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Beth Kallestad column: Native plants improve water quality

Spring is here! What I sincerely hope is that the last bits of snow are melting outside my window. The robins made their appearance yesterday. Time to pack in the snow shovel and dig out the gardening gloves.

If you're a talented gardener, people say you have a "green thumb." I'm personally aspiring to have a "blue thumb." The organization I work for, the Cannon River Watershed Partnership, belongs to a group called Blue Thumb Partners.

Together we are working on encouraging the use of native plantings, rain gardens and shoreline stabilization to reduce runoff from people's home landscapes and improve water quality.

So why use native plants? Besides the fact that they are beautiful, designed by nature to live in this landscape and a wonderful habitat for birds, butterflies and wildlife, they are a big help with preventing erosion and water pollution.

Many native plants, such as big blue stem, have incredibly long root systems. These long roots help water to infiltrate and hold soil in place.

When used in rain gardens they filter and infiltrate the water before it hits the streets and storm drains that carry pollution to lakes and rivers.

If all these things aren't reason enough, you'll save money by reducing the need for fertilizers and pesticides and replacement plant costs for annuals.

Once they get established, gardens with native plants need very little weeding, watering and mulching, giving you more time to kick back and enjoy the birds and butterflies in your garden.

For people with shoreland property, these plants will help anchor your shoreline in place allowing you to keep more of the land you paid lots of money to buy.

So how do you get started? Check out the Blue Thumb website at www.bluethumb.org for lists of plants, planting guides, and all sorts of other resources.

In some places, like Rice County, the Soil and Water Conservation District is selling mixes of plants for these types of gardens. Most of our local landscapers are well versed in helping you out too.

As always, if you need help call me at CRWP at 507-786-3913 and I'll help point you in the right direction.

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