RACINE — For most of the summer, flowers bloom in the parkways at Downtown corner of Sixth Street and College Avenue.
That intersection is unlike any other in the city because when Sixth Street was rebuilt, eight stormwater planters were incorporated into the parkways.
Monday morning, City Health Department Laboratory Director Julie Kinzelman and Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Program Director Allison Thielen met at Sixth and College. Starting on the northwest corner, they each dug a cup of soil from opposite ends of that stormwater planter.
“These may be engineered soils, but they’re classic clay,” Thielen remarked as the women tried to penetrate the hard earth.
The purpose of the planters, Kinzelman said, is to pretreat precipitation before it enters the stormwater system which ultimately discharges into Root River. The installation is considered a demonstration project.
All eight planters were planted solely with native plants, which tend to be deep-rooted and don’t need any fertilizers to grow and mature. The species included brown-eyed Susan, purple prairie clover, sedges, blue flag iris and baptisia, or wild indigo.
Salt-tolerant species were chosen Thielen said. But the natives are not indestructible, and some have died out.
The soil originally placed in the stormwater planters was carefully constituted, she said. But its composition may have been changed somewhat. Testing was in order before putting in new plants.
“Soil condition is the foundation of any planting, and it hasn’t been done for a few years,” Kinzelman said.
Fertilizer not an option
After the women dug out a cup of soil each, Kinzelman mixed the soil to make one uniform sample. The eight samples will be sent to the University of Wisconsin for analysis.
Thielen said the samples will be tested for acidity-alkalinity, lime requirement, organic matter, phosphorus, potassium and soluble salts. If necessary, the planters might need some soil amendments — but fertilizer wouldn’t be among the additives.
“It’s more detrimental to fertilize native plants than not to,” Thielen said.
The soil test results are expected in about two weeks.