Please visit our "Invasive Plant" articles. They change every month and are full of helpful information.
SEPTEMBER 2010: Conversation Landscaping
Landscaping practices play an important role in the overall health of local streams, lakes, and the Chesapeake Bay. Homeowners can use a number of different strategies to maintain their yards to reduce pollution and help protect our waterways. These strategies are commonly called conservation landscaping or sometimes referred to as “Bayscaping.”
Maintaining a manicured lawn with thick green grass often requires high inputs of fertilizers and other chemicals as well as gas-powered mowers for ongoing maintenance. These contribute to air and water pollution. Conservation landscaping practices will reduce these impacts by using native trees, shrubs and groundcovers to minimize lawn areas and provide a diverse and visually pleasing landscape. Because native plants are adapted to local soil and climate conditions, they are easier to establish and maintain, require less chemical inputs and can save homeowners time and money.
Using native plants offer a number of ecological benefits, including providing food and habitat for birds and wildlife. They also produce longer root systems than traditional lawn areas, holding the soil in place and protecting water quality by controlling erosion. Native plantings can also be used for addressing problem areas such as poor soils, shady areas, and steep slopes where other vegetation is hard to establish. They offer diversity in color, seasonal blooms, and availability in both evergreen and deciduous forms to provide visual interest throughout the year.
To get started, there are a number of resources available to assist homeowners in developing a plan for your yard. Local nurseries can provide information about native species that are best adapted and suited for your conditions. A list of some native plant species is available from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service publication, Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping: Chesapeake Bay Watershed. This may be found at http://www.nps.gov/plants/pubs/chesapeake/purpose.htm. Other educational materials are available from the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay at http://www.acb-online.org/.
The picture below shows the backyards of homes near Wilde Lake. Landscaping practices that utilize retaining walls and strategic plantings protect the slope from erosion and eliminate the lawn area. This will reduce the amount of sediments and chemicals that wash into Wilde Lake. These practices will protect the water quality of Columbia’s streams and lakes.
While the picture above provides an “extreme” example of eliminating your lawn, the benefits of conservation landscaping can still be realized if everyone started with just a small area. If you are contemplating changing your landscape, please consult your village's architectural guidelines to determine if you are required to submit an exterior alteration application for approval. If you need information about the specific guidelines in your village, please call your village community association or visit http://www.columbiavillages.org/ and select your Village Association for more information.
CA Watershed Advisory Committee, Wilde Lake
BONUS ARTICLE! SEPTEMBER 2010: Your lawn and Columbia's streams, ponds and lakes
What does lawn care have to do with our streams, ponds, and lakes? The large amount of paved and roofed areas in Columbia has increased the volume of water that leaves the landscape when it rains. This increased volume of water is called storm water runoff and is the cause of the erosion problems we are having in our streams. The storm water runoff carries sediment and nitrogen and phosphorus, among other things, through our streams and to our ponds and lakes. These nutrients, particularly phosphorus, are the cause of the excessive aquatic weed and algae growth in our ponds and lakes. A healthy, dense stand of grass or ground cover slows water running off the landscape and allows the water to soak into the ground. Roots and the soil filter water and take up nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus, before they get to our streams, ponds, and lakes.
So what can you do?
- Plant ground covers or mulched shrub gardens around the edges of your yard to intercept and filter water running off your yard during rain events. Ground covers or mulched shrub gardens also work in shady areas that are hard to grow grass in. In sunny areas where you want grass, manage it correctly.
- Start with a soil test. Soil tests kits can be obtained through the mail, call the University of Maryland’s Home and Garden Center at 1-800-342-2507, or go to www.hgic.umd.edu for a soil test kit with instructions on how to take a soil sample and mail it to a lab.
- Once you have your soil test results, fall is the correct time to think about the health of your lawn. Most of our lawns are composed of cool season grasses like fescues, bluegrass and ryes grasses. These grasses grow roots and store energy for the winter in the fall. If you’re not sure what kind of lawn you have, contact the Home and Garden Center. You can’t manage it effectively if you don’t know what it is.
- So, you have your soil test results, you know the composition of your lawn, you have converted some of your lawn to ground covers and mulched shrubs and you still want some grass. Your soil test results will tell you if you need any phosphorus. Don’t apply it if you don’t need it. Columbia area stores are now carrying phosphorus-free fertilizers. The three number labeling (10-10-10) on the bag tells you the nitrogen, phosphorus, as phosphate (P205), and potassium, as potash (K20), content of the fertilizer by percentage. If you don’t need phosphorus, look for a fertilizer with a 0 in the center.
Remember, reduce your lawn area with ground covers and other plantings, test the soil in your lawn area, and don't apply phosphorus if you don’t need it.
For more information, visit: http://pubs.agnr.umd.edu/ , look for Fact Sheet 702, Lawns and the Chesapeake Bay, under Lawn, Garden and Home Publications and refer to September's Education article, Conservation Landscaping, listed above.
JUNE 2010 - Howard County's Middle Patuxent Environmental Area (MPEA) Stormwater Issues
Brian England, Vice-Chair of the Columbia Association’s Watershed Advisory Committee was thinking back on how he got involved with watershed issues. His involvement started over 25 years ago when his family moved to a house in Clary’s Forest that backs up to the MPEA. He has walked in MPEA for all these years, but a few years ago he started to notice dramatic changes. It used to be possible to hop over a small dried-up steam bed a few inches deep; however, another route is now necessary as the dried-up bed is now a canyon 5 feet deep. Also, in the spot where he used to take his two daughters across the shallow part of the river, the bank had eroded away so much it is now a cliff six feet high!
A couple of years ago a hole appeared in the MPEA near some townhouses. The county paid $240,000 to repair this problem, followed by another $14,000 when it was found that the repair did not fully fix the problem. Another outfall problem has been identified that will cost an additional $100,000 to fix!
Brian is a trustee of the Middle Patuxent Environment Foundation that is tasked with looking after the MPEA. Over the past year, a Stormwater Outfall Committee has been formed to address concerns related to environmental damage occurring to this sensitive area. The committee will be overseeing the evaluation of dozens of stormwater outfalls that empty into the MPEA and a steam that flows into the Middle Patuxent River. So far 35 outfalls have been evaluated by the manager of the MPEA and soon the rest will be evaluated. Innovative lower cost ideas to stabilize the outfalls that could cause the most damage will be developed. The goal of these lower cost ideas will be to save hundreds of thousands of dollars and achieve comparable results to more expense fixes.
Brian England, Vice-Chair, WAC
MAY 2010 - Healthy Lawns and our Waterways
According to the Maryland Department of Agriculture, there are over 685,000 acres of residential lawn in Maryland. If everyone over-fertilized their lawn by just one pound, a large amount of pollutants could end up in our groundwater, streams, rivers, lakes and the Chesapeake Bay. There is no doubt about it: The best solution to this problem is to stop fertilizing and reduce your lawn size!
However, it is recognized that many people value and take great pride in their lawns and the hard work dedicated to maintaining them. Therefore, is it possible to have a healthy lawn without impacting waterways? The key is to minimize the use of fertilizer by establishing good soil, using proper application techniques, and planting a diverse landscape. The recommendations below will show how this can be done successfully.
The most basic need of any lawn is good soil. All soils contain some amount of nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K), which are the primary nutrients needed for plant growth. For optimum growth, test soils every 3 to 5 years and apply fertilizer only as recommended by the test results. Organic matter such as organic compost or leaf and grass clippings may be used to minimize the need for fertilizers. Soil test kits and organic soil compost are available at most lawn and garden retailers.
During fertilizer application, steps should be taken to ensure that the proper amounts are used. Lawns will not take up more nutrients than needed. Any excess will wash off to storm drains, streams, and ponds causing algae to grow and aquatic life to suffocate. Fertilizing a lawn too much or at the wrong time can also cause insect and disease problems. The following strategies can be used to prevent these problems:
- Fertilize in the fall because spring applications will put down unneeded nutrients that will wash away.
- Do not exceed 1 lb N/1000 sq ft per application (ask your garden center how to calculate this). Apply a maximum of 2-3 lbs N/1000 sq ft per year. Most lawns will look beautiful with only one pound.
- Use fertilizer with a water insoluble nitrogen (WIN) number on the label of at least 40%. This allows a slow release of nitrogen over the growing season.
- Keep fertilizers away from natural drainage areas and do not fertilize within 25 feet of a waterway.
- Keep fertilizers off impervious areas such as walkways, driveways, and streets where they can easily wash into storm drains.
- Use a “drop spreader” instead of a “rotary spreader” for better accuracy and control.
- Plant quality seed best suited for the lawn conditions. Tall fescue is recommended for the climate around Columbia. Planting seed in the fall will allow adequate root growth.
Once a healthy lawn is established it will need to be maintained. Recommendations to maintain a healthy lawn include:
- Keeping grass height at 3-31/2 inches to keep roots cool and reduce weeds and thatch.
- Allowing grass clippings to remain on the lawn. This provides natural fertilizer and is often all that is needed for a healthy lawn.
- Using native ground covers on slopes and where grass will not grow.
- Planting gardens, trees, and shrubs around the property to slow runoff and reduce the amount of lawn required to be mowed and maintained.
In conclusion, a healthy lawn starts with good soil, the best seed, and proper fertilizer application for optimum plant growth. Landscaping your property with a variety of plants will reduce the amount of fertilizer needed and provide other benefits by and absorbing nutrients and runoff. Put these techniques into practice and you will be doing a great favor to our Columbia waters.
Questions: For free advice call the Home and Garden Center of the University of Maryland Extension at 410-531-1757 or email questions to www.hgic.umd.edu.