Selkirk is going back to its roots with a pilot project that will test the success of native plants in the city’s medians.
Selkirk CAO Duane Nicol says the pilot project arose as an idea that helps the city address some important sustainability objectives.
“We have turf grass in our medians right now, which requires a lot of maintenance in the summer and because of the road salts, doesn’t always do so well. By replacing this with native grasses, plants and flower, we believe we can greatly reduce the costs of maintenance, increase carbon-sequestration, capture and retain more stormwater, promote biodiversity, and improve the look of our main street with a more naturalized aesthetic,” said Nicol.
Creating a natural habitat for pollinators
Travis Vandenbrand, Manager of Parks and Recreation says rewilding the medians is also a great way to provide more habitat for pollinators.
“The idea came about as the city is looking into different ways to support pollinators and by performing this pilot project on one of our medians, we will be able to determine if this is a sustainable initiative,” said Travis Vandenbrand, Manager of Parks and Recreation Facilities.
“We connected with Prairie Originals and they have provided their expertise on the type of wildflowers to consider based on the conditions on the medians.”
The move to native plants fits in with the city’s Strategic Plan that calls for Selkirk to be environmental stewards by improving city practices and services, encourage water conservation and protect natural features and resources.
Kelly Leask, the owner of Prairie Originals, said the native plants can provide many benefits to the city.
“It was really exciting for the city to come to me with this idea,” Leask said.
“It’s a really sensible thing to try to do. My understanding is it requires quite a lot of labour to mow the boulevards.”
Less mowing, more sustainability
Vandenbrand said the city typically spends about 30 hours a week maintaining grass on medians.
Nicol says that while it will take some time to maintain naturalized medians, it is expected to be far less than the current mowing program.
“During the summer – it’s almost a full-time job to mow our medians. If this pilot works, in a few years that time could be better spent maintaining our parks. It’s also a question of worker safety. Keeping workers away from traffic lanes is always a preference,” said Nicol.
Native plants will make mowing a thing of the past and will help out in many environmental ways.
The project is located on a portion of Main Street in the city’s north end. Leask planted about 350 plugs in the spring and planted another section this fall.
“There will be a nice little side by side comparison of two different methods of installation,” she said.
“The idea with the pilot project is it will give an opportunity for the city to compare which method requires more maintenance and which fits better into the way they’re able to operate and manage the site.”
A variety of beauty to come
There are some 27 different varieties of flowers and grasses and some different species in the seed mix, which will provide plenty of options for the city.
“It’ll be a good chance to trial a variety of different species just to see how they’re able to thrive and survive in a difficult situation, because boulevards are kind of a difficult growing space,” Leask said.
Grass tends to struggle on boulevards, Leask said, because they’re hot and dry and have the added struggle of road salt, which inevitably ends up on the boulevards.
“There can be some real challenges for plants to thrive there as well. We’re going to try a bunch of different species and see which do best,” Leask said.
The environmental benefits of native plants are many, and Leask said she hopes the boulevards will send a strong message to residents and visitors to Selkirk that the environment matters and is something we all should care about.
“There’s sensible ways to do things differently to improve the environment for everybody, and not just people, for other wildlife too,” she said.
“Even just by reducing the amount of mowing, that cuts back emissions, but native plants also provide a lot of different ecological goods and services. They sequester a lot of carbons, and they help with water filtration and slowing down surface water run off. They don’t need to be watered as much and at the same time they provide much better habitat resources for things like pollinators, and also they look more beautiful.”
Vandenbrand said the Public Works Department was consulted on the project to ensure the flowers selected won’t pose any risk to sightlines and pedestrians on Main Street.