaller than if you set beds within a larger garden area. What you want to grow can also determine the size of your beds. For example, herb gardens fit nicely in smaller beds, while tomatoes, root vegetables, and many other crops need beds that are deeper and larger. If you want to use raised beds with walls, a bed that is wider than four feet will be more difficult to tend; a length of more than eight feet will require more movement to get around the bed itself. The layout of raised beds that are simply mounded soil hills, without structured walls, can much more easily be changed than structured beds with walls.

Materials for raised beds. Raised bed kits are readily available, especially online, and made from a variety of materials, including wood and plastic. Will you buy raised bed kits, which can be expensive, or create your own? If you create your own raised beds, will they be very simply made from highly-mounded soil in your garden, or will they have a solid, box-like structure? If they’re structured, what will they be made from…. wood, concrete block, brick, or plastic? Some materials are more readily available than others, some will last longer outside than others, some are more decorative and easier to disassemble and move, and prices will vary, depending on what you choose.

Irrigation needs of plants in raised beds. Soil in raised beds generally dries out more quickly, since air circulation around the perimeter of the bed contributes to drying, so your garden may need to be watered more frequently. Whether you water by hand, sprinkler, or soaker hoses, it’s important to check the amount of moisture in the soil when setting a watering schedule. As with a ground-level garden, mulching will help retain soil moisture. If you decide to use soaker hoses, it’s helpful to draw a layout of your garden and how the hoses will be laid out to assure that you can water each bed when necessary, especially if some plants need more water than others. Hose layout is also important to plan so that you don’t end up with raised hoses draping from one bed to another, making it more difficult to move among the beds.

Overall, gardening in raised beds can be very rewarding, and much easier if you take the time to plan before you build. If you’re unsure if using raised beds is the right choice for you, start with one or two small raised beds, learn as you go along, and determine what best meets your gardening needs for the future. If you have further questions, you can contact the UConn Extension Master Gardeners at https://mastergardener.uconn.edu/ask-us-a-question/

Article by Linette Branham, 2019 UConn Extension Master Gardener