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Bay Blog: backyard

May
24
2011

Eight things environmentalists do to help the Chesapeake Bay

The Chesapeake Bay Program’s staff is on a mission to restore the Bay and its rivers. Whether they work on water quality, education or oysters, everyone here is dedicated to helping the Chesapeake. But do they keep the Bay in mind when they aren’t behind their desk?

A few months ago, we sent our staff a quick survey asking them about the types of positive activities they do for the Bay when they’re not at work. Some results were typical, while others were very interesting! The following eight activities were the most popular:

1. Recycle

Is anyone surprised that recycling ranked as the number one thing Bay Program staff do to help the Bay? Recycling is one of the easiest things you can do for the environment.

One of the most common reasons why people don’t recycle is because their location does not offer recycling services. If you’re having trouble finding recycling services in your, enter your area code at Earth911 for a listing of drop-off locations near you.

2. Use little or no fertilizer on their lawn

You know you work with environmentalists when fertilizer use ranks near the top of the list! The average person may not realize that yard runoff containing fertilizer can be harmful to local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. Fertilizer is full of nutrients, which fuel the growth of algae blooms that block sunlight from reaching bay grasses and rob the water of oxygen.

To learn more about Bay-friendly fertilizer use, visit Chesapeake Club.

3. Compost

A little more than half of respondents said they composted at home on a regular basis. Composting is a great way to save time, money and the Bay! When you compost things like kitchen scraps and leaves, you are not only creating your own free fertilizer, but you are reducing the amount of waste that goes to landfills. Old composters used to require a pitchfork to turn over the pile, but these have been replaced with easy-to-use bins with hand cranks.

To help you get started with composting, visit How to Compost.

4. Have a Bay license plate

If you live in or have driven through Maryland, you have probably noticed the iconic blue Chesapeake Bay license plate. What many people don’t know is that the proceeds from this “vanity plate” go to the Chesapeake Bay Trust, a non-profit that conducts restoration, education and community engagement activities throughout the Bay watershed. To date, the Trust has planted 220,648 native plants and trees, restored 65 acres of wetlands, oyster reefs and streamside buffers, and engaged 86,717 students.

If you live in Maryland, buying a Bay plate is one of the easiest things you can do to help the Chesapeake Bay. Visit the Bay Plate website to learn more.

5. Volunteer for restoration projects at least once a year

All the funding in the world for restoration projects will not help if there is no one to do the work! There are an overwhelming amount of opportunities to get involved with environmental organizations in our region. From planting trees to removing invasive species to building oyster reefs, there are activities for every interest. Volunteering is also a great way to get your kids outside and help them appreciate nature.

If you are interested in getting your family involved, the Baltimore Aquarium offers regular restoration events. You can also contact your local watershed organization for more information about opportunities near you.

6. Have a rain garden or a rain barrel

Rain barrels and rain gardens are important because they collect water from roofs, yards and paved surfaces that would otherwise flow into storm drains. Rain gardens and rain barrels are so important that some counties actually offer funding and tax breaks for implementing them. Check with your city environmental office to see if your area has a program.

To learn more about rain barrels and rain gardens, visit Rainscaping.org.

7. Pick up after their pets

It is common misconception that it’s safe to leave pet waste on the ground because some consider it a “natural fertilizer.” However, pet waste actually contains harmful nutrients and bacteria that can run off into local waterways. Some areas can be closed off to swimmers in summertime due to high bacteria levels from pet waste. Dog waste should be thrown away, flushed or put in a pet waste composter.

For more information about pet waste pollution, visit the Stormwater Center Pollution Prevention website.

8. Carpool to work

People tend not to carpool because they do not know if anyone else who works with them lives nearby. People also enjoy the freedom of being able to come and go as they please without having to worry about altering their schedule because of another carpool rider. However, carpooling can actually save you time and money. You will spend less on gas and vehicle maintenance, and you can take advantage of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes.

The best solution is to create a way for colleagues who are interested in carpooling to list where they live. Put it in a well-traveled place, such as a kitchen, front desk or break room.

After seeing what the “average environmentalist” does for the Chesapeake Bay, do you think you do the same? Or more? What activities do you do that help the Chesapeake?

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May
23
2011

Maryland passes law to reduce pollution from lawn fertilizer

Maryland has passed a law that will reduce pollution from lawn fertilizer applied to homes, golf courses and businesses.

The Chesapeake Bay Commission, whose members introduced the legislation, estimates that the Fertilizer Use Act of 2011 will reduce phosphorus pollution from urban sources by 15 percent compared to 2009 levels. This equates to 20 percent of the phosphorus reduction Maryland needs to achieve its pollution reduction goals for the Chesapeake Bay TMDL.

Turf grass is now the largest “crop” in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, exceeding the amount of acres planted in corn and fast approaching all row crops combined. As the amount of lawns in the region increases, so does fertilizer use.

The legislation limits the amount of nutrients in fertilizer used by homeowners and lawn care professionals. Nitrogen will be limited and phosphorus will be banned in most types of lawn fertilizer.

Additionally, professional fertilizer applicators will have to be trained and certified in proper fertilizer application, such as keeping fertilizer off paved surfaces and not applying before heavy rain or when the ground is frozen. Areas along waterways, drainage ditches and near storm drains will be designated as “no-fertilizer zones.” (Read a full list of the lawn fertilizer bill provisions.)

The commission worked with soil scientists, environmental groups, fertilizer manufacturers, the Maryland Department of Agriculture, and associations representing lawn care professionals and golf courses to develop the provisions. Similar legislation passed in Virginia this winter, and is expected to be introduced in Pennsylvania this year.

Calling this bill “one of the nation’s most comprehensive and protective standards for lawn fertilizer content and use,” Chris Wible, director of environmental stewardship for the Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, pledged to work with Bay groups to teach homeowners about protecting the Bay from their own backyards.

Another important part of the legislation is increasing and improving homeowner outreach. Within one year, the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the University of Maryland will develop and distribute consumer guidelines to help homeowners better understand how to reduce pollution from lawn fertilizer.

For more information about the lawn fertilizer legislation, visit the Chesapeake Bay Commission's website or read the Maryland General Assembly’s bill summary.



May
10
2011

10 Chesapeake Bay native plants to plant in your yard this spring

The birds are chirping, the sun is starting to feel warm on your face, and those afternoon thunderstorms are rolling in. It’s officially spring in the Chesapeake Bay region, which means it’s time to get outside and plant!

If you’ve been looking for a way to help the Chesapeake Bay, planting native plants in your yard is a great way to make a difference. Native plants are adapted to our region's environment, so they need less watering and no fertilizer – which saves you money. Less work, less cost and helpful to the Bay? Sounds great to us!

Here are ten native plants we recommend you plant in your yard this year!

1. Eastern Purple Coneflower

Coneflower (or Echinacea) is a popular, long-lasting perennial that grows 2-5 feet tall. Its bright lavender flowers attract butterflies, hummingbirds and other beneficial wildlife. Coneflower is also known for its herbal remedies as an immune system booster.

2. Sweetbay Magnolia

Sweetbay magnolia is a slender tree or shrub with pale gray bark. It is native to all the Chesapeake Bay states, except West Virginia. It usually grows 12-20 feet tall, but occasionally reaches 50 feet in the southern part of its range. When in bloom, the plant’s fragrant magnolia flowers open in the morning and close in the evening.

3. Scarlet Beebalm

Scarlet beebalm is a popular perennial with tufts of scarlet-red flowers. The 3-foot stems are lined with large, oval, dark green leaves that have a minty aroma. Scarlet beebalm will attract hummingbirds to your garden.

4. Red Maple

This popular, beautiful shade tree tree grows 40-60 ft. in cultivation, occasionally reaching 100-120 ft. in the wild. Red maple is named for its brilliant red autumn leaves. It has the greatest north-south distribution of any East Coast tree species.

5. Flowering Dogwood

Considered one of the most spectacular native, flowering trees, flowering dogwood is a 20-40 foot, single- or multi-trunked tree with white or pink spring blooms. Its fruit is known to attract birds and deer.

6. Eastern Redbud

The eastern redbud is a 15-30 foot tree with a purplish or maroon trunk and a wide, umbrella-like crown. Its tight, pink flower clusters bloom before its leaves grow, offering a showy spring display.

7. Dense Blazing Star

Blazing star has long spikes of dense, feathery white or purple flowers that bloom from the top down. Birds, bees and butterflies will be frequent visitors to your garden if you plant these beautiful native flowers.

8. Common Boneset

Boneset’s tiny, white flowers are arranged in fuzzy clusters atop 3-6 foot stems. Early herb doctors thought this plant helped set broken bones. Its leaves were wrapped with bandages around splints.

9. New York Ironweed

New York ironweed is a tall perennial, growing 5-8 feet in height. Its clumps of striking, deep reddish-purple flowers attract butterflies.

10. Cardinal Flower

This perennial grows 2-4 feet tall and has showy, red flowers. Although relatively common, cardinal flower is scarce in some areas due to over-picking. Because most insects have difficulty navigating the plant’s long, tubular flowers, cardinal flower depends on hummingbirds for pollination.

For more information about native plants in our area, check out the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s special Plants of Chesapeake Bay collection. This database contains hundreds of native plants and a link to a BayScaping guide that will help you use native plants in a Bay-friendly garden.

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Mar
29
2011

Report details effects of pollution from lawn fertilizer on Chesapeake Bay

A new report by Environment Maryland details the harmful effects of lawn fertilizer on the Chesapeake Bay and explains the steps that should be taken to reduce this pollutant and clean up local waterways.

Lawn fertilizer contains the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus, which are major sources of pollution in the Bay and its rivers. When homeowners apply too much fertilizer to their lawns, the nutrients can run off into local storm drains when it rains. Excess nutrients can also seep into groundwater, which eventually makes its way into the Bay's streams and rivers.

Turf grass is now the largest crop in Maryland. In 2009, 1.3 million acres were planted with turf, compared with 1.5 million acres for all other crops combined. While farmers are required to develop nutrient management plans and control polluted runoff on their land, there are few rules for homeowners and lawn care companies to follow for fertilizer applications.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture reports that “nonfarm use” of fertilizer is quickly catching up with farm fertilizer sales. Estimates suggest that Maryland landowners apply approximately 86 million pounds of nitrogen fertilizer to their lawns each year. According to the report, researchers monitoring one suburban stream near Baltimore found that 56 percent of the nutrients in the water came from lawn fertilizer.

The report concludes that to reduce pollution for lawn fertilizer, lawmakers need to take two broad steps: limit the amount and type of nutrients in the fertilizer itself, and ensure that homeowners and lawn care companies apply less fertilizer to the ground.

For more information, download the full lawn fertilizer report, “Urban Fertilizers and the Chesapeake Bay: An Opportunity for Major Pollution Reduction.



Feb
25
2011

Virginia to ban lawn fertilizer containing phosphorus

Virginia is poised to pass a law banning the sale of fertilizer containing phosphorus, a major pollutant in the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers.

Lawns, parks, golf courses and other grass-covered areas cover 3.8 million acres of the Bay watershed. Most established lawns do not need phosphorus, but the majority of commonly used lawn fertilizers include phosphorus in their nutrient mix.

Once it goes into effect in 2013, the law will reduce an estimated 230,000 pounds of phosphorus pollution from reaching the Bay and Virginia rivers each year. This is 22 percent of Virginia's 2017 phosphorus reduction goal.

The law will also:

  • Require lawn service companies to apply fertilizer according to nutrient management standards.
  • Require that lawn fertilizer packages are clearly labeled with information on how to properly fertilize and reduce polluted runoff.
  • Bar the use of de-icers containing nitrogen.

A variety of groups, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, James River Association, Home Builders Association of Virginia and Virginia Association for Commercial Real Estate, supported the legislation.

The legislation was passed by the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates. It now awaits Gov. Bob McDonnell's signature.

When passed, Virginia will become one of nine states that restrict the use or sale of phosphorus in lawn fertilizer. Maryland and Pennsylvania are considering similar legislation.



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