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Free class can prepare you for spring gardening

It might be hard to plan gardening projects while snow is still on the ground, but if you ask the folks out at the Dakota County Soil and Water Conservation District, they'll tell you it's not impossible.

The SWCD has been offering its free Blue Thumb gardening classes around the county for the past few weeks. One is set for Farmington next week. That means area gardeners should have plenty of time to learn gardening tips and plan out their projects before it's time to dig in to the cool spring soil.

The class is part of the Blue Thumb project, which offers a series of water quality classes and water quality practices. Participants are taught how to plan three specific types of gardens -- rain gardens, native plant gardens and shoreline gardens.

Next week's session is an introductory class, SWCD resource conservationist Curt Coudron said. Participants don't need to bring anything along. They can just come and get some basic information on the importance of water quality practices, and how their home projects can help.

Rain gardens, native grass gardens and shoreline gardens each have specific purposes, Courdron said. Rain gardens are slightly depressed perennial gardens that catch rainwater runoff and let the water drain into the garden. A shoreline project usually means planting deep-rooted native plants to stabilize the bank along a stream or pond. Shoreline projects also provide benefits to wildlife along the bank. Native gardens are gardens that use native plants primarily for wildlife habitat.

"We don't have nearly as many of (the native gardens)," Coudron said. "Most of our projects are rain gardens."

Through the session, conservationists will help residents determine what types of projects are best for their properties. The SWCD does offer subsequent classes to help homeowners design their projects for a fee of $25, which covers the cost of materials.

This is the fourth year for the Blue Thumb projects. The introductory classes are held at several locations around Dakota County, and began several weeks back. Some folks have come back two and three times just to tackle new projects every year, Coudron said.

"We have had a few people come again and again, and we've had people who do multiple projects, like a rain garden one year and a shoreline project another year," he said.

The course will be held at 6:15 p.m. April 4 at the Dakota County Farmington. Though the course is free, SWCD staff requires registration. Residents can sign up by calling 651-480-7777, or by emailing: The class will also be held April 5 at the Apple Valley Municipal Center.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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