Wetland in your yard?

When Marge Sagstetter and her husband Steve moved to Oakdale after 25 years in Lake Elmo, they took more than just their interior furnishings with them. Marge, a Master Gardener, had spent years lovingly cultivating and tending to gardens at her old home and, though she looked forward to a smaller, lower maintenance yard in Oakdale, she just had to bring a few flowers and ornamental grasses along with them when they moved.

Marge Sagstetter (left) during a garden party, hosted at her home in Oakdale.

One of the qualities the Sagstetters most appreciated about their new home was its location; the home backs up to a beautiful wetland complex that is home to birds and other wildlife. Within weeks of moving in, they scheduled a free site visit with the Washington Conservation District and applied for a cost-share grant from the Valley Branch Watershed District to plant native plants along the wetland edge and build a dry stream and raingarden in their yard to filter and clean runoff from their rooftop and driveway. Today, their yard is a beautiful mix of gardens and native plantings that help to protect water in the adjacent wetland, create habitat, and provide visual appeal.

A border of native plants blends seemlessly with the nearby wetland in the Sagstetter’s yard.

Wetlands, also known as marshes and swamps, are home to 43% of the threatened and endangered plant and animal species in the U.S. and also provide habitat for spawning fish, migrating waterfowl, breeding frogs and turtles, and insects such as dragonflies. Wetlands protect nearby homes from flooding and help to reduce shoreline erosion along the edges of rivers and lakes. If you have a wetland on or near your property, however, you may need to make some changes in your landscaping and seasonal yard care. 

Dragonflies are just one of many species that live in or depend on wetlands.

One common concern for wetlands are invasive species such as purple loosestrife and reed canary grass. In the metro area, the vast majority of our wetlands – 82% – have become infested by invasive species and no longer provide high quality habitat for turtles, birds, and beneficial insects. Homeowners can help by managing invasive plants on their property and selecting native species such as sedges, blue flag iris, swamp milkweed, joe-pye weed, cardinal flower, black-eyed susans, and ferns for wetland-edge gardens.

Sensitive fern is a native Minnesota species that grows in shady wetlands.

Another surprising problem for wetlands is excess nutrients from leaves and yard waste. Because leaves are natural, many people mistakenly think its ok to pile them in or near wetlands, lakeside buffers, and wooded ravines on their land. However, the leaves release large pulses of phosphorus and nitrogen as they break down in the spring, which can cause algae to grow in the water downstream. When wetlands are in good condition, they filter nutrients and pollutants out of water flowing into lakes, streams and rivers. Once they become over-saturated with nutrients, however, they lose their ability to filter water and can sometimes even become a source of pollution for those downstream waterbodies.

Though leaves are natural, they contain high levels of nutrients and should never be dumped into wetlands, shoreline buffers, ditches, or ravines. Photo copyright 2009 Adrian Danciu.

On Tuesday, November 9, the East Metro Water Education Program will host a free online workshop for people living on or near wetlands. Speakers will talk about what makes wetlands special, unique plants and animals that are found in wetlands, invasive species, and rules that affect what landowners can and can’t do with wetlands on their properties. They will also share information about site visits, incentive grants for clean water planting projects, where to find plant lists and garden designs, and how to develop conservation plans for larger properties. Tuesday, Nov. 9, 6-7:30pm – register at tinyurl.com/wetlands2021.

Even if you don’t live on a wetland, there are many place to see and enjoy them in Washington County. Here are a few of my favorites: