Fertilizers can be harmful to the environment and your yard if not used properly. When applied at the wrong time or over applied, fertilizers can create salt problems in the soil. They can also affect winter hardiness, exaggerate pest problems and make plants grow excessively (which can mean more mowing too!). Excess nitrogen and phosphorus (two components of fertilizers) can leach out of the soil and pollute groundwater. These two nutrients can also wash off landscapes and pollute surface waters and eventually, the Chesapeake Bay.
Cool season grasses (fescues, bluegrasses, ryegrasses) naturally go into a semi-dormant state during summer's heat and drought. Many Bay-Wise Marylanders take steps to conserve water and mimic Mother Nature by not watering during summer. Others try to keep their lawns growing during this time by watering. If you choose to irrigate, do so only when your lawn and landscape need water. Efficient watering is an important key to reducing runoff and maintaining a healthy Maryland landscape.
Cool season grasses grow rapidly during spring and fall. This is when temperatures are cooler and rainfall is more plentiful. Regular mowing at higher heights (2 ½" to 3 ½") encourages a deeper, more drought- and pest-tolerant root system. A higher cut also shades out weeds. Remove no more than a third of the grass blade when you mow.
Control Stormwater Runoff
Any rain and irrigation water that runs off carries soil, debris, fertilizer and pesticides from your yard into neighborhood storm drains. These storm drains lead to local streams, rivers, drinking water reservoirs and the Bay. These substances can harm living organisms, habitats and water quality. Reducing runoff from your property minimizes these problems.
Mulching retains soil moisture, moderates soil temperature and helps prevent erosion and weeds. By using mulch you'll use less water, have healthier plants and fewer weeds. Mulch should be three inches or less in depth. Deeper mulch can rob plant roots of water and encourage shallow rooting, which is harmful to plants during drought. Note: Never use freshly ground organic material, like brush or hardwood bark, as mulch. It robs nitrogen from the soil and can cause plant yellowing. Allow these materials to age for at least 6 months before using.
Recycle Yard Waste
In a Maryland landscape, grass clippings, leaves yard trimmings, and organic kitchen scraps, such as vegetable & fruit peelings, egg shells and tea & coffee grounds, should be recycled rather than thrown away. This recycling of nutrients completes a natural cycle to soil regenerate and renew soil. Recycling nutrients also reduces the amount of package fertilizer you need to maintain your landscape.
Manage Yard Pests with IPM (Integrated Pest Management)
It is unrealistic to strive for an insect and disease-free landscape. Pesticides provide effective treatment of serious pest problems, but they should not be used routinely or indiscriminately. Improper use of pesticides can result in pest resistance and can harm humans, pets, beneficial organisms and the environment. Integrated Pest Management, IPM, is a comprehensive process used to manage pests. It involves an understanding of the life cycle of the pest, other organisms, (like beneficial organisms, our pets and ourselves) and the effects of a pesticide on all of these things. The result is, when confronted with a pest, you should consider all possible ways to control it before doing so.
Steps of IPM include:
1. regular monitoring for signs of plant problems and insect pests (use a hand lens for a closer look and don't forget the leaf undersides),
2. preventing pest problems before they occur,
3. once identified, considering cultural or mechanical means of control and as a last resort, consider using a pesticide, trying "bio-rational" materials like insecticidal soap, horticultural oil, and Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.), for caterpillar pests,
4. follow-up monitoring and noting what worked and what didn't.
Plants suited to your site will require minimal amounts of water, fertilizer and pesticides; and may provide benefits to your home. A diversity of plants (shade trees, understory trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants) provides an interesting landscape for you, a range of host plants for native wildlife, and reduces the amount of stormwater running off your property. Native plants require less fertilizer, watering and maintenance plus they encourage our native wildlife. Judicial placement of shade trees and evergreen plantings can help keep our homes cooler during summer and warmer during winter. Avoid planting invasive plants, which can out-compete native plants in natural areas.
Maryland has a great diversity of wildlife. Provide adequate food, water and shelter to increase the number and variety of species, like birds, butterflies and beneficial insects, which visit your yard.
Protect the Waterfront
Waterfront property owners realize the special contribution our waterways and the Bay make to their quality of life. They should also understand how fragile these natural treasures can be. Waterfront property includes those properties that border even the smallest streams.
For specific practices see one of the MD Yardsticks: