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201 4th Street SE, Room 108
Rochester, MN  55904

Phone:  507-328-2440

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Rain Garden Installation Civic Center South Lot
Native plants in an infiltration trench
Sweeping grass clippings
Rain Garden Installation
Native Vegetation along Roadway

Landscaping for Clean Water

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What you plant in your yard to help water soak in makes a difference!

Landscaping for Clean Water is part of the solution to water pollution because it mimics nature.  In natural landscapes, rain tends to soak into the ground gradually rather than becoming polluted runoff that travels over impervious surfaces on it's way to surface waters.

Everyone has the responsibility of protecting our water and stormwater runoff is the number one water quality problem facing the nation according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  

Follow the links below to learn more about:

Traditional Landscaping Best Practices

Turf Grass

Kentucky bluegrass is one of the most common turf grass throughout the United States and is considered to be naturalized.  This grass has been used widespread because it is a hardy, cool-season grass that can thrive in many climates.  It is a good surface for high traffic areas, such as, sports, outdoor play, and walkways.  It's dense network of shallow roots can control erosion.

The drawbacks of Kentucky bluegrass are its high maintenance needs during the hot, summer months including:

  • watering to maintain a green color
  • fertilizer to replenish the soil nutrients it depletes
  • frequent mowing to keep manicured, socially acceptable appearance
  • pesticides to prevent other species from growing with the Kentucky bluegrass

These high maintenance activities can lead to:

  • water pollution from inappropriate use of lawn chemicals
  • air pollution through overuse of fossil fuels in mowing and chemical production
  • waste of clean, drinking water from over-watering

Best Practices in Traditional Landscaping (save money and resources plus protect our water)

  1. Use fertilizer as directed and do not apply if rain is in the forecast.
  2. Set up a home compost bin to create your own nutrient rich soil and liquid.
  3. Set irrigation systems to water early in the morning or late in the evening when the sun won’t evaporate as much of the water.
  4. Turn off your irrigation system when it’s raining!
  5. Set up a rain barrel to capture rain water from your rooftop. Plus get a rebate as an Rochester Public Utilities customer!
  6. Try lawn mowers that don’t use fossil fuels.



Gardens are great additions to any home landscaping.  But do your research! Be mindful of the plants and seeds that you’re purchasing. Ask questions...

  1. Is this plant native to our area?
  2. Is this plant known to be aggressive and/or invasive?
  3. How does this plant spread it’s seeds, if it produces them?
  4. What conditions does this plant grow well in?
  5. Is this plant an annual, bi-annual, or perennial?


Many staff at garden centers are very knowledgeable, but you can always double check through research online.

Native Plants

Native plants are those species of plants that grew naturally at the time of European settlement in North America. Some of the benefits of planting natives are:

  • Most native plants are perennial so they don't need to be replaced year after year.
  • Native plants have deep, extensive root systems that hold soil into place and prevent erosion. These roots are also responsible for pulling water down into the soil rather than letting it runoff the landscape.
  • Native vegetation is low maintenance and doesn't require regular mowing, watering, mulching, fertilizing, or protection from frost.
  • Native gardens provide food and shelter for native wildlife like butterflies, bees, and birds.

Visit Blue Thumb - Planting for Clean Water website to learn more and select native plants for your landscape.

Rain Gardens

A rain garden is a carefully planned depression in the landscape that collects rainwater and snowmelt. The garden will capture stormwater and allow it to soak into the ground rather than become runoff. Stormwater that is not captured will move across the landscape has the potential to pick up pollutants (lawn, fertilizers, pet waste, car fluids, and more!) and carry them directly to area waterways.

Visit the following websites to find valuable resources to help guide your planning process:

Realize Rain Gardens RochesterThis cost-share grant program helps fund the installation of rain gardens across the City of Rochester. Available resources include: provided include: grant information, planning guides, and a photo tour of rain gardens in Rochester.

Blue Thumb - Planting for Clean Water: This Twin Cities based award-winning collaborative program encourages homeowners to use native plant gardening, rain gardens, and shoreline stabilization to reduce runoff from their home landscape in an effort  to improve water quality. Available resources include: a guide to year round yard care,  partner map, and plant selector tool.

Metro Blooms: This private non-profit volunteer-based education organization promotes environmentally sound gardening and landscaping practices to improve the health of land and water resources. Available resources include: rain garden installation videos and an urban gardeners guide with tips on picking plants and maintenance.

Planting Trees

Trees add beauty to our community and increase the real estate value of our property. They provide shade that helps us conserve energy and keep Rochester cooler. Plus, they provide homes for wildlife, absorb noise, and reduce air pollution.

Residents, developers, builders, and landscapers can promote a cleaner environment by keeping trees in mind when making landscaping plans. Where existing trees can be saved, do so. Where none exist, consider planting trees in boulevards or neighborhood open spaces.


Visit the Forestry Division of the Rochester Park and Recreation Department webpage to learn more about:

  • Planting boulevard trees
  • Working on boulevard trees
  • Citizen Forester training opportunities
  • Citizen Pruner program
  • Emerald Ash Borer and Dutch Elm Disease management

Perennial Ground Cover (and Habitat Restoration)

A diverse matrix of native grasses and forbs, perennial ground cover can be adapted to almost any growing condition. It can be low-growing if desired.  Planting perennial ground cover offers maximum ecological impact.

Visit Blue Thumb Website to learn how to get started.

Low Maintenance Turf

Low maintenance turf functions as a typical lawn but is made up of species that require less water, fertilizers, pesticides, and mowing than Kentucky bluegrass.  Most low maintenance lawns are a mix of fine and/or tall fescues, both cool season grasses that are shade and drought tolerant.

Visit Blue Thumb website to learn how to get started.

Pollinator Friendly (Bee) Lawns 

Bee lawns are made of a tight mix of grasses and low-growing perennials that can be used and treated much like a regular lawn but also offer high-quality nutrition to pollinators.

Visit Blue Thumb website to learn how to get started.

Shoreline Stabilization

Is your lakeshore eroding, unsightly or seem to be a goose magnet? Does your lake water turn green each summer? Native plants stabilize shorelines and act as a buffer between your yard and the lake. The roots of native plants filter and absorb polluted run-off and excess nutrients before they ever enter the water. What’s more, native plants anchor soil while beautifying your shoreline. The natural height and density of native plantings also discourage geese who prefer turf. Encourage neighbors to join you in keeping your lake clean. After all, protecting the lake enhances everyone’s enjoyment while preserving property values.  

Visit Blue Thumb website to learn how to get started.