Going Native to Help the Bay

Summers are tough on the Chesapeake Bay. Water quality monitoring data show a large area of oxygen-depleted water in the mainstem of the Chesapeake Bay, often from the Patapsco River near Baltimore to the mouth of the York River near Hampton Roads.

Oxygen is vital to animals and plants in the Bay. During low oxygen (hypoxic) or no oxygen (anoxic) conditions, almost all Bay life is affected. The combination of excess nutrients and sediment flowing into the Bay all contribute hypoxic conditions.

Nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus, are found in organic matter, fertilizers, pet wastes and more. When it rains, nutrients from streets, lawns, farms and sewage-treatment plants wash into streams and rivers, eventually entering the Bay. These excess nutrients fuel the rapid growth of algae, known as blooms, cloud the water and reduce sunlight reaching underwater plants and animals. When these large blooms die, huge amounts of oxygen are used up as they decay.

Sixteen million people live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Each of us contributes to nutrient pollution. One way to reduce the amount of nutrients is through conservation landscaping, sometimes referred to as "BayScaping." Conservation landscaping refers to landscaping with specific goals of reducing pollution and improving the local environment.

Typical landscapes need high inputs of chemicals, fertilizers, water and time, and require a lot of energy (human as well as gas-powered) to maintain. Environmental impacts can be reduced more by decreasing the area requiring gas-powered tools, using native species that can be sustained with little watering and care, and using a different approach to maintenance practices.

One of the simplest ways to begin is by replacing lawn areas with locally native trees, shrubs and perennial plants. Native plants naturally occur in the region in which they evolved. The structure, leaves, flowers, seeds, berries and other fruits of these plants provide food and shelter for a variety of birds and other wildlife. The roots of these larger plants are also deeper than that of typical lawn grass, and so they are better at capturing rainwater.

While non-native plants might provide some of the above benefits, native plants have many additional advantages. Because native plants are adapted to local soils and climate conditions, they generally require less watering and fertilizing than non-natives. Natives are often more resistant to insects and disease as well and are less likely to need pesticides.

Conservation landscaping requires less maintenance over the long term, while still presenting a "maintained" appearance. Like any new landscape, some upkeep is required, but it is usually less costly and less harmful to the environment. New plants need watering and monitoring during the first season until they are established. Garden maintenance is reduced to minimal seasonal cleanup and occasional weeding or plant management.

Conservation landscaping can also be used to address problems such as steep slopes or poor drainage. Native species, planted on slopes, along bodies of water and drainage ditches, help prevent erosion and pollution by stabilizing the soil and slowing the flow of rainwater runoff.

Habitat is where wildlife finds food, water, shelter and breeding or nesting space. Planting a variety of plants is gardening, but for greater ecological value, plants should be grouped and planted according to the growing conditions. Plants sharing similar requirements are found together in plant communities that make up habitats.

Instead of planting a tree in the middle of lawn, try grouping trees, shrubs and perennials to create layers of vegetation. These layers provide the structure and variety needed to support wildlife. Plants that produce seeds, nuts, berries or nectar provide sources of food. Stems and seed heads of flowers and grasses can provide food and cover throughout fall and winter.

All animals need water year-'round to survive. Even a small dish of water, changed daily to prevent mosquito growth, will provide for some birds and butterflies. Puddles, pools or a small pond can be a home for amphibians and aquatic insects. Circulating water will attract wildlife, stay cleaner and prevent mosquitoes.

By redefining landscaping goals and gradually shifting to using native species, landowners receive greater rewards, in terms of environmental quality, improved aesthetics, cost savings and bringing wildlife to the property. The region's wildlife, plants, habitats and network of streams and rivers leading to the Bay are tremendous resources.

As the population in the watershed grows and land-use pressures intensify, it is increasingly important to protect our remaining natural areas and wildlife and reduce nutrients flowing into the Bay. Individual actions are significant, and every bit helps no matter what the size of the property. By working together, we can conserve the Bay and its treasures for future generations.

For more information, you can visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, BayScapes and Schoolyard Habitats Programs at www.fws.gov/r5cbfo and Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping at www.nps.gov/plants/nativesMD/index.htm. Single copies of Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping: Chesapeake Bay Watershed are available from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 410-573-4500.


What event in the Annapolis area are you most looking forward to in 2006?

Powerboat Show
Sailboat Show
Renaissance Festival
Seafood Festival
County Fair

Additional comments ?

Last time we asked, "How many past issues of Inside Annapolis Magazine do you have? " Out of all the responses, we found that most of our readers keep at least 3 issues of Inside Annapolis Magazine around the house, but a couple of our readers have over several years of issues! We're glad to hear that so many of you stay with us!

Thanks to all those that voted!

Results Posted Every Issue!!

Backyard Publications, LLC. ©2004. 433 Fourth St, Annapolis, MD 21403 - Phone 410-263-6300 - Fax 410-267-8668