We’re Certified!

by Layne Knoche, RORG Landscape Designer

As you may have heard, the Red Oak Rain Garden was recently certified through several conservation-related organizations. This blog gives more information about the certifications and how RORG qualtifies for them.

It is our hope that you will be inspired by the Red Oak Rain Garden to install your own rain garden or native plant garden, and then certify it through any of these wonderful organizations:

Monarch Watch Certification: Monarch Waystation

Description: To be considered for a Monarch Waystation certification, your garden must provide food by using caterpillar host species (milkweed) and other various nectar plants. While there is no minimum size requirement for a Monarch Waystation, it is recommended to have at least 100 square meet of garden space with at least 10 milkweed plants. Shelter (dense plantings for cover from predators) is another important qualification that must be met for consideration.

At the Red Oak Rain Garden: As of July 2020, our 10,000 square foot garden is home to dozens of species of nectar plants, as well as three milkweed species including mass plantings of Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa), Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). The garden has a dense groundcover layer over 90% of the garden, providing ample shelter from predators and weather.

Click here to apply for your landscape to be a Monarch Waystation.

Illinois Audubon Society Certification: Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary

Description: This certification requires the utilization of plantings that provide food, shelter, water, and space. Nectar producing plants for bees and butterflies must be present, and berry-producing plants are important to include as sources of food for birds. Other plants include flowers for hummingbirds and plants that attract various insects. Trees and shrubs are important nesting and cover areas for birds and butterflies. Additionally, there should be a source of water in your garden. You must also agree to use minimal chemical application for maintenance, as most chemicals are toxic to the wildlife you’re trying to attract.

At the Red Oak Rain Garden: Along with dozens of nectar-producing native plants, the Red Oak Rain Garden has several species of berry-producing shrubs such as Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea), and Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) among others. Species like Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) attract hummingbirds, and the five species of sedges in the garden have foliage that is consumed by various insects, as well as seeds that are consumed by many bird species. The shrubs in the garden, along with the Sycamore and the Red Oak, provide shelter and nesting for both birds and butterflies.

Click here to apply for your landscape to be a Bird and Butterfly Sanctuary.

National Audubon Society Certification: Plants for Birds

Description: For a Plants for Birds certification, you must provide a variety of native plants that benefit various bird species. Food and shelter are also important considerations.

At the Red Oak Rain Garden: The Red Oak and Sycamore trees, along with all 47 shrubs, provide shelter and nesting space for many bird species. Many plants in the garden (95% of which are straight native species) also are a healthy food source for those same birds.

Click here to apply for your landscape to be certified as Plants for Birds.

National Wildlife Federation Certification: Wildlife Habitat

Description: To receive accreditation as a certified Wildlife Habitat, you must provide food, water, cover and places to raise young, as well as adopt sustainable management practices. For food, you must have plants that produce berries, nuts, seeds, nectar, etc. For water, you must have a birdbath, pond, rain garden, etc. For cover, evergreens, groundcovers, rock piles, etc. are necessary. For sustainable management practices, consider eliminating chemical pesticides, remove non-native plants and animals, use rain barrels, etc. To learn more, go to https://www.nwf.org/Garden-for-Wildlife/Certify

At the Red Oak Rain Garden: The Red Oak produces enough acorns to sustain a small city of squirrels for a decade (kidding, but it’s a lot). Many plants in the garden were chosen not only for aesthetics, but also for ecologic functionality. For example, the vast groundcovers of varying native sedges produce seeds which are consumed by wildlife such as birds and turtles. Groundcovers and rocked areas in the garden function as cover for various wildlife, as well.  The garden often has standing water in the basin for periods of time after rainfall events. Ducks have even been seen swimming around! Our sustainable management practices include no chemical pesticides or herbicides, limiting the need for watering by using native species adapted to withstand some levels of drought, and utilizing the Champaign County Master Gardeners, East Central Illinois Master Naturalists, and other volunteers who keep the garden clear of weeds and invasive, non-native species.

Click here to apply for your landscape to be certified as a Wildlife Habitat.

Wild Ones Certification: Native Plant Butterfly Garden

Description: To qualify for a Native Plant Butterfly Garden, your garden must be two years old and consist of at least 75% native plant species. You should refrain from using chemical pesticides and herbicides, and your garden should be seen attracting butterflies and other pollinators throughout the growing season.

At the Red Oak Rain Garden: While the garden was renovated in the summer and fall of 2020, established plants (Joe Pye Weed, for example) in the garden were already attracting butterflies. With the installation of nearly 9,000 plants, 95% of which were straight native species, the garden is now buzzing with pollinators and butterflies.

Click here to apply for your landscape to be a Native Plant Butterfly Garden.

North American Butterfly Association Certification: Certified Butterfly Garden

Description: This certification requires the use of three or more different plant species that are consumed by caterpillars, at least three different species of nectar plants for butterflies, and the commitment to a chemical-free management regimen.  

At the Red Oak Rain Garden: Many species in the garden are consumed by caterpillars, including Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) which are consumed by Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillars (Papilio Troilus), Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) which are consumed by Monarch caterpillars (Danaus plexippus), and White Turtlehead  (Chelone glabra) which are consumed by Baltimore Checkerspot caterpillars (Euphydryas phaeton). Butterflies are attracted to Rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium), Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida), and Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) among many other species in the garden. The rain garden is maintained by a crew of volunteers who do everything by hand, eliminating the need for any chemical applications.

Click here to apply for your landscape to be a Certified Butterfly Garden.

University of Illinois Extension Certification: Pollinator Pocket

Description: To qualify as a Pollinator Pocket, you should utilize a variety of nectar-producing perennials and annuals and employ best management practices in the garden, such as mulching around plants to reduce weed pressure, managing plant density by thinning crowded species, eliminating the use of pesticides, and other practices.

At the Red Oak Rain Garden: By planting a wide variety of native wildflowers, the garden has sources of nectar from late March into early November, ensuring we’re supporting pollinators throughout the entire growing season. Along with our volunteer force that maintains weeds and invasive species by hand, we apply shredded, natural mulch in areas not filled in with groundcover. We also leave most plant material standing through the winter, as these plants act as nesting sites for various insect species through the cold months.

Click here to apply for your landscape to be a Pollinator Pocket.

Becoming certified is a win-win. Each certification has a small associated fee which goes to support the awarding organization to help them further their own missions. In turn, we get to be accredited in various areas and spread the word about ecologically sound gardening practices. Many of these organizations also have online registries of certified gardens, which helps to track the progress of wildlife-friendly spaces throughout North America.

Who doesn’t love a win-win? We know the bees and caterpillars do!

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