MidWest Winters are No match for a Rain Garden’s Resilient Nature

You all know about now that we here at St. Croix Valley Landscaping are wild about our rain gardens.  From their overall appeal, beautiful colors and environmentally friendly aspects, we truly can not get enough.  Rain Gardens are a low maintenance landscape designer’s dream.  So as winter begins to set in, we definitely pushed the envelope getting the Target/Kohls installation done, but wow what a team effort!  That’s a post for another day.  Today let’s talk about preparing that Wisconsin Rain Garden for a long winters’ nap.


Well I should say, a couple of winter catnaps.  Your winter rain garden really doesn’t completely hibernate in the sense that it stops working.  Underneath the ground all of those biological process are still working to keep your rain garden a porous water filter, and above ground those plants that you haven’t cut back are still doing their environmental work.

If you choose to not cut back your plants they make perfect winter havens for some birds and wild life, the seeds can keep those animals who might stick around fed.  The seeds can also help cultivate new plants for the next growing season.

There is no doubt that Rain Gardens are spectacular and with all their native plantings, they hold their own through the biting Midwest winter’s cold.  Not only surviving but thriving and keeping up their environmental work.

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Compost the Fallen Leaves of Autumn

The brilliant colors of fall signal the change of the season and provide spectacular views. As we watch the colors change, we also begin to dread the cleanup that we know is coming.  Raking fallen leaves out of our yards can be a dreaded chore, however, there is really no need to take those leaves and bag them or set them on the curb to add to the local landfill.  Instead, consider composting or turning them into leaf mold those fallen leaves to help reduce waste and add to the future beauty of your landscape.

Photo Credit: Quinet via Flicker 2005

Composting Leaves

You are still going to have to rake them all up.  Once you’ve gathered a nice sized leaf pile, hop on in.  Then rake again, yes we know double the work, but who can resist a dive in the leaf pile?  Then, before you add those leaves to the compost pile, shred them up either in a mulcher or by taking a couple of passes over them with your mower.  Add the shredded leaves to your existing compost pile.  Also add a nitrogen component to help the composting process.

The process isn’t instantaneous, could actually take a year or two to get fully composted leaves, but if you make sure to add the nitrogen rich component and keep your leaf layers thin, you should be able to get some good composting out of your fallen leaves.

Leaf Mold

Leaf mold is a top grade composting material.  The wait to get leaf mold out of your fall leaves, is at least two years, but well worth it.  Gather your shredded leaves in   composting bin, or a plastic bag, add some water for moisture.  Set your gathered leaves aside and wait.

These are just a couple of simple suggestions to take the hassle and drudgery out of fall leaf cleanup.  For tips on keeping your yard low maintenance, give our crew a call.

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The 44th Birthday of the Wild and Scenic River’s Act: Celebrate St. Croix River

On October 2, 1968 President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.  His words resonate with river conservationists to this day.


In the past 50 years, we have learned—all too slowly, I think—to prize and protect God’s precious gifts. Because we have, our own children and grandchildren will come to know and come to love the great forests and the wild rivers that we have protected and left to them . . . An unspoiled river is a very rare thing in this Nation today. Their flow and vitality have been harnessed by dams and too often they have been turned into open sewers by communities and by industries. It makes us all very fearful that all rivers will go this way unless somebody acts now to try to balance our river development.
– President Lyndon Johnson [1]


Ironically with all of its strides the W&S Rivers Act only encompasses ¼ of 1% of all rivers in the United States.  We are very fortunate that our own St. Croix River is one of the seven original rivers protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. With abundant wildlife and some of the most beautiful views in the world, it is no wonder that the rich heritage of the St. Croix River must be preserved.  Some wording from the act itself gives us some insight into why we should continue or conservation work and continue to honor our earth.


It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the Nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.[2]


Check out this video produced by the St. Croix National Scenic River way a division of the National Park Service.  It is worth a view.



The St. Croix A Northwoods Journey


[1] http://www.rivers.gov/rivers/wsr-act.php

[2] http://www.rivers.gov/rivers/wsr-act.php

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Fall color on the St. Croix

One of the best things about the fall season, apart from relief from the summer heat and a respite before winter’s chill sets in, is the opportunity to take in the majestic beauty of fall color!

According to the Wisconsin Fall Color report http://bit.ly/Q5vKx6, our St. Croix River valley should be at 25% color right now.  However, as we all know, reports can be misleading.  Because of the harsh, hot and dry summer this year, much of fall’s brilliance may be sparse and fleeting.  Have you ever wondered what causes those leaves to change?  We all know the cycle of events that moves vibrant green leaf filled trees toward their ultimate descent into the hibernation for winter.  Spring Renewal, Summer Sizzle, Autumn’s shed all lead to the long Winter’s sleep.  Ah, but do you really know what the process is?  I didn’t, which led me on a search for information that I am gladly sharing with you now.


Put most simply, trees change color because the process of photosynthesis.  While there are other colors hiding in the leaves, the chlorophyll produce inside of the leaves is green.  This green chlorophyll is dominant and covers all of the other colors.  Once the days begin to get shorter and the nights longer, the chlorophyll production slows down and stops; allowing the other colors to show.  Our typical Mid-Western autumn weather of sunny days ending in cool but not freezing nights produce the most brilliant of Fall colors.  Interestingly, any variance in environment; too cold, too hot, too rainy, affect how much Fall color we see.


What do you think?  Are we sporting some brilliant Autumn red, gold, bronze or orange?  Or did our scorching summer doom us to a drably brown fall?

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Buckthorn Could be plaguing your Minnesota Back Yard

Have a backyard Buckthorn problem?  Throughout the Northern Midwest, we find more and more invasive Buckthorn making for drab backyard views.  In fall we want to look out on our backyards and see the fiery reds, brilliant golds and majestic oranges of changing leaves. If we have predominantly, green and late turning Buckthorn in or landscapes, we will not only miss the colorful autumn but will have an inhospitable, thorny landscape filled with an aggressive and non-native plant species.

As you’ve heard us discuss before, one of the tenants of low-maintenance landscape design is to create an environment that is predominately planted with native plants, trees and shrubs.  Well, the quick growing, thorny Buckthorn is anything but native to Eastern Wisconsin and Western Minnesota.  In fact, it is categorized as a noxious weed in Minnesota and according to the Minnesota department of natural resources, “it is illegal to import, sell or transport Buckthorn in Minnesota.” Our advice to you, is if you think you may have a Buckthorn problem, that is more than one Buckthorn tree hanging around your backyard, take care to remove the infiltrator quickly!  No use waiting around to have him leave quietly, soon he will invite all his friends and these non-native tree squatters will choke out your lovely small oaks and native aspens.

How to spot

This photo found on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website, gives us an idea of what Buckthorn looks like.

Buckthorn from the MN-DNR


European or Common Buckthorn:  This is the most widespread and problematic of the Buckthorn found in Minnesota.  John Moriarty helps us out by describing this type of Buckthorn as having “small alternate simple leaves, black berries and a flaky bark.”  They also have short side thorns.  Hmm…must be a defense mechanism since they are so unwanted.   It’s a good think it’s fall, because now is the easiest time to spot these critters, as they take much longer than others to change color and will stay green throughout much of the fall months.

If you think you might have a Buckthorn problem beginning in your yard, let us know.  Give one of our St. Croix Valley Landscaping designers a call; we’d be happy to stop by for a free consultation!

Resources: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/terrestrialplants/woody/buckthorn/index.html

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Musings on Low Maintenance Landscape Design in the St. Croix Valley

Everyday we get questions like, why does your company focus on sustainability and low maintenance landscape design?  The answer is all too simple, we believe that this is the only world we have and it is our job to be stewards of the nature that surrounds us.  When Germaine and Scott began St. Croix Valley Landscaping, they each drew on their past experiences and professions for inspiration.  Germaine was in the health care industry working as a nurse and Scott was an Engineer.  Taking both a love for health and healthy living and combining it with a passion for design, they began to see how they could make a difference in our environment one landscape at a time.

Low Maintenance and sustainability don’t mean that you have to give up beauty in design.  There is a special draw in simplicity.  From  native plants you get the wild, untamed views that nature has already figured out are pleasing.  From rain gardens you get to harness the peaceful sounds of water and the soothing rush of a tiny streams.  When we look a the majesty of our St. Croix River or are able to take a walk in the silent woods surrounding Whitebear Lake, we see why we chose Osceola as our settling point and why we chose low maintenance and environmentally sound landscaping as our  profession.  What could be better than living well, living eco-friendly and living so close to nature?  In our book, nothing.  We hope you enjoy our designs and enjoy the simple outdoors!

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Ornamental Grasses are catching on in the Midwest

Long know as the darlings of autumn, Ornamental Grasses are growing in popularity.  If you are considering a landscape redesign or are just looking to spruce up some existing plantings, check out the versatility, longevity and low maintenance draw of these gorgeous plumes!  The drama and carefree beauty that these native grasses can bring to your Wisconsin landscape are unparalleled in the landscape design world.   Take a look at why ornamental grasses are well worth a look for your low maintenance landscape redesign.

Low Maintenance Majesty

Once established, ornamental grasses are super easy to maintain.  They are resilient to the point of surviving extremes in weather from a wet and rainy spring to the hottest of mid-western summers.  Not only are they hardy, but grasses also lend versatility to your space.  From a more manicured look to the naturalized woodland prairie design, ornamental grasses fit in seamlessly.  Oh, and most are virtually disease and pest free.  What could be better?  Here are a few to look  for in our Western Wisconsin and Eastern Minnesota climates.


Feather Reed Grass

Its slender yellow spikes begin to appear in the cool of the late spring weather.  The bright golden hue can last well into winter.  These can grow up to 4’-5’ in height.

Photo Credit Bungee

Tufted Hair Grass

This dark green beauty can begin growth in early summer and peaks in late August and can grow up to about 18” high.

Photo Credit: Geocaching.com


Little Bluestem

This widespread US native is an effective ground cover used for erosion control.  This naturally blue foliage turns a spectacular bronze to flaming-orange color in fall that will last well into winter.

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ABC’s of Low Maintenance Landscaping Part 2: N-Z

We know you’ve all been waiting with baited breath for our next installment of Low Maintenance yard tips for your Minnesota yard.


N: Native Plants…for low maintenance ease, you can never go wrong in selecting native plantings for your landscape design.  From gorgeous golden rod to the water wise hydrangea glory, no eco-friendly landscape is complete without an abundance of native blooms.


O: Optimize your landscaping design budget by using furniture made of recycled material.  Some fantastic options in reclaimed wood are fashionable, functional and wallet friendly.


P: Pops of color draw the eye and make landscape design a beautiful process.  Go color crazy!  See how we took Donna’s yard (image 1) from a drainage nightmare to an attractive rain garden, noticeable from every angle.

Image 1: Donna's yard


Q: Quality materials will make your new landscape design long lasting and lucrative.  Don’t skimp on your investment; call a qualified and experienced Landscape Design Team now!


R: Rain Gardens are both easy on your budget and friendly to your environment, by installing some water wise function to your yard, you’ll help keep our beautiful St. Croix River cleaner and save some money on irrigation costs.


S: Sustainability is a great buzz word in low maintenance landscaping.  It simply means that you use an approach to design that is naturally sustainable and good for our environment.


T: Trees: Use evergreen trees for year round enjoyment and deciduous for gorgeous fall foliage or fruiting trees like red mulberry to attract some wild life!


U: Understand where the run-off in your garden flows.  This is the perfect place to plan your rain garden!


W: Watershed financial incentives provide grants to help with your water wise landscaping project.  Give us a call; we can let you know if your project is eligible.

X: Xeriscaping it might sound like just a term for the dry southwest, but really it’s just talking about using plants and beneficial grasses that area natural to the area.  In fact, all 50 states have some sort of xeriscaping program in place aimed at saving the vital natural resources…water!


Y: Yellow!  Yes yellow flowers like goldenrod are some of our favorite plants to use in a rain garden, and their gorgeous hue attracts all manner of humming birds too!


Z: Zinnias are beautiful additions to your annual garden, grow quickly and will attract Butterflies…Yay!

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The ABC of Low Maintenance Landscaping Part 1: A-M


A:  Always plan your design with an experienced Low Maintenance Landscape Designer

Call us

B: Borrow inspiration from everyday items.  Reusing and Recycling unexpected things like, tires, old pails, even milk jugs can make for some interesting planting accessories.

Great re-use idea from decoratingdiva.com

C: Capture the Rain to re-use in your garden.


D:  Design with both aesthetics and function in mind.


E:  Edibles make great landscaping.  Use edibles everywhere you want color, function and beauty. What could be better than getting to eat what you sow?


F:  Functional landscapes are those that encourage biodiversity, use water efficiently and reward you with the way they look and low maintenance upkeep.

Nick Draws Birds to his yard.

G: Gardening should bring you joy.


H: Healthy people are those whose lives are balanced.  Eco friendly design helps bring you back into harmony with nature and being outdoors enhances your health.


I: Investing in your yards’ appearance, upkeep and function is a wise plan for your future.


J: Jeweled Shooting Star and June Grasses.  These two native plants make great additions to your low maintenance yard and Jeweled Shooting Star is considered an endangered plant, so reviving it would be a nice feather in your eco-friendly hat!

WI Herbarium's Photo is perfect!

K:  Keep in mind that you are changing the way you interact with your environment!


L: Less maintenance means less working in your yard and more enjoying it instead.

M:  Maintenance (yard-work that is) will soon become a nice rather than naughty word at your dinner table!


Check back in a few days for Part two: N-Z…hmm wonder what we’ll say??

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RAGWEED is in FULL BLOOM in Wisconsin and it may have you sniffling!

Oh yes, Allergy season is in full swing in the Midwestern region of the U.S. Sneezing and drippy, red rimmed eyes are plaguing allergy sufferers all up and down the St. Croix river valley.  So what’s causing us all to have to invest in multiple hankies and boxes of tissue? Well for our area of the country we have RAGWEED to blame.  Check out the photo below to see what this sneeze causing plant looks like.  Look carefully too, because we do not want you to confuse the culprit with the lovely misnomer Sneezeweed or the gorgeous and blameless goldenrod.  ‘’’



Ragweed Vs. Sneezeweed

Sneezeweed, beautiful...no sneezing intended

Ragweed will make you sneeze, and Sneezeweed will just beautify your rain garden.

Often when we suggest Sneezeweed to our clients as hardy and low maintenance native plant for their landscape, they shy away because of the silly name.  Rest assured that Sneezeweed is only a name…this wonderful plant won’t make you sneeze and will offer a brilliant orange color to your landscape.



Goldenrod...no allergy causing pollen here

Goldenrod is another completely innocent plant that is often mistaken for Ragweed.  Because of its delicate features and gorgeous golden hue, we love goldenrod for rain gardens and low maintenance landscaping.  Remember what she looks like, so that the next time you are sneezing you can blame the right pollen maker, and leave goldenrod alone to beautify your landscape.

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