COLUMBIA – A group of South Carolina homeowners and business owners now know the value of using Best Management Practices to manage stormwater runoff while maintaining water quality at the same time.

Clemson Extension agents and South Carolina residents build a floating wetland to install at the Clemson Sandhill REC.

Clemson Extension agents and South Carolina residents install a floating wetland in a pond at the Clemson Sandhill REC.
Image Credit: Denise Attaway/Clemson University

The group learned this information after attending a Floating Wetland Launch and BMP tour at the Clemson Sandhill Research and Education Center. Karen Jackson, a Clemson water resources agent, said this event was held to teach people how to maintain water quality without using chemicals.

“There are ways to alleviate water quality issues without applying chemicals,” Jackson said. “Best Management Practices (BMPs) are a great way to get people thinking about how their actions on land affect our waterways. For instance, applying too much fertilizer or herbicide or mowing down a shoreline buffer degrades water quality.”

The BMP tour included stops at a pollinator garden, a rain garden, a shoreline buffer and a Carolina Certified Yard. Royal Candles, Muhly Grass, Milkweed, Mountain Mint, Blackeyed Susan and Bee Balm are flower varieties planted in the pollinator garden.

“This garden is good for butterflies, wasps, bees and larvals,” Jackson said. “Flowers planted in this garden were selected because they provide nectar or pollen for pollenating insects.”

Trey Buckelew, a Clemson senior agribusiness major and student intern from Camden, talked about the live garden where tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are being grown. The garden is 100 percent organic.

“The biggest issue we’ve had has been controlling weeds,” Buckelew said. “Because this garden is 100 percent organic, we don’t use any sprays or fertilizers. We have to pull the weeds ourselves. We’re also handpicking the vegetables.”

A soaker hose set on a timer is used to water the garden.

“I highly recommend using a soaker hose in this manner,” Buckelew said. “You get the same amount of water applied at the same time every day.”

The group also was introduced to the Research and Education Center’s demonstration rain garden. A rain garden is a landscaped depression that allows rainwater runoff from rooftops, driveways, compacted lawn areas and such, an opportunity to infiltrate and be absorbed. This reduces stormwater runoff and associated pollution. Rain gardens are a popular and attractive way for homeowners to manage erosion and moisture control issues, beautify home landscape, create wildlife habitat and protect clean water downstream. Flowers planted in the rain garden include: Blackeyed Susan, Purple Coneflower, Beautyberry, Swamp Sunflower and Muhly Grass.

While on the BMP tour, the group also learned the importance of using rain barrels for catching water to use in their gardens. The rain barrels observed by the group were situated near the rooftop gutters of a research house to collect rain as it flowed down the gutters.

“Black barrels are the best to use when catching rainwater because black barrels help eliminate algae,” Jackson said.

The group also learned about an erosion study and a shorescaping project being done at the Research and Education Center. A shorescape is a landscaped shoreline that uses attractive plants to protect and beautify the waterfront. A well designed shorescape uses native plants to provide a functional solution to problems such as shoreline erosion, poor water quality, invasive weeds, and wildlife management. Also, like a flower bed in the yard, a shorescape that uses a mixture of flowering plants can serve as a waterfront garden that improves the appearance of the shoreline and adds value to the property.

The day ended with the group creating a 60-square foot floating wetland and launching it in a pond at the Sandhill Research and Education Center. About 100 plants including: Pickerelweed, Scarlet Hibiscus, Louisiana Iris, Tussock Sedge and Purple Creeper were planted on the floating wetland mat constructed of bio-matrix foam, closed cell foam and choir inserts.

“Floating wetlands are a great management tool to help prevent ponds from receiving excess nutrients,” Jackson said. “These nutrients are often from geese and/or dog waste and chemicals applied on lawns. Using floating wetlands is a great way to prevent algal issues from occurring, as algae thrive in nutrient-rich water. The roots are suspended in the water and are able to uptake nutrients in the waterbody, turning it into biomass. It also provides great habitat for aquatic animals, as well as pollinator species.”

Jackson said she expects the floating wetland to last for several years.

The morning was filled with lots of learning and activity. Dennis Keels, a landscaper from Columbia and a member of the local landscaping association, said he believed his morning was “well spent.”

“We’re trying to shift the focus of our business,” Keels said. “We want to use a more natural approach to pest control, weed control and things like that. By attending this (event), I have learned several things that I believe will be very beneficial for us.”

The Clemson Cooperative Extension Service has a lot of water-related information available on its website. For more information, visit S.C. Waterways, Water Resources and Stormwater General Topics at