One Way to Mitigate Flooding? Rip Up That Grass and Plant a Native Garden

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Oak Park middle schooler Jadyn Dale hauls soil in a wheelbarrow last Saturday while helping to install a native garden pathway outside of his school. Below, students plant native vegetation in the garden. | William Camargo/Wednesday Journal

Wild Ones II.jpgTuesday, September 13, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

As the complications of climate change, which include more frequent, more severe flooding, affect the western suburbs, one nonprofit is touting a particularly simple, and elegant, method for dealing with those problems.

West Cook Wild Ones — the Oak Park-based Illinois chapter of a national nonprofit with branches in at least a dozen states — encourages residents and organizations to plant shrubs, trees, plants and grasses native to the region.

Replacing the plain grass in your front-yard with native blooms like purple prairie clover and big bluestem, Wild Ones members say, is as easy as acquiring a shovel, some soil, a wheelbarrow and some native plants — and setting aside several hours over the weekend, as some students who attend an Oak Park middle school did last Saturday.

“You don’t have to water [native plants] as much, since their roots will go down 10 or 15 feet,” said Wild Ones member Stephanie Walquist, who helped out at Brooks. “They also pull down carbon. Because the roots go down [so deep], most of the natives, like the grasses, suck down the carbon and then every year the root system dies back a little bit so that carbon is always down in the soil, unless you till it and dig it. Everybody in Illinois should be doing it.”

“There are Wild Ones chapters all over the country and people can find out what’s native to their area and then plant those kind of things,” said Wild Ones member Carolyn Cullen. “The butterflies and other insects that have lived here for thousands of years — that’s what they like.”

“Illinois used to be 60 percent prairie,” added Walquist. “Now, it’s [less than 1 percent] prairie.”

Native vegetation also requires less maintenance than the non-native kind, the women said. They don’t need pesticides and they naturally attract insects and birds that cultivate a self-contained ecosystem. The plants, Walquist said, pretty much regulate themselves throughout the year. VFP

For more information on Wild Ones, click here. The closest chapter to Bellwood, Broadview, Maywood and Melrose Park is the West Cook Wild Ones in Oak Park. 

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