Sustainability Tips

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Sustainability Tips

Learn more about sustainable living from the Sustainability Commission.

drought proof your lawn

Despite its fame for its abundance of water, “the land of 10,000 lakes” has been really dry. Due to the effects of climate change, Minnesota has experienced more frequent and persistent drought conditions since 2021. Droughts can occur during any season when there is a lack of precipitation, unusually warm weather, or both – as we experienced this past winter with high temperatures and little snowfall.

Minnesota is a headwaters state, meaning all of our groundwater and surface water resources are replenished exclusively by precipitation.[1],[2] When that precipitation is lacking, our water resources become stressed, making water conservation more important than ever. It is our responsibility as residents of Columbia Heights to conserve and protect water in our area – understanding the amount of water we use daily, preventing contamination of water sources, and much more. We don’t have to be water experts to make a positive impact for our community – a few simple steps in our own backyards can go a long way:

  • Xeriscaping! (pronounced like “zero-scaping”). This is the name for removing grass lawns (which aren’t native to most of the US) and replacing them with native plants and other natural features that better align with the local water cycle. For example, a grass lawn in Columbia Heights requires a lot of drinking water to keep green! Instead, you can remove some (or all!) of this turf and replace it with drought-tolerant plants.
  • When choosing your plants, think native! Minnesota is home to thousands of beautiful native plants perfectly adapted to our climate, weather patterns, and drought conditions. Resources like the University of Minnesota Master Gardeners have many online and in-person guides for planting drought-tolerant plants and caring for them throughout the seasons. For example, trade your water-intensive hydrangea bushes for juniper, potentilla, or other drought-tolerant shrubs native to our region.
  • Try adding in composting and mulch! Finding the right plants and space is a great start to your xeriscaping journey – but how you care for these plants over time is just as important. Consider starting a backyard compost bin or buying composted material from your favorite garden store to give your plants a natural boost of moisture and nutrients without any added chemicals or fertilizers. Putting a 2 – 3 inch layer of mulch around your new plants will help retain water by preventing evaporation and soaking up stormwater – not to mention slowing the growth of weeds and ensuring plant nutrients don’t wash or blow away!

Whether you start with a small corner or tackle your whole yard, the benefits of drought-proofing will add up quickly:

  • Save money! Using less water in your yard is great for your wallet! The City of Columbia Heights purchases all water from Minneapolis, which ultimately comes from the mighty Mississippi. Stop paying for sprinklers and save big on your water bill this year – all while conserving our water supply for other important uses.
  • Tolerate droughts: A less water-intensive yard will better equip your plants and other lawn features to handle hot and dry conditions, maintaining usability and natural beauty even during drought summers.
  • Stop flooding and erosion: A xeriscaped yard is also better at handling sudden influxes of water – native plants and mulch absorb water better than grass lawns, reducing the risk of flooding in your home or road/sidewalks.
  • Create a habitat for plants and insects: Planting a wide variety of native plants, shrubs, and trees creates a vibrant habitat that will welcome countless pollinators to your yard – bees, butterflies, birds, and much more!

Questions? Please reach out to the Sustainability Commission for more information!

[2] Bradt, R.J., 2023, Groundwater Atlas of Becker County, Minnesota: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, County Atlas Series C-42, Part B, report, 3 pls., GIS files.