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MSU Using Rain Gardens To Help Manage Storm Water

Runoff water can contain pollutants like gas, oil, pesticides, and more.

When there's heavy rain, water doesn’t always have much time to soak into the ground. It can then flow into lakes and rivers, carrying pollutants with it.

Michigan State University is helping mitigate the problem with the use of rain gardens on campus, which help manage the university’s storm water.

These rain gardens have shallow depressions at ground level meant to hold water. The water does not form a pond, as it soaks into the ground and filters through the soil.

The gardens are filled with native plants, and provide a habitat for native insects, birds and animals.

Dixie Sandborn with MSU Extension says rain gardens act as a natural filtration system.

“Rain gardens are actually gardens that are used to filter runoff rainwater from roofs, pavements, parking lots, those impervious surfaces,” Sandborn said.

Plants that are best for a rain garden might also have large root systems to help absorb rainwater.

However, maintenance is still necessary. This includes mulching, weeding and watering the first year. After a couple of years once established, the vegetation should outcompete most weeds.

It might also be necessary to occasionally remulch and dispose of dead plants and other debris.

Sandborn also says that the gardens have more than one use.

“Another really good idea is to use native plants that are also pollinators, so then you get a two-for-one, you get a pollinating garden and a rain garden, so that’s kind of nice,” she said.

Common native flowers and shrubs found in rain gardens include black-eyed Susan, New England aster, butterfly milkweed, fragrant sumac and New Jersey tea.

The rain gardens on MSU’s campus can be found at Erickson Hall, Minskoff Pavillion, and at the Surplus Store and Recycling Center.

McKoy's story is brought to you as part of a partnership between WKAR and Michigan State University's Knight Center for Environmental Journalism.

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