The Do-Good Guide to Gardening

Stewardship grants, free site-visits, and community events help gardens become natural oases

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% 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 raingardens, stream and lake buffers, prairies, woodland plantings, pollinator gardens, and other clean-water projects.

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Raingardens come in all different shapes and sizes. They are strategically placed to collect runoff from rooftops, driveways and streets.

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. Raingardens 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 Ramsey and Washington Conservation Districts offer free site visits to 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. They will also provide designs and technical assistance for planting projects. To request a visit:
  • Stewardship grants: Local watershed management organizations offer grants to support clean-water planting projects. The criteria for these grants varies somewhat, but they will generally provide $250-$15,000 toward the purchase of plants, mulch, materials, and contract labor, depending on the size and water-quality benefit of the project. To find your watershed, go to and use the map at the bottom of the page.
  • Rain barrel and compost bin discounts: Ramsey and Washington Counties are 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). To order:
    • Ramsey County: Order on-line and pick up at WestRock Paper Mill on June 2, 9am-noon.
    • Washington County: Order on-line and pick up anytime 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 on Sunday, June 3, 11am-3pm 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 on Saturday, June 2, 9am-1:30pm at Shepard of the Hills Church (3920 Victoria St. N.) and Saturday, June 9, 9am-2pm at Richard Walton Park in Oakdale (15th St. N and Hadley Ave. N). 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
Native plants create habitat for birds and pollinators in addition to slowing runoff and protecting waterways.