by Dennis Dalman
Next spring, the now-barren “islands” and medians at the new diverging diamond interchange in south Sartell will be planted with various kinds of vegetation.
At a recent Sartell City Council meeting, MnDOT landscape designer David Larson presented several planting options to the council. He showed council members photos of grasses and flowers – all perennials – that could grow there with little or no maintenance once they’ve established themselves. A “Welcome to Sartell” sign, with its familiar stylized yellow-sun-blue-river logo will also be installed somewhere in that area.
Larson said because the interchange is such a massive configuration of concrete and bituminous, the site practically begs for something “softer” – in a word, vegetation.
There are four “island” areas, quite large, at the site as well as a couple of medians. He suggested planting blue-stem grass, similar to prairie grass, along with wildflowers such as purple-cone flowers, black-eyed Susans and early sunflowers that would all bloom at different times of the growing season.
The medians on the east and west sides of the interchange configuration could be planted with a line of alternating white-blossomed and purple-blossomed crab apple trees with wild flowers at their bases and throughout the other areas of the medians.
The landscaping of other areas by the interchange will be the sole, permanent responsibility of MnDOT, not Sartell, Larson noted.
MnDOT, Larson said, would sign a contract with the planting contractor that the planters would be required to maintain the plantings, including watering them, for the first two summers with no maintenance at all from the City of Sartell. After that time, the plantings would be established well enough not to need much, if any, maintenance except perhaps watering via truck if a persistent drought occurred.
The goal of the landscaping is low-to-no maintenance, Larson said, echoing the wishes of the city people he has talked with. Larson said six months ago, he drove through Sartell and noticed the tall prairie grasses in some roundabouts appeared to have been mowed down and looked rather messy. One reason for the ragged look is that weeds and other invasive vegetation appeared to have taken over somewhat, he noted. A good way to guard against such an invasion is to plant not from transplanted clumps but from very thickly sown seed. Once the grasses grow, they become so thick there is no room for invasive vegetation, he told the council.
Most council members seemed to favor Larson’s suggestions. Council member Sarah Jane Nicoll, however, said she is definitely not in favor of planting more native-type grasses, which can look terrible when they get overgrown or ragged. She suggested there must be an alternative to grasses planted in roundabouts and along roadways.
Council member Amy Braig-Lindstrom said, if she had her way, cypress spurge would be planted in all islands and medians. She has that spreading plant in her yard, and it is, she said, extremely beautiful and virtually indestructible as it spreads through its root system in a prolific manner. Neighbors always comment on its beauty, she noted.
Referring to Nicoll’s feelings about tall grasses, Larson acknowledged people tend to either like or dislike the native-grass look. He respects those opinions, he added.
As for cypress spurge, he said that species might be so invasive the Department of Natural Resources might not approve of it. There might be other problems with it that would have to be studied, he noted.
Council members David Peterson, Steve Hennes and Mayor Joe Perske seemed to favor Larson’s planting suggestions.
The “no-maintenance” approach is vital, Peterson said, because city staff should not have to be doing any work on the planted islands and medians and that should include no mowing.
Braig-Lindstrom said her neighbors have told her their perennials don’t really establish themselves and take off showily until about four years after they’ve been planted. Larson said it’s possible to propose a three-year maintenance contract with the landscaper contracted by MnDOT. Hennes and Braig-Lindstrom said they are totally in favor of that idea. Hennes noted the wild native grasses planted west of city hall looked a bit ragged in their first years but that now in spring and summer they are beautiful now that they’re established.
Larson will return to the council with more details about planting plans as they become available.