Here in Anne Arundel County, landscaping season is upon us.
I’ve been to both the Lowes in Bowie and one of the Home Depots in Annapolis this past week and one thing is clear – they are stocked and ready for spring and summer.
As a speaker with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Speaker’s Bureau I give a presentation with a little run-down on what each of us can do in our own back yards to help rebuild the bay.
Here is my list of the Top 10 things you can do for a Bay-Friendly Backyard.
1. Test the soil.
You can find a soil test kit at one of your favorite home supply stores (both Lowes and Home Depot carry them), or you can send a test away to one of these laboratories (PDF) recommended by the Anne Arundel County Soil Conservation District. In any event after testing your yard, you may find you don’t need to add any chemicals or fertilizers to your soil at all. By reducing the amount of fertilizers and chemicals you add to your yard, youâ€™re reducing the amount of nutrients that eventually reach the bay. A lot of people apply excess chemicals, and these usually just run off in the first rain storm and end up in the bay.
2. Plant Native Trees and Shrubs
A soil test can also help you determine how acid/alkaline your soil is – and which plants will survive and thrive in your current soil conditions. Usually this is a mixture of indigenous trees and shrubs. In the mid-Atlantic area we’re lucky to have a good mixture of plants that can give your yard a lot of bio-diversity. This helps your yard have less pests, disease and weed problems. And it provides food, shelter and cover for birds and small animals. Any of our local nurseries can help you pick out good plants for your yard.
3. Use Less Fertilizer (or none at all)
As mentioned above, a lot of people over fertilize their yards and this contributes to the excess nutrient loading that pollutes the Bay. After testing the soil, use minimal amounts of fertilizer – and only if needed. And in spite of what else you might hear, fertilizer is usually only needed once per year.
4. Grass Clippings are a Great Fertilizer
With so many mulcher-mowers out there, everyone should be doing this. Grass is a great natural fertilizer and it returns a lot of nutrients back to the soil as it decomposes.
5. Use Compost as a Fertilizer
Another great natural fertilizer is compost. A nice compost pile that reuses food waste (no fat or proteins), grass clippings, dead leaves, yard waste and other natural ingredients is a fantastic addition to any yard. The mineral-rich compost can be added back to the lawn or flower and vegetable beds. And best of all – compost is cheap – virtually free.
6. Reduce or Eliminate the Use of Pesticides and Herbicides
Toxic chemicals can poison your yard’s balanced ecosystem by killing the natural predators and native plants that keep your yard a well maintained diverse collection of organisms. Adopt integrated pest management systems around your home so you can reduce or eliminate the use of chemicals in your yard. In addition to your yard, these toxic chemicals eventually make their way to the creeks, rivers and bay – creating havoc along the way. Use chemicals as a last resort.
7. Mow your Lawn at the Proper Height
Set your mower blade to a height of 3 inches and make sure to keep the blades sharp. A lot of people cut their grass way too short, and this keeps the grass from getting ahead of the weeds. It also prevents the grass from establishing a firm root structure which will help sustain it through a drought.
8. Reduce Your Overall Lawn Size
There is a difference between your yard and your lawn. Most of us want a big yard – but that doesn’t necessarily mean a big lawn. Figure out how much lawn you really need and reduce the grassy area to the smallest amount necessary. Replace the rest with a buffer of native trees and shrubs and gardens. These areas will prevent soil erosion and soak up excess nutrients before they reach the bay.
9. Use Less Water
Grass lawns in our area naturally go dormant during the drier parts of the summer season. When the rain returns, your lawn will green right back up again. Some of the above tips will also help you to cut back on the amount of water you use. Make sure when you water your lawn, you do it rarely and thoroughly – until water can no longer be easily absorbed into the soil – but not so much that the water starts to run off. Whenever possible, water later in the afternoon or at night. And if rain is coming in a day or two – you might want to hold off all together.
10. Provide Wildlife Habitat
Wildlife such as birds, chipmunks, squirrels and other animals need a source of food, water and shelter – especially in areas where development has taken away their natural sources. These animals all play a vital part in our ecosystem. By giving them an area in your yard to thrive – you’ll be helping to boost the ecosystem of the region as a whole.
Here is a list of helpful tips for all of the above: