July, 2011

In This Issue:
Planting a Wildflower Meadow
Q&A with the AB
Digging up Dirt on Rain Gardens


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Gardening Tip #1


Tall, fall-flowering plants like Swamp Sunflower (Helianthus), Joy-Pye Weed (Eutrochium), Ironweed (Vernonia), Mums (Chrysanthemum), and Asters (Aster) can be cut back by one-third to one-half to reduce their ultimate height and to prevent them from lodging (falling over).  Cut them back after they flower and you should get a second round of blooms!




Plant Spotlight

Echinacea x 'Sundown'


Echinacea x 'Sundown'

This happy native plant blooms prolifically from July through fall. Commonly called 'coneflower', it tolerates all types of soils, and can even endure drought. 'Sundown' takes full sun, attracts butterflies, bees, and birds and grows more vigorously than other Echinacea varieties. It has a rose-like fragrance and makes an excellent cut flower. 

What's not to love?!

This plant can be seen at the new TYN Low Impact Development Demonstration Area, adjacent to the UT Gardens.



Gardening Tip #2

You should harvest vegetables regularly from your garden to keep it productive.  Don't let them get too big!  Instead, pick them at the peak of their maturity for maximum nutrition and deliciousness!



Stay Tuned!

 Next month's newsletter will feature an article by our in-house Master Gardener, Joy Stewart, on creating a customized wildflower meadow seed mix!

Also check back next month for a look into our new demonstration rain garden!



Gardening Tip #3

Watering your yard is not totally necessary -- it is OK to let it go dormant since it will be revived with the cooler weather and heavier rainfall in autumn.





Newsletter Glossary





The slow movement of water through the pores in soil or permeable rock.



Native [Plant]



A plant indigenous to a particular geographic region prior to human disturbance. 






Water that collects or flows beneath the earth's surface, filling the porous spaces in soil, sediment, and rocks.  Groundwater originates from rainwater and from melting snow and ice and is the source of water for aquifers, springs, and wells.  The upper surface of groundwater is the 

water table.






Gardening Tip #4

If you need to prune your Hydrangeas, be sure to do it right after they stop blooming.  The new flower buds are formed in late summer and early fall, so pruning in the late fall or winter will eliminate any chance of flowers for next year.


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TYN is improving our great state!

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Joy Stewart 

Master Gardener


Planting a Native Tennessee Wildflower Meadow



Creating a native wildflower meadow in your yard is a combination of work, excitement and surprises.  You can create a lovely wildflower meadow with no more work than would be required for a formal manicured flower garden, and you can enjoy it for years to come with even less work.  Plus you have the fun of watching your plantings develop and of seeing the birds, butterflies and bees that are immediately drawn to your yard.  It also changes the way we think about gardening--no more assigning a plant to its proper spot and engaging in a continuous ongoing battle to keep it in its assigned spot.  Instead it is a very dynamic process, as plants move around and find their niches.   Mother Nature is the master gardener, and I always marvel at her ability to create a dynamic evolving garden.


So what is a wildflower garden?  A wildflower meadow is simply a collection of grasses and flowering plants that grow in a natural, uncultivated state-annuals, biennials or perennials-and native to the United States, or in our case, to Tennessee.   Grasses form the backbone of the meadow, and although there is no required percentage of grasses, 50% is a good target figure. 


Although there are some steps that are required no matter how you create your meadow, there is no wrong or right way to do it.  I would like to share with you the steps that I have followed in my yard.  I have the classic hillside slopes and heavy clay that are so common in Tennessee, and I have adapted my strategies to meet these often frustrating conditions. 



Plant Selection


Right Plant, Right Place: The TYN principle "right plant, right place" was never truer than in creating a wildflower garden.  Native plants have evolved over thousands of years to handle specific conditions of light, water and soil; in fact, our native plants helped create our Tennessee soil.  With that in mind, always assess the lighting, moisture and soil conditions in the specific site that you intend to plant.  There are great resources, both on the Internet and from native plant nursery catalogs, which will help you select the right species for your site.



50' by 30' butterfly meadow planting on slope with geo-jute, first year, early spring from fall seeding


More is Better: More is better when it comes to choosing the number of plant species.  I have three areas of wildflower meadow, ranging from roughly 400 square feet to 1,500 square feet, and I try to follow the rule of 20-30 species per planting--the larger the area, the greater the number of species.  You do not know for sure which ones are going to do well so you need to plan for the fact that some species will either not show up at all or will show up and then disappear within a year or two.  Greater plant diversity means a longer bloom period, more color, more texture, and more wildlife visitors.

Meadow AFTER

Butterfly meadow planting, mid-summer, first year with annuals dominant

 Add Annual Seed to your Mix: One fun strategy is to add annual seed to your mix.   Annuals not only give you bright instant color, they are among the best nectar plants for bees and butterflies.  They can also act as a nurse crop to provide some cover while the slower growing perennials get started. Tennessee has some pretty, colorful annuals, such as Firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella), Lemon beebalm (Monarda bradburiana), and Annual phlox (Phlox drummondii).


I will be doing a separate article in an upcoming newsletter on how to prepare your own seed mix which is one of the most fun parts of planning a wildflower meadow.




Site Preparation


Good Site Preparation: Good site preparation is a make-or-break requirement.  The goal is to kill not only all existing vegetation at your meadow site but also eliminate as much of the weed seed bank on the soil as you can.  Begin by spraying with a non-selective herbicide in early to mid-April in order to kill the lawn or other current vegetation, especially the winter annuals before they can go to seed.  As new vegetation starts to re-appear, re-spray the area periodically over the entire summer and into the fall.  Your goal is to kill all weeds and tough grasses, such as Bermuda grass, as they germinate or try to re-grow from existing roots.  A re-spraying every 4-6 weeks is usually sufficient, but it will depend on your specific conditions.


If you are replacing lawn with wildflower meadow, you will have a brown patch for the entire growing season, but think of it as a great break from mowing, watering and other yard care requirements.


Ensure Germination: Because I am working on slopes and have very shallow top soil over heavy clay, I do not plow or till the soil in any way.  I simply leave the dead sod in place, and it lasts long enough to help hold the new seed and as it decays, it provides fertilizer for the new plantings.  This is not the usual recommended strategy, and it does require that seed be put down in late fall or early winter so it has time to work its way down to the soil.  Nonetheless, I have found this strategy to be very successful.





Customize your Seed Mix: Prepare your seed mix based on your selected species and on the number of square feet that you are planting.  Typically, 50-100 seeds per square foot are recommended.  I usually use 100-150 seeds per square foot due to the fact that I am scattering seed on the soil surface and over dead sod so germination success is lower.  In these volumes, it is necessary to find a supplier who sells native seed in bulk.  Bulk prices can be quite reasonable.


Seed your Site: Seed should be hand scattered on the site in mid-December or no later than early January.  The majority of native plant species require at least two months of either dry stratification (cold, dry conditions) or wet stratification (cold, damp conditions).  Without this period, the seed will not germinate.  Mixing the seed with some sand or top soil before you scatter it makes the job easier.  If you are doing a large area, it helps to divide the area into sections and divide your soil/sand-seed mix into an equal number of bags so you can better control how equitably you are applying your mix.


If you are dealing with a fairly steep slope, I recommend a product called geo-jute or jute matting erosion control cloth.  This is simply a very open weave of burlap cloth (about an inch between strands) that comes in 4' wide rolls.  When unrolled across newly scattered seed, it helps keep the seed in place during heavy rain, and it helps conserve moisture when the seed comes up.  The cloth biodegrades in about one year, and you can purchase it in 100' rolls from Great Western Bag Company in McMinnville, Tennessee or buy smaller quantities (at a much greater cost per foot) from the On-Line Fabric Store. 


If you are not sure what your seedlings will look like when they come up and therefore will not be able to distinguish them from weed seedlings, plant a few peat pots of each species and put them out in your garage for two months in December, January or February.  Water well and cover lightly with waxed paper and newspaper.   Check them periodically to make sure they are not drying out.  Then bring them indoors and put them under a grow light.  You can watch them come up and learn to recognize them.  You will be surprised at how much success you will have. 


Front Yard BEFORE

Small front yard wildflower meadow planting with geo jute -first year,

 mid- March from fall seeding




Weed your Site: The first year will be a time of transition.   The meadow will probably be dominated by the more opportunistic species in your mix, and many native species will still be fairly small because most of their growth is going into their roots.  You will need to choose between a "weeding strategy" and a "no-weeding strategy."  The usual recommendation is no weeding but rather mowing at a high setting which will prevent annual weeds from going to seed and not harm the native plants which will be small.  Weeding is not recommended due to the risk of bringing up more weed seeds from the soil.  Personally, I choose the former strategy of weeding.  I want to insure that my native plants are in control of the site, and I find that natives planted in Tennessee grow faster and taller than the books predict. 


It is difficult to predict how much weeding will be required that first year.  It can range from very little to a great deal.  I have had both experiences, and I am not sure what makes the difference.

Front Yard AFTER

Small front yard wildflower meadow planting, first year, mid-June, from

fall seeding combined with spring peat pots



Native plants need about three years to become fully established, and during that time you are likely to do some weeding each year.  However, native plants are exceptionally competitive with weeds and after these first years, weeding needs are very modest.  Then it is time to sit back and just enjoy.


If you are safely able to do so at your location, another option is to burn your meadow in early spring about once every three years.  Burning is very healthy for the plants and can often make significant changes in the mix of flowers that bloom following a burn.  However, safety should be the prime consideration, and always check to see if you need a burn permit.



And most of all ...


Enjoy your Site: Growing wildflowers and grasses in a natural setting is a great adventure.  Every year is full of changes and surprises -- you may even find some unexpected native plants popping up because their seeds have been lying dormant in the soil just waiting for a chance to return.  Always take a few moments to sit out in the midst of it all and treasure its beauty and marvel at your many visitors, big and small.


If you have other experiences to share or advice to offer, please feel free to contact me at joylarry@btes.tv.  I would love to hear from you.

Vickie Houston headshot

Vickie Houston,

Crab Orchard Utility District




Q&A with 

the A.B.






Vickie Houston sits on the TYN Advisory Board, and serves as Assistant General Manager for the Crab Orchard Utility District.  We asked Vickie a few questions about what she does and how the TYN program can benefit homeowners and the Utility District:



Q: How long have you been with Crab Orchard and what is your current role?

A: I've been with Crab Orchard Utility District (COUD) since May of 2003, when I was hired as Assistant General Manager.


Q: As an Assistant General Manager for a utility what have been some of your greatest challenges?

A: My greatest challenge so far has been defeating the common misperception held by the general public that there is plenty of water to last forever, regardless of how much we use or how we treat it.


The part of my job I enjoy the most is communicating with the public, especially the children.  When my daughter was learning about the water cycle in second grade, it struck me that, that was an ideal opportunity to simultaneously educate the youth about the importance of conserving and protecting our water.  With that in mind, I initiated the COUD "Student Conservation Program" in 2008.  COUD sponsors the program, along with participation from a local orthodontist and occasional grant funding.  We distribute packets full of fun things for kids, like games, puzzles, rulers, pencils, magnets, and information on water conservation specifically for the parents.  The local orthodontist even throws in toothbrushes and toothpaste!  I'm finding that children are great enforcers for the parents when they feel like they can really make a difference.


Q: Both personally and professionally, what have you found most useful about TYN (or what initially attracted you to become involved in TYN)?

A: Conservation education is a great concern and a valuable personal asset, especially for those of us living here on the Plateau which has no large impoundment or river access nearby.  TYN provides that education to homeowners, and it also taught me about conservation on a deeper level.  It got me to think more about conserving water and ways to teach other people how to do it, too.


Not just that, but I'm an avid gardener, and TYN has taught me some efficient gardening techniques!


Q: How could TYN benefit your customers?  

A: Since we live on the Plateau, teaching our customers ways to keep the rainwater from running off so quickly and ways to use water more efficiently will be a tremendous benefit.  Since we can't draw drinking water from a river or impoundment, it is essential that rainwater is absorbed by the soil instead of running into nearby creeks.  That way we make sure to recharge the groundwater supply.


Q: Why is it important to conserve water?  Wouldn't a utility want its customers to be using water since that is how it makes its money? 

A: Although selling water is our business, we also want to encourage good stewardship.  At COUD, our mission is to provide safe, reliable drinking water to the residents of Cumberland County at the lowest possible cost and still meet all federal and state requirements.  In droughts like we experienced only a few years ago, it brought to the forefront that conservation is vital.  We had to enforce conservation because the water table was so low we were worried about being able to provide ample drinking water to our customers.  


Q: What is (are) a homeowner's primary water use(s)? 

A: Naturally, most homeowners' primary water expenditures include day-to-day uses, like drinking, cooking, bathing, and laundry.  In conditions of extreme weather, some avid gardeners will sprinkle their lawn and gardens.


Q: From your perspective, what are the top three ways a homeowner can conserve water, either in the home or in the yard?

A: There are many ways we can be more conscious of water use, but what I have found contributes the largest significant savings are rainwater collection, recycling, and low-flow faucets and toilets. 


Q: How does water conservation on a homeowner level impact the utility company?  Does it benefit Crab Orchard?

A: Independent water conservation doesn't impact us much except in times of drought, and then it helps us a lot.  Many people are inclined to water their lawns and gardens when things get dry, but that's the worst time irrigate!  Whatever water they can conserve on their own helps the utility company throughout the summer drought season. 


When things get really dry, we just don't have as much water as everyone wants/needs because there is no major river or impoundment to draw from.


Q: As Assistant General Manager, what would you like the future of homeowner water conservation to look like?  What would be ideal?

A: There is lots of erosion from heavy rains, and there aren't a lot of storm drains in the district, so stormwater runoff is seeping into the rivers and streams without being filtered or cleaned.  If homeowners installed rain barrels and rain gardens that would help a great deal.  It would help recharge our drinking water supply, and it would also filter the water before it was absorbed into the ground.


back to top 


Digging up Dirt on Rain Gardens


Smolinski Rain Garden


What is a rain garden?
A rain garden is a landscape feature that is designed to collect and absorb rain water.  It is constructed as a shallow level depression to hold the rain water (also referred to as stormwater) long enough for it to be absorbed into the soil.  It is typically planted with deep-rooted grasses, perennials, and shrubs native to the area that can live under both wet and dry conditions.  A rain garden's primary purpose is to reduce the amount of stormwater flowing off of a property that would otherwise enter a stormwater conveyance system (e.g., ditches, pipes) and eventually empty into a local stream and river.   Stormwater is often contaminated with a variety of urban pollutants, so rain gardens also help keep streams and rivers healthy. 

Why plant a rain garden?

Rain gardens can be viewed as functional landscape amenities, benefitting the environment as well as enhancing a home's curb appeal.  In regards to the environment, a rain garden is an ideal home stormwater management strategy.  It is generally placed in a location that will capture stormwater draining off of impervious (hard) surfaces like a driveway, walkway, compacted lawn, or roof top.  These are also surfaces that are often contaminated with substances that can pollute our local water bodies.  For example, a driveway may have oil and antifreeze that has dripped on it; a lawn may have had excessive fertilizers and pesticides applied; and a dog pen may contain bacteria-laden waste.  When stormwater is directed to a rain garden, these pollutants can be filtered out as the stormwater is absorbed into the soil.  As a result, rain gardens help reduce the amount of contaminated stormwater entering our local streams, and through the process of soil infiltration, our groundwater supplies are replenished with cleaner water.  Suburban neighborhoods that have installed multiple rain gardens also benefit from a reduced volume of stormwater leaving the neighborhood.  That translates to less water flowing into surrounding creeks after storms, and a reduced capacity of stormwater to erode streambanks and cause local flooding. 


From an aesthetic perspective, rain gardens can come in many shapes and sizes and can be incorporated into a formal landscape or blended into a more naturalized one.  With the right combination of plants, they can simply be a real show-stopper, with the added benefit of requiring less water.  For the wildlife enthusiast, rain gardens also provide a wonderful opportunity to incorporate plants that can attract a diversity of fauna like birds and butterflies.  

How do rain gardens work?

A rain garden is designed to drain a portion of the rain water falling on your property and, in some cases, the properties around you.  It may include a portion of your roof top, your driveway, walkways, and lawn.  The volume of the rain garden is sized to capture an inch of rain water falling over the total area draining to your rain garden.  It should drain within 24 hours so there should be no worries about it becoming aRain Gauge mosquito breeding ground.  To function properly, a rain garden must contain soil that percolates (drains).  If a soil is laden with clay it may be necessary to replace at least a portion of the soil with organic materials and sand.  Following a rain event, the rain water will percolate through the soil and leave behind the pollutants it collected and transported on its journey to the rain garden.  Over time, the pollutants are broken down and removed through a combination of chemical, physical, and biological processes as they migrate through mulch and soil layers and, in some instances, are absorbed by plants. 


Rain gardens should be located somewhere between the stormwater source and the stormwater outlet on the edge of a property.  It needs to be placed at least 10 ft away from the foundation of a house and is typically located at one of the lower elevations on the property.  Grassy swales are often used to direct the rain water from its source (e.g. a gutter) to the rain garden.  They work best in sunny or partially sunny spots, but can be constructed in shady areas, too.  They typically have a depth of about 6 inches up to 1 ft; have a fairly level bottom; and often have at least one side that is bermed.  The primary challenge with rain gardens, as with any garden, is keeping it mulched and weeded.  


For more information on rain garden design and installation steps, see:




Rain Gardens for Nashville:  Resource Guide for PLANNING, DESIGNING and MAINTAINING a beautiful Rain Garden

Rain Gardens: A how to manual for homeowners 

University of Wisconsin - Extension, UWEX Publication (GWQ037)




The Rain Garden

University of Georgia College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences




Rain gardens can be installed by a homeowner or with the help of a landscaping company.  It is important that the homeowner fully understand how to construct the garden before hiring someone else to help.  Use the reference guides to assist in learning more about rain gardens and look for more municipalities to be conducting rain garden workshops.  TYN will soon be developing one for homeowners, so stay tuned for more information.  On a final note, if you do have substantial stormwater issues on your property (e.g., consistent water in your basement after a rain), contact a stormwater professional for guidance before installing a rain garden.  Your property could require a combination of stormwater strategies, which may or may not include a rain garden.


See ya' next month!


Thanks so much for reading!  Check back in with us next month for details on our new projects and more tips on achieving the ideal home garden landscape! 
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Keep in Touch!


Ruth Anne Hanahan & Dr. Andrea Ludwig

TYN Statewide Co-Directors

 Tennessee Water Resources Research Center

University of Tennessee

311 Conference Center

Knoxville, TN 37996