As Tara Iyer reaches down to pull a weed from her lakeshore garden along Green Lake in Chisago County, a swallowtail butterfly alights on a nearby flower blossom. A gust of wind sends the blossom with its passenger fluttering gently up and down. Tara’s husband Shravan takes notice.
“It’s so amazing seeing what’s here – butterflies, bees, birds – there’s so much life on our shoreline now,” he says.
Butterflies and bees have also discovered John and Joyce Wilking’s Green Lake shoreline garden. A luxurious mix of native plants, with their blossoms of purple, yellow, white, and pink, are teeming with insects darting back and forth between them.
“I love being able to look down from the house in the morning and just seeing all the different pops of color from the garden,” Joyce says.
Mickey Carlson on Kroon Lake doesn’t have a large amount of bees or blossoms just yet on her shoreline – her native shoreline buffer was planted last fall and the plants are still only inches tall. That hasn’t deterred her from hanging her “Please excuse the weeds, we’re feeding the bees” sign in her garden.
“I like the thought of doing something that makes a difference for the environment, but I also am excited that when the plants are more established, they can help stop erosion on my steep shoreline,” she says.
Scott and Jane Weiss on North Center Lake have a similar reason. They just had their lakeshore buffer garden installed this summer, and they are excited to see whether the buffer can help reduce the amount of erosion from ice heaving along their shoreline.
“We live on the horn of the lake and even with riprap along the shoreline, we feel pretty exposed with all the ice heaving in the late winter and early spring – we’re hoping the buffer will help keep the shoreline more stable,” says Jane.
Scott and Sarah Noland planted their shoreline buffer last year on South Center Lake noticing how many invasive species they had along their shoreline.
“When we first moved into our house three years ago, the shoreline was all invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn. We wanted a native, natural landscape with lots of pollinator habitat,” says Scott.
All of these landowners have one thing in common – they took advantage of the Lawns to Legumes Demonstration Neighborhood program funding offered through the Chisago Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) and matched with Chisago Lakes Lake Improvement District funding to plant their native plant gardens. As pollinator populations continue to drop, there has been a significant push at the state and local level to incentivize landowners to plant native plants and buffers that serve as habitat for these species. Landowners in the Chisago Lakes area can receive up to $3,000 to cover shoreline plantings or pollinator pocket gardens, with a 25% cost match needed from the homeowner.
Jacquelynn Kelzenberg, a conservation specialist at the Chisago SWCD, serves as the contact for the program and has been excited to see so many landowners take the leap for pollinators.
“It’s so satisfying watching people go through this process and seeing them fall in love with their gardens. Plus, they recognize that they get so many more benefits out of their gardens than just helping pollinators. The deep roots of the native plants help reduce and filter runoff while also stabilizing shorelines, reducing pollution inputs to the lakes. These plants don’t need fertilizers and are more drought-resistant, saving people money. You get gorgeous blossoms all season long, invasive plants aren’t able to thrive, and people even notice that geese end up being less of a problem since they don’t like taller grasses and plants,” she says.
While the benefits list is long, however, planting a native garden is an investment that takes time to mature. In the first couple seasons after planting, new garden owners need to be diligent about weeding as the native plants focus on growing their roots and not spreading out as much above ground. Sometimes landowners can get hesitant because they don’t want to accidently pull a native plant versus a weed. Baby native plants will still need to be watered if the season is dry.
“The weeding was definitely a lot in the first couple seasons, and we had to replace a few plants along the way, but it’s gotten to be less and less maintenance,” says Tara Iyer, “And now, in our third year, the garden has just exploded. We love it so much.”
Jacquelynn emphasizes that she is there to help landowners with the learning curve. She helps landowners decide whether they want to hire a company or do the project on their own. She can help with design, help plan plant purchases, offer tips and tricks to make sure landowners know which plant is which, and provide guidance as needed along the way.
“We recognize that folks are very eager to do things ‘correctly’ and we are happy to provide help; however, the best advice I can give people is that it’s less about being perfect, and more about just making a start and trying something new.”
There is still funding available for shoreline native plantings as well as pollinator pocket gardens throughout the Chisago Lakes area and in the Taylors Falls area. But don’t delay – some funding expires at the end of this year, while the rest expires at the end of May 2023.
“If you’ve been on the fence about planting a pollinator pocket garden or a buffer along your shoreline, there’s still time this year to make it happen and get your reimbursement. Please reach out to us ASAP!” says Jacquelynn.
If you are interested in the Lawns to Legumes program and live in the Chisago Lakes area or in Taylors Falls, you can contact Jacquelynn Kelzenberg for a free site consultation by calling 651-674-2333 or emailing her at Jacquelynn.Kelzenberg@mn.nacdnet.net.
Don’t live in Chisago County? Be sure to check your local county SWCD to see if they have funding available for pollinator plantings!