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River-Friendly Gardening for Tenants and Owners

As DC residents, it is all of our responsibility, whether we rent or own our homes, to help protect our rivers and mitigate damage from storm water. There are several ways to plan your garden so as to both beautify your property and lessen runoff. In many cases, the DC government will provide great assistance to owners or renters who endeavor to improve their footprint and make their gardens river-friendly.

My husband and I participated in a great program called RiverSmart Homes and had a rain barrel and rain garden installed in our small yard. You can sign up as an owner or a renter (as long as you have your landlord’s permission), and be added to the waiting list for the program. Though wait times for participation can be long – we ended up waiting over a year – the benefits are great and well worth the wait. For the price of a couple small copays, the city provided us with a rain barrel to capture all the runoff from our roof, and a rain garden installation into which the rain could flow.

The installation of the rain garden was no minor process. A landscape architect planned out which native, rain-loving plants would create a beautiful, colorful landscape, and then almost half our yard was excavated in order to install the gravel and organic topsoil that would comprise our garden. Beneath the soil, a large hose was run from our rain barrel. Around a dozen plants were planted, which over the past 6 months have filled out nicely into a beautiful and productive (we have two very fertile blueberry bushes) garden. The great thing about rain gardens is that they are as attractive as they are environmentally-friendly. Rain barrels are large and can be tricky to fit into a small space, but the nine square feet of deck that we had to sacrifice was well worth the benefits to the environment and the expense saved by our barrel.

Shade trees are another way to both improve your property and help save our rivers at the same time. Trees can capture a great deal of rain, thus lessening the impact of storm water on the city’s sewage infrastructure. The RiverSmart Homes program will subsidize shade tree plantings, or you can apply for the Casey Trees rebate for planting a tree of your choice. Shade trees can help save you money on your energy bills in the summer and can make your property more pleasant and desirable to renters or buyers.

Sick of looking at that ugly, cracked concrete parking pad or patio in your backyard? Pervious pavers are an attractive way to replace existing impervious surfaces, mitigate storm water runoff, and increase your curb appeal. These pavers come in many varieties and colors, and if you have a large enough area to replace, the city may subsidize them through the RiverSmart Homes program. After you’ve worked hard to beautify your garden, you’ll want to spend time outside to enjoy it. Pervious pavers can give you the high-end patio look without creating as much runoff as brick or pavement.

Creating a river-friendly garden is a great way to improve your home and create a space you can enjoy throughout the season. Thankfully, the programs and government subsidies DC offers can make it affordable for almost anyone who has access to green space to help improve storm water management in the city.

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