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Angie Hong column: The do-good guide to gardening

A rain garden from Blue Thumb at a house in Mahtomedi. Submitted photo

Angie Hong is an educator for East Metro Water. Contact her at 651-330-8220, ext. 35, or angie.hong@mnwcd.org.

There's no such thing as a free lunch but, if you know where to look, you might get free (or discounted) plants for a garden instead.

The east metro area is home to more than 200 lakes, dozens of streams, countless wetlands and the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers. Watershed Districts and Soil and Water Conservation Districts work hard to protect these many waterways from runoff pollution, erosion and other sources of contamination.

However, because 80 percent of the land in Minnesota is privately owned, private landowners are a critical part of the clean-water equation as well. That's why local partners provide a variety of incentive and assistance programs to help residents and property owners improve habitat and protect water resources with rain gardens, stream and lake buffers, prairies, woodland plantings, pollinator gardens, and other clean-water projects.

By planting trees, shrubs and deep-rooted native plants, homeowners help rain to soak into the ground so that it recharges groundwater aquifers instead of running off into storm sewers or waterways. The deep roots of these plants also act as natural erosion control, which is especially helpful on hillsides and shorelines.

Rain gardens can feature a variety of native or perennial flowers and grasses, and are designed to catch runoff from rooftops, driveways and roads so that the water has time to soak into the ground or evaporate instead of running off. In addition to helping water, these natural landscaping projects provide habitat for birds and pollinators, and beautify yards large and small.

Here is a breakdown of programs and upcoming events to help you get started on a clean-water garden of your own:

• Free site visits: The Washington Conservation District offers free site visits to anyone in Washington County, including homeowners, large property owners, agricultural producers and businesses. During the visit, staff can identify best locations for planting projects and provide information about available grants. The WCD also provides designs and technical assistance for planting projects. Request a visit at www.mnwcd.org or 651-330-8220 ext. 35.

• Stewardship grants: Local watershed management organizations offer grants to support clean water planting projects. The amount of the grants varies depending on the size and water quality benefit of the project, but they will generally provide $500-$15,000 toward the purchase of plants, mulch, materials and contract labor for rain gardens, shoreline restoration, and agricultural projects. To find your watershed, go to www.cleanwatermn.org and use the map at the bottom of the page.

• Rain barrel and compost bin discounts: Washington County is currently selling rain barrels and compost bins in partnership with the Recycling Association of Minnesota. Rain barrels are $59 for county residents ($79 for non-residents) and compost bins are $44 for residents ($64 for non-residents). Order online at www.co.washington.mn.us/2813/Backyard-Composting and pick up at the Environmental Center in Woodbury. A limited number of barrels and bins will also be on sale during the Landscape Revival in Oakdale on Saturday, June 9.

• Upcoming plant sales: Looking for native plants for your gardens? The Washington County Master Gardeners will hold their annual plant sale 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, June 3 at the Washington County Fairground in Lake Elmo. Offerings include pollinator-friendly, native, shade, flowers, shrubs, vegetables and herbs.

• The Landscape Revival will be held 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 9 at Richard Walton Park in Oakdale. Seven local retailers will be on site selling chemical-free native plants. There will also be live music, a food truck and activities led by local conservation groups.

Find additional native plant retailers at www.BlueThumb.org.

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