The grass is always greener when it’s green
Landscape Horticulture instructors Matt Brooks and Jeff Kleinboehl believe in sustainable environments. Matt’s approach to going green involves constructing a roomy rooftop garden above the classroom and storage spaces occupied by his program. Jeff is doing his part by moving ahead with a 22-acre prairie grass restoration project.
Both endeavors are prime examples of how DCTC is following through on the college’s Green Campus Commitment, which began in June 2007 when Pres. Ron Thomas signed the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment.
Prairie Grass Restoration
More than 18 million acres of wild prairie blanketed Minnesota before the incursion of European pioneers. Once part of the largest ecosystem on the continent, Minnesota prairie land, with its lush oceans of tall grass and resplendent wildflowers, has been reduced to a mere 1 percent of its former glory.
Jeff Kleinboehl appreciates both the aesthetic and common-sense value of exchanging manicured lawns for natural prairie grass and wildflowers.
“Not only will we be cutting back on mowing, which will reduce energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and labor costs,” he said, “we will also be creating an area that will attract wild fauna while educating our students and the public about the beauty and benefits of prairie land.”
Restoring natural prairie is a lot more than just ceasing a weekly mowing regimen. Jeff first prepared the acreage involved with a non-select herbicide to kill off unwanted weeds and noxious plants.
“We are partnering with the nonprofit Pheasants Forever, which will conduct a burn off to remove remaining vegetation and seeds,” Jeff said. “After that, we’ll disk or till the area to loosen up the soil.”
Unlike grass seed for lawns, which is usually planted in late summer, the prairie grass planting will take place in the last week of October and first week in November to make sure the seeds germinate the following spring. This gives the new plants, which are mostly annuals, a full year of growth before they go to flower and seed.”
“Pheasants Forever put together seed mixes with a huge variety of grasses and wildflowers,” said Jeff. “We will have many interesting grasses along with large splotches of flowers for color.”
Jeff also noted that two different acreages will be planted:
- one on the west side of campus close to County Road 42, which will include mowed trails and identification labels for all the grasses and flowers
- one on the east side away from the road, which offers more privacy to wild fauna trying to reclaim their natural habitat
“The new prairie land will require very little maintenance,” Jeff said. “I’ll work to keep thistles under control and eliminate volunteer trees such as box elders and cottonwoods. Typically, we’ll need about three years before the grasses and wildflowers are established and looking good. Signs will let the public know that a prairie restoration project is in process.”
From Chicago’s City Hall to the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo to theRockefeller Center in Manhattan, rooftop gardens are a growing trend around the world. Matt Brooks reported that the advantages of a creating a cutting-edge rooftop garden on campus are too good to pass up.
- Creates beautiful outdoor commons for social interaction, relaxation and studying
- Serves as design, production, installation and maintenance laboratory for Landscape Horticulture students
- Makes sound use of underutilized space
- Improves air quality while reducing CO2 emissions
- Mitigates stormwater runoff
- Cools ambient air temperature
- Insulates building below
- Increases value of facility overall
DCTC’s rooftop garden will be situated on the west side of the main building just to the north of the new greenhouse. Matt’s plan calls for flowing and rounded lines to contrast with the hard lines and edges of existing structures.
“We’ll also be incorporating vertical elements such as gabion walls to create separation of space,” he said. “The gabions are cages that can be filled with a growing medium for living walls or other eye-catching materials for visual interest.”
Matt’s plan also includes a pergola, which is pillared passageway with a lattice roof. Pergolas provide shade and a place to grow climbing or trailing vines.
Matt pointed out that rooftop gardens come in two distinct varieties: intensive or extensive. The latter has only four to six inches of topsoil, requires minimal maintenance and isn’t suitable for heavy foot traffic.
With 18 inches of topsoil—plus one four-foot-deep trench fit for planting trees, the DCTC rooftop garden will be extensive, opening the way for increased human activity along with greater landscaping and upkeep opportunities for Matt and Jeff’s students.
Matt looks for the project to unfold gradually as students from other programs participate in the building process, including work for Welding Technology andConcrete and Masonry students, the former making galvanized steel raised planters that will match the look of the new greenhouse.
“We did a lot of research on this project,” Matt said. “Our students worked on the design and will be involved in the installation and eventually the maintenance of the garden, which will have spaces for individuals and small groups as well space for classes with 30 or more students.”
Employing more than 35,000 people, the horticulture industry in Minnesota features well over 3,000 businesses. Minnesota’s booming $2.3 billion nursery and landscape industry reflects a nationwide green industry with an annual economic output exceeding $150 billion.
Landscape professionals who graduate from the Landscape Horticultural program are ready to design, install, and manage landscape and garden projects on residential, commercial, and public properties. The DCTC program is the only one of its kind in Minnesota to earn accreditation from the Professional Landcare Network, or PLANET, the national trade organization of the landscape industry.
- According to iseek.org, the go-to source for education and employment info in Minnesota, landscape professionals and groundkeepers in the seven-county metro area era an average wage of $13.85/hour. Top earners make nearly $21/hour.
- Simplyhired.com reports that the average salary is $43,000/year for greenhouse growers in the U.S.