Philadelphia Water Department’s Rain Check Program

Cedar Run has been involved in the Philadelphia Water Department’s Rain Check program for several years and has transformed dozens of backyards that were mostly concrete into environmentally friendly spaces that help manage Philadelphia’s storm water. It’s exciting to be on the forefront of a growing trend in urban infrastructure improvement and sustainability.

The Rain Check Program encourages and incentivizes homeowners in Philadelphia to remove impervious surfaces on their property and install sustainable alternatives in their place. Options available to homeowners include rain barrels, downspout planter boxes, rain gardens, depaving, and permeable paving systems.

A downspout planter box installed above a permeable EP Henry Eco-Brickstone Driveway:

Our installations follow water department guidelines that are aimed at reducing stormwater runoff and inflow into the sewer system. Much of Philadelphia’s surface drains collect storm water and direct it into wastewater/sewage treatment plants. These plants are only designed to hold and process a certain amount of water and in heavy rain events can be overwhelmed by the influx of rainwater. When this occurs the EPA permits Philadelphia to discharge excess wastewater into local waterways through Combined Sewer Outfalls (CSOs). In Philadelphia there are 164 CSO locations where a combination of stormwater, wastewater, and raw sewage, are discharged into local waterways during heavy rain events. The release of this contaminated water pollutes streams and rivers and also increases the velocity of the already swollen waterways which leads to the erosion of riverbanks and scouring of creek beds.

The city of Philadelphia and the PWD have committed to reducing the number of CSOs and improving local water quality by eliminating impervious surfaces wherever possible. Cedar Run is contributing to this effort by removing concrete slabs in backyards, driveways, and sidewalks and installing in their place permeable pavement systems and rain gardens. Permeable paving system and rain gardens collect and infiltrate rainwater below their surface, preventing runoff and slowing the velocity and flow of stormwater into local rivers. They are also much more attractive than plain concrete and make outdoor spaces more enjoyable for residents.

Philadelphia residents can learn more about and sign up for the Rain Check Program here:

Philadelphia Water Department’s Rain Check Program

More information:

Read more about Philadelphia’s Combined Sewer System

Interactive Green Tools Map of Philadelphia

A few of our Rain Check Permeable Pavement projects can be found below. The before photos show the sites after the concrete has been removed, the after photos are of the finished permeable pavers, in this case EP Henry Eco-Brickstone.

The Landscape in Winter

As I look out my office window on this blustery February day, I notice a few things that don’t normally stand out during the warmer months. The landscape looks much different this time of year, in some ways rather barren due to the lack of leaf and flower, but in other ways more beautiful in its austerity and stillness. The perennials and groundcovers are mostly out of view, covered by layers of snow. The visible now include evergreens, stone work within the landscape, and deciduous tree trunks reaching towards the sky. Just outside of my window reside several interesting elements that enliven what is otherwise an expanse of white powder. A Coral Bark Maple’s bright red branches provide a stunning contrast to the snow, and with the color lasting throughout the season, makes for an excellent addition to almost any landscape. Just to the side of the maple, a drilled stone column water feature bubbles all year long, providing motion in the landscape and a constant source of fresh water for resident birds. Native Eastern Red Cedars round out my view, the subtle color of their needles ranging from light green to russet to purple as they stand tall and do their best to protect the office from the wind. The view from my office window is actually quite interesting this time of year, and that is intentional, as a well designed landscape contains visual elements for all seasons.

There are two main factors to consider when evaluating a landscape in the colder months: winter interest and winter wildlife.

Winter interest, as the term implies, involves selecting plants that provide something visually interesting in the winter months. Examples include ornamental grasses, winterberry hollies with their clusters of red berries, red stem dogwoods, and the conifers that prove to us with their green needles that all is not dormant in winter.  Now is the perfect time to look out of your home’s windows and think about spaces that could use some visual interest or color to contrast with the snow.

The other consideration is winter wildlife, and by that I mean considering where all of the creatures that inhabit the garden are going to shelter in the winter months, and how they are going to sustain themselves. The ecology and food web of your landscape are important factors in determining how much wildlife your landscape can support, and the diversity of species you will see throughout the year. Conifers provide shelter and protection from the wind and the cold during the winter, and also provide bird nesting sites in the summer. Vibernums, Virginia Creeper, and White Oaks all hang on to their fruit during the winter and can be a critical food source when heavy snow blankets the ground. Water features that run all year provide drinking water for birds and animals when many other sources of water freeze. The bubbling stone feature outside out side of my office window is regularly visited by our resident winter birds.

Keeping these factors in mind, a landscape can be designed or modified to provide year round interest along with being an important part of your neighborhood’s ecological diversity. Think about your landscape the next time you look out the window, and if you would like a few ideas to liven it up, don’t hesitate to give us a call.

For more information on landscaping with birds in mind:


What Is That Growing in My Mulch?

Artillery fungus growing on mulch

A common question we often hear from home owners is “what is that weird stuff growing in my mulch?” That funny looking stuff can be a number of mold or fungi fruiting bodies that are feeding off the decomposing mulch.

Most mulch used in landscape beds are a mixture of shredded wood and bark. This organic matter along with adequate moisture provides an ideal environment for fungi, mold and bacteria to thrive. As they are decomposers, fungi, molds and bacteria are natural components of the environment and are doing their job, breaking down rotting organic matter.

These organisms are not usually harmful to plants and pose no health hazards to humans or animals unless some are ingested. While not always visible, you can see fungi and mold when they produce their fruiting bodies, usually found between April and October when weather conditions provide adequate moisture.

Below we’ve highlighted the most common fungi and mold found in mulched garden beds:

Artillery fungus (Sphaerobolus)

Spore masses attached to siding

This fungus produces fruiting structures that look like tiny cream-orange-brown cups which hold a spore mass resembling a little black egg. These cups release spores, propelling them a distance of more than 12 feet and a height of 6 feet.  Spores stick to the surface of cars, siding, and leafs leaving small spots resembling tar. Once stuck these spores are difficult to remove without damaging the surface they adhere to and if removed will often leave a stain. Although several of these may go unnoticed, if allowed to accumulate these spore masses can become unsightly. At this time there are no known management techniques to quell the growth of this fungus other than minimizing use of mulch next to buildings and where cars frequent. Also regular disturbance of existing mulch through raking the surface may minimize moisture therefore suppressing fungal growth.


yellow slim mold

Slime molds (Physarum, Fuligo, and Stemonitius)

Often referred to as dog vomit mold, this brightly colored organism appears in small areas of mulched beds. Usually growing from several inches to more than a foot across, these molds materialize when humidity is high and temperatures are warm. There are over 700 varieties of this primitive single celled organism and are often found on any moist rotting vegetation from clumps of grass clippings to old rotten logs. The usually suspects appear bright yellow to orange, fade into brown and eventually turn into a white powdery mass. Removal of these masses is not necessary as they are not harmful although they can be deemed quite unsightly. Controlling these molds is best done by preventing excess moisture in mulch by altering irrigation systems and raking mulch to expose the organism to dry air.


Bird’s nest fungi  (Crucibulum and Cyathus)

Close up of the birds nest fungi

This fungus is aptly named as its fruiting bodies look like miniature brown gray cuplike nests that hold tiny spore filled eggs. These cups reach up to ÂĽ inches in diameter and when hit by rain drops project the eggs up to 3 feet into the air to latch onto anything it can. They can grow throughout large areas within mulched beds but are inconspicuous and unharmful. Unlike artillery fungus the spores released can be easily removed from surfaces without leaving a stain.






Stinkhorns can really offend the noise

Stink horn (Phallaceae and Clathraceae)

This diverse group of fungi are known to pop up suddenly in the garden and get there name from the fruiting body cap which is covered with a foul-smelling slime mass. The odor attracts flies and beetles which ingest the slime and in doing so collect spores on their legs, transfering them to other areas.





The toadstool

The most easily identifiable fungi, these fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting bodies of fungi typically produced above ground and reproduce by airborne spores. Mushrooms come in various colors, shapes, and sizes ranging from less than an inch to several inches tall. Some are soft and fleshy and disappear soon after they emerge; others may remain in mulch for a few days, weeks, or an entire growing season. Mushrooms may be poisonous if eaten and should be removed if small children have access to the mulched area. There is no reliable control for nuisance fungi other than to frequently disturb the mulch by raking the surface to dry out the area so it will be less inviting.




For more information check out these links:

Invasive Plants in the Landscape

Invasive plants are defined as those that are nonnative and cause harm to the economy, environment or human health. These plants are highly adaptable, quick growers, and difficult to eradicate.  Although there are many invasive plants to watch out for, below are several that are frequently seen in the landscape.

Privets (Japanese, Border, Chinese and Common), Ligustrum genus 

These invasive shrubs mainly spread through seed, often distributed by birds which have eaten the fruit. Once established the shrub will colonize the area, forming dense thickets which choke out any native species that would otherwise occupy the area.  What makes the Ligustrum species difficult to eradicate is its ability to regenerate new growth from roots and stumps. Privet pollen is also a severe allergenic.

Alternative Native Species: Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria), Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera), Inkberry (Ilex glabra)

Burning Bush, Euonymus alatus

Burning bush was introduced into the United States for use as an ornamental shrub. Its attractive, bright red fall color has made it a popular choice but its fast growing nature and exceptional seed production has landed it on the invasive list. This is another shrub that forms dense monotypic stands that reduces habitat diversity. In open woodlands this shrub will replace native shrubs while creating a dense root mass that prevents herbaceous growth.

Alternative Native Species: Red Cokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum trilobum), Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum)

Japanese Stilt Grass, Microstagium vimineum 

Introduced into the United States by accident, Japanese stilt grass grows in a variety of habitats from full sun to dense shade, preferring moist, acidic to neutral soils that are high in nitrogen. Spreading exclusively by seed, this annual grass can produce between 100-1000 seed per parent plant. Seeds often fall close but can be carried by water or moved around by humans or animals. Alternative native species will vary depending on site conditions

There are a number of strategies used to control these species including mechanical and chemical. The most important and easiest is to discover an invasion early and remove them before the population becomes too high. Preventing them from entering a vulnerable habitat in the first place is most ideal. Here at Cedar Run Landscapes we hope that by providing information about these plants and recommending the removal these species from the landscape can help minimize habitat destruction due to invasive plants.

If you would like to learn more about these species or others check out this DCNR site.


Why Soil Test?

The performance of a plant can be directly associated with the type of soil it is growing in. Different types of plants have specific nutrient requirements and will only successfully thrive if those elements can be found within the soil and are accessible. Accessibility will vary widely depending on the soil texture: a combination of sand, silt, clay, and organic matter, along with the pH level. The soil’s texture and pH level determine how these nutrients can be absorbed. Because soil nutrients often vary from place to place, we recommend having a complete soil test done before beginning any landscape project or adding soil amendments.

A standard soil test will measure the levels of several essential plant nutrients: phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Nitrogen, another essential nutrient, may not be in the standard test as nitrogen content within soils can significantly fluctuate. A nitrogen test can be done with the same soil test if requested.  Another option when soil testing is determining the amount of micronutrients within the soil. Essential to a plants health, although used in small amounts, these nutrients include zinc, iron, copper, molybdenum, manganese, boron, cobalt and chlorine.

In order to take up these nutrients, many of these elements need to be dissolved in water and then absorbed through the root system of a plant. Soil texture affects how well water and these nutrients are retained within the soil. For example, water will drain quickly from sandy soils taking with it the nutrients many plants need. This is called leaching. Ideally soil should contain equal amounts of sand, silt, clay and organic matter.

Soil pH is one of the most important soil properties that affect the availability of nutrients. pH level testing comes in most standard soil testing and often provides a guide to amend your soils if the level is not optimum. If the pH level is  high or low the chemical make up of these nutrients can be altered, lowering their ability to be taken up by the plant. An example of this is seen in areas that have a high pH level which limits the availability of iron to pin oaks, causing chlorosis of the leaves.  Because these elements are only absorbed at their simplest form chemically, not only having these nutrients in the soil but having the right chemical balance within your soils is critical for the plant to successfully perform.


Learn more about Plant Nutrition:

Revamping an Old Pond

This spring Cedar Run Landscapes renovated an existing pond that had been installed by another contractor over 10 years ago. The liner had sagged in several places, the waterfall leaked, and the pond overall was not living up to the homeowner’s expectations.

  The existing pond prior to install

By adding a new filtration system, re-contouring the footprint and installing new stonework we were able to improve the functionality of the feature while also improving its overall look.

With a leaky waterfall, the feature did not provide the drama that the homeowner desired.

The waterfall is a single curved piece of stone, and the stream allows the koi to swim right up to the waterfall from the pond.  We directed one of the home’s downspouts into the pond, and the pond then overflows into a rain garden nearby.

Being pushed up through the constructed wetland, a stream pours down into a small pool before meandering down into the pond.

We removed all of the pond’s components, deepened and widened the pond, re-contoured the stream, and installed a skimming wet well and constructed wetland filter in place of the traditional skimmer box.

Looking across the finished pond with the skimming wet well in the foreground.

The pond now has virtually no stone below the water line, and we installed a passive bottom drain to collect any sediment that the skimming wet well doesn’t capture.  This pond has no filter mats of any kind, and the only maintenance involves removing leaves and debris from the skimming wet well.  The water is kept clean and clear through the use of phytofiltration, the layers of gravel and bog plants in the constructed wetland actively filter the water as it passes through the system.

Project of the Month: Philadelphia Water Department and Permeable Patios

Cedar Run Landscapes has been selected to participate in PWD’s Rain Check pilot program. This program was developed to help homeowners improve their landscapes while managing stormwater runoff. By redirecting this runoff we are reducing the amount of rainwater that enters Philadelphia’s sewer systems and in effect decreasing water pollution and improving our waterways. To learn more about this program, click here.

This month Cedar Run Landscapes installed a 126 sq. ft. permeable natural stone patio. Below are several photos taken during the installation process. Permeable patios are constructed to permit water to soak though the joints of the paving stones where the aggregate base below filters out particulates. This cleans the water as it percolates into the water table.

Here is Keith, one of our supervisors,  finishing the depaving and removing of compacted sub-soil  before the installation of the permeable patio.

The crew is  filling in the patio joints with clean stone which will allow water to seep into the base below and into the ground.

Finished patio after being sprayed down with water.

By installing permeable patios and implementing other types of storm water solutions, Cedar Run Landscapes is taking the initiative in sustainable design. We are proud to be participating in greening our local communities and hope to continue providing innovative techniques for handling stormwater issues. With each project installed, we are reducing runoff and helping to protect the health of our watersheds.

Philadelphia Flower Show

It’s that time of year again and we are excited to be helping out Flowers By David at the Philadelphia Flower Show. This is the second year Cedar Run Landscapes has assisted with the water elements of their display. This year is the first time we will be using our Aquasurge variable speed pump in a formal display. The variable speed allows us to adjust the amount of water running through the system until it is flowing perfectly.  Below are a few pictures of our Project Manager, Bill Stewart, working on the water portion of the display.

While getting a behind the scene look at the displays throughout the showroom we were excited to see E.P. Henry’s product lines being showcased in several displays. Its a sight you are not going to want to miss so head down to the Philadelphia Flower show and check it out.



Tool Maintenance

Store tools in a dry and protected place

Winter is a great time for garden enthusiasts to take stock of their equipment and to practice basic tool maintenance. Most tools require some type of maintenance to keep them in working order. Here are a few tips that you can do over the winter season to prepare for the spring.

 Make sure tools are properly stored during the winter. It is recommended that they are hung to keep them out of the way when not in use. Also keeping them off the ground will protect them from moisture.

Remove unwanted rust with a wire brush

 Survey tools for rust. If there is a small amount, apply a little machine oil to the surface and scrub the area with a wire brush. If a tool has a serious rust problem then its time to use a rust dissolver. Follow the directions on the bottle of the rust dissolver. If there is any reminding rust after using the dissolver a wire brush should do the trick. Coating your tools with oil when storing them over the winter will stop the oxidation process, preventing rust.

Rub wooden handles down with linseed oil

 Any wooden handled tool should be sanded down with sandpaper. Apply linseed oil with a rag to help seal the wood and keep the handle splinter free.

 Sharpen any digging or cutting tool by filing the edge. These are often the fastest tools to be worn down. A sharpened tool makes gardening life easier and prolongs the life of the tool. To maintain a sharp edge throughout the season use a medium-grit sharpening stone. Make sure to take care not to injure yourself while performing these tasks. Wear the proper protective equipment such as gloves and eye wear.

File cutting edges to keep tool sharp

To keep your tools in good working order throughout the season remember to remove any dirt or other debris from the tool once you are finished working with it. Doing this will also prevent the spread of plant diseases. Use a wire or nylon brush to remove any caked on mud that can not be hosed off. Let your tool completely dry before storing it away. A stored wet tool will most likely end up with a rust issue.

Follow theses simple steps and you will be a happy gardener come spring.

Winterizing Your Pond

Preparing your pond for the winter does not have to be a difficult job. Just follow these few steps and your pond will be ready come spring time.

Fall Leaves and Debris:

Placing a pond net over your feature before the leaves begin falling is an easy way to minimize debris in the pond. Once the majority of leaves have fallen, simply remove the netting, disregard the leaves and store the netting away for the next time you need it.

If you did not get a chance to get that net up this season you most likely have a buildup of leaves and debris at the bottom of your pond. Using a long handled pond net, you can easily scoop out the majority of this debris. If you for spring just remember that the decomposing debris will certainly create a bigger mess next year.

It is also a good idea to trim and remove any dying or dead plant material around the pond and in the marginal areas as they too will decompose over winter leaving a mess next spring. Submerged hardy plants like lilies should be cut back above the base of the plant.

Cold Water Bacteria:

Add a cold water bacteria solution to help keep your pond water clean and clear. This beneficial bacteria solution is adapted to work in temperatures lower than 50° F to help reduce organic material and reduce ammonia, nitrite and other excess nutrients. Regular use of this bacteria solution throughout the cold months will help maintain water quality and reduce spring maintenance.

Healthy Fish:

As it gets cooler and the water temperatures begin dipping into the lower 70°F, your fish will have a more difficult time digesting their usual food. Switching to a wheat germ base fish food will keep them happy and full of the nutrients they need to bulk up for the winter months while being easily digestible. Be careful not to overfeed. You can feed 2-3 times a day what they’ll eat in 5 minutes or less, then remove any excess food. When the water temperatures fall below 50°F, it is time to stop feeding.

Keep Your Feature Running:

Ice formations on one of our display pond with basalt columns.

Running your feature year round can provide ever-changing and strikingly beautiful ice formations that create a wonderful addition to your winter landscape. If this is the route for you, make sure to top off your feature periodically throughout the winter as evaporation is still happening. Also inspect streams and channels for ice formations that may dam up the water flow and lead to unnecessary water loss.

Shutting Down Your Pond:

If you decide to shut down your pond for the winter months, here are tips on what you’ll need to do:

- Remove the pump from the pond, storing it in a warm place.

- Drain water from any pond plumbing as the freeze thaw cycle can cause pipe cracking within the system

- Remove and clean any filter media used in your system and store them in a warm place along with your pump.

- As the pump is no longer running, oxygenating the water is important. Place a small re-circulating aeration pump on the top shelf of your pond. This will help keep a hole in your iced over pond to allow harmful gasses to escape and oxygen to get into the water.

- In areas where the aeration pump will not be enough to keep a hole in the forming ice, consider adding a pond heater. This product will prevent a portion of your pond from freezing over and allow for the necessary gasses to transfer in and out of the water.

Birds migrate to fresh water sources during the cold winter months.

Taking these steps to prepare your pond for winter will help your fish survive hibernation while also making your spring maintenance easier. If you need any help in preparing this winter, contact Cedar Run Landscapes.