The Chesapeake Bay Foundation gave the Chesapeake Bay’s health a “D” yet again in its annual report, receiving only 27 points out of a possible 100. The stressed-out Chesapeake is the nation’s largest and most productive estuary but continues to harbor huge “dead zones” of oxygen deprived waters caused by unchecked pollution from sewage, fertilizers and animal waste. Despite pledges from federal, state and local governments to clean up this most important waterway by 2010, the water quality has continued to decline. According to the CBF, the Chesapeake is in “critical condition” and today’s Bay is worse than it was in 2000.
Most residents of Montgomery County live within a half-mile of a storm drain, stream or river which will eventually drain into the Chesapeake Bay. We must all do our part to protect the environment and pass on our knowledge to our friends and neighbors in order to preserve and possibly resurrect this national treasure, The Chesapeake Bay.
Here is a reminder of (10) important things you can do to help restore the Bay.
1. Fertilize Wisely
As you are making your spring gardening “to-do” list eliminate fertilizing your lawn. Fall is a better time to apply fertilizers as the rainy Spring season can cause run-off of excess nitrogen and phosphorous into storm drains and creeks, thus adding to the Bay’s woes. Before you even think of fertilizing have a soil test performed (every 3-5 years) to give yourself a more accurate picture of your gardens needs. Over fertilizing can not only damage the Bay, but can cause extra salts in your soil, affect winter plant hardiness and expand pest problems.
2. Control storm water run-off
Fertilizers and pesticides along with soil and other debris are deposited into storm drains which lead to local streams, rivers, reservoirs and the Bay. Reducing run off from your property can minimize the amount of substances entering the waterways and worsening water quality as well as damaging living organisms and their habitats.
3. Conserve Water
If you are not into xeriscaping, use plants adapted to our region which will tolerate periods of drought. Group thirsty plants together so periodic watering can be minimized. Collect rain water for watering planters and pots.
4. Mulch appropriately
Organic mulch layers should be 2-3 inches deep to help retain soil moisture, thus reducing the amount of watering needed, as well as preventing weeds and soil erosion. Mulching deeper than 3 inches could prevent water from filtering down to plant roots.
Mow fallen leaves and needles and use them as a mulch alternative or add to compost bins. Start a composter in a large plastic trash can with wheels and a clamping lid: drill with air holes, add leaves, yard trim, kitchen scraps such as fruit and vegetable scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds, shredded newspaper. Secure the lid with a bungee cord. Roll can once a week a few turns and you will have a wonderful compost in about 8 weeks.
6. Use IPM methods to manage yard pests
Get out in your garden and observe what is going on! Hand pick harmful pests and hand pull invasive weeds rather than applying pesticides, insecticides and herbicides. Plant wisely by selecting resistant varieties of your favorite plants to reduce pests and disease. Remove diseased plants and their debris to prevent spread from one season to the next. Attract beneficial insects to your garden and use environmentally friendly pesticides such as horticultural oils and soaps only as a last resort.
7. Reduce Household Hazardous Waste
There are many less toxic alternatives to commercial household chemicals. Both white vinegar and baking soda can be used separately and in combination to accomplish a myriad of household cleaning tasks; check the web or Fact Sheet s “Alternatives for Household Products-Helpful Hazardous Waste Reduction Hints.
Don't use toxins or high nitrogen products such as kitty litter to melt this year’s snow and ice.
8. Be responsible with your Pet’s Waste
Dog poop is the #1 polluter of the urban streams feeding into Rock Creek Park and other tributaries which feed into the Chesapeake. Please pick up your pet’s waste every time and either expel it through your household toilet (recommended) or deposit in your household trash for transfer to our local landfill.
9. Conserve Energy
Drive less not only to save money, but also to prevent fossil fuels from depositing pollutants directly into the Chesapeake Bay as well as on to the land where they can be washed into it’s watershed.
Fall and winter are wonderful times to plant: work trees into your planting plan where they can help reduce household energy consumption. Deciduous trees planted on the south and southwest side of your house will shade you from the summer sun, while allowing the winter rays to come through with warmth. Evergreen trees planted on the northwest side of the house will shelter you from harsh winter winds.
10. Make your Yard a Bayscape!
A Bayscape garden is the best thing we can do for our Bay. For more information on gradually transforming your yard into a Bay Wise garden, contact the Home and Garden Information Center for the Bay Wise Maryland Yardstick to see how your garden measures up!