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
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
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
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.