Rain gardens and an apple orchard near Saratoga Springs, NY

This week I was the landscape designer for a fun and useful beautification project near Saratoga Springs, NY that included a simple storm catch basin rain garden and a miniature apple orchard.

20131029-135918.jpg The rain garden sits at the drainage spout for the neighborhood’s storm water overflow catch basin. This is located on my client’s property, but outside the part of their fenced-in backyard; about an acre that had very little habitat or aesthetic value prior to this project. Before this landscape renovation, the whole acre was just lawn.

Since the storm water catch basin area floods completely after a rain event, we had to choose plant species that could tolerate standing water on their roots for the rain garden. These native plants are often also found in wetland habitats, and they offer a lot of benefit to our wildlife. Cat Tails (Typha latifolia) were one plant that I was delighted to be able to use in this design, because Cat Tails are one of the quintessential species found in our natural wetland habitats, and in recent years they have been largely outcompeted by an invasive non-native grass called Phragmites (Phragmites australis). Other native plant choices included New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis), Cardinalflower (Lobelia cardinalis), Pink Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and the wetland shrub Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis).

20131029-143216.jpg The small apple orchard was composed of five apple trees and four varieties; two Macintosh trees, one Honeycrisp, one Malcoun and one Jonagold. It is good practice to plant more than one type of apple tree to allow cross pollination to occur. The adjacent rain garden is bursting the seams with pollinator attracting plants, and this will increase apple yields exponentially: visiting bumblebees, dragonflies, butterflies and ladybugs will be drawn in for the Asclepias and the Vernonia, but they will stay for the apple trees, stay to pollinate the apple blossoms, creating more total fruit and larger individual sized apples. Rain gardens are one excellent way to infuse native plants into our properties, restoring habitat and adding pollinator carrying capacity. And increased pollinator carrying capacity for an apple orchard or any other agricultural venture is like winning the eco-lottery.