OWLA: Rain garden to be planted at Emerson Park | Lifestyles

A number of community partners will establish a “lake-friendly” rain garden planting near the Owasco shoreline in Emerson Park. The planting day begins at 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 23, between the pavilion and the breakwall. If you are interested in volunteering to help with the planting, please register at owla.org. The Owasco Watershed Lake Association and the Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council will also be providing educational information and activities if you would just like to drop by.

We will use a dozen commercially available native plant species, and a rain garden planting design. OWLA, the Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council, Cayuga County Parks and Trails, and Friends of Emerson Park teamed up to develop this project.

Native plants are just what you might imagine — plants that occur naturally in the region without human introduction, and are adapted to the soil and climate. Native plants provide natural beauty, serve as a host to butterflies and moths that feed birds, and need minimal care to grow well once they are established.

A rain garden is a depressed area shaped like a basin or a 6-inch shallow pond in the landscape that holds rain water, slowly releasing it to control runoff. On our lakeshore, runoff means more sediment and nutrients reaching the lake, which promotes algae growth and reduces water quality. Combining native plants with a rain garden design is one step toward a no-fertilizer/no-pesticide use approach to landscaping at the water’s edge.

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We were inspired by a series of lake-friendly living awareness seminars this past May. Visit flrwa.org/lake-friendly-living for these presentations, and you will learn of steps we can all take to make positive change toward protecting the quality of the lake. Searching the terms “how to build a rain garden” and “native plants Finger Lakes” will provide advice on planning, design ideas, plant selection and sources, and native plant advocacy organizations.

Here is how we started our project. First we met in Emerson Park and identified areas of standing water, an easy task during this wet summer season. These wet areas are difficult to mow, so an alternative to turf grass is attractive. We selected a small area (500 square feet) near the breakwall and shoreline, and adjacent to a popular cinder road/walking path. We got our feet wet, dug some test holes in the soil, and outlined phase one of our planting area. We used this horticulturists’ guideline: A native perennial plant has on average a mature spread of 5 square feet, so for our 500-square-foot area, approximately 100 plants. We outlined a naturalistic plan of planting areas or masses of 6 to 10 to 12 plants of a species. Grouping plants together in a mass or drift is essential. Last, we relied on the expert advice of The Plantsmen Nursery in Ithaca (a speaker at our May seminar series described above) to select a dozen native species. These plants range in size, flower color, time of bloom and texture.

In summary, we were inspired by the national trend of expanded use of native plants and lake-friendly landscape practices. Our goal is to help protect Owasco Lake, the jewel our community depends upon. We are starting small, hope to build on our success, and seek your involvement. Again, volunteers are needed for planting day, and can register online at owla.org. We will also use volunteer support next growing season to get the plants established. Please consider joining OWLA (owla.org/join) and taking the lake-friendly living pledge (olwmc.org/lake-friendly-living).

Kim Mills is a member of the board of directors of the Owasco Watershed Lake Association. For more information, or to join OWLA, visit owla.org.