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Drought-Wise Gardening in Union County

Despite the occasional thunderstorm, rain has been in short supply in Union County over the past several weeks. Gardens are wilting under dry conditions, and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has declared a statewide drought watch. Union County gardeners can take steps to sustain their plantings through cycles of storm and drought by focusing on hardy native species and water conservation.

“Drought-wise gardens can help avoid the cost of high-maintenance plantings and save on water bills, while also attracting birds, butterflies and other beneficial pollinators. They can also help prevent excess stormwater runoff and flooding during heavy rains,” said Union County Commissioner Chair Rebecca L. Williams. 

During dry periods, hardy native plants, shrubs and trees help to conserve water and reduce the need for yard care chemicals. They also contribute to a more diverse and healthful ecosystem.

Union County’s free downloadable guide to planting native species, Plant This, Not That, is available online at ucnj.org/green-connection/gardens.

More information about the role of trees in water conservation and flood prevention is available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Native plants and shrubs can also be deployed in specialized rain gardens to help reduce ponding and flooding during heavy rains. A rain garden bed is created with soils that enable more water to seep naturally into the ground, helping to sustain the garden bed during dry periods.

Rain barrels are another strategy that enables gardeners to “bank” water during rainy periods, for later use. For guidance on installing rain barrels, visit the Rutgers Water Resources Program online at water.rutgers.edu.

For more information about landscaping for water conservation in New Jersey, visit the Rutgers New Jersey Agriculture Experiment Station at njaes.rutgers.edu/home-lawn-garden/water-conservation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also provides general guidance on water conservation for property owners, including taking steps to ensure that any in-ground irrigation systems are working efficiently. For more details visit epa.gov/watersense.

Gardeners who are interested in seeing photos of local rain gardens in Union County can visit the “Rain Gardens of Union County” biodiversity project online at the Rutgers New Jersey Agriculture Experiment Station.

To see local rain gardens in person, visit Union County’s Trailside Nature and Science Center, located in the Watchung Reservation at 452 New Providence Road in Mountainside. Trailside is participating in the Rutgers biodiversity project. The facility hosts two sets of rain gardens designed by staff of the Rutgers Water Resources Program and funded by a NJDEP grant, for a total of five gardens in all.

The five gardens are located between the Trailside parking lot and the Scout Camping Area. Working together as a system, they enable storm runoff from the parking lot and other paved surfaces to seep into the ground, and to feed a nearby stream. The gardens also help prevent storm runoff from damaging a nearby hiking trail.

The grounds of Trailside are open to the public every day from dawn to dusk, as with all Union County parks. The Trailside building is open free of charge from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. every day except Mondays and holidays. More details about programs and activities at Trailside are available at ucnj.org/trailside.

For quick links to all environmental services of Union County, visit the Green Connection at ucnj.org/green-connection.

More than 90% of Union County is currently classified as experiencing moderate drought conditions by the National Integrated Drought Information System. To check on local conditions use the zip code search engine at drought.gov.

For details about the NJ DEP drought watch declaration visit https://www.nj.gov/dep.

For information and updates on all Union County services during the COVID-19 outbreak, including free vaccination, free testing, emergency food distribution and other support services, visit ucnj.org/covid19. General information about COVID-19 is available through the New Jersey Department of Health at nj.gov/health.

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For all Union County programs and services visit ucnj.org, call the Public Info Line, 877-424-1234, email info@ucnj.org or use the online Contact Form.

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