Saturday, March 24, 2012

Clean Water: Does Your Landscape Measure Up?

How does your landscape measure up?
Save the Bay!  Clean up the Potomac!  Capture storm-water runoff!  Keep pesticides and fertilizers out of our streams!

Just about everyone wants to improve the quality of our shrinking supply of fresh water, and we’re used to seeing millions and billions of our tax dollars spent to try to add the sparkle of life to our waterways.

Spending tax dollars wisely on conservation efforts is a good thing, in my opinion, but something even better is for each of us to take a look at our landscaping practices to see what we can do to make good old Earth a better place on which to live.

The University of Maryland Extension has created a simple “Bay-Wise Maryland Yardstick” that enables us to measure how environmentally sound our landscapes are.  The Yardstick awards “inches” for sound landscaping practices.  If your landscaping practices total 36 inches, your landscape is “Bay-Wise.”  Many of the practices rate one inch, but some rate more.

The Bay-Wise Yardstick is built on several environmentally sound principles: Control Stormwater Runoff;  Encourage Wildlife; Protect the Waterfront; Mow Properly/Water Efficiently; Manage Yard Pests with Integrated Pest Management (IPM); Mulch Appropriately/Recycle Yard Waste; Fertilize Wisely; and Plant Wisely.

Here are four sample Actions that you can take in your landscape to earn some “inches”:

“Direct down spouts and gutters to drain onto the lawn, plant beds or rain gardens where rain will soak into the soil rather than running off.  However, direct this water away from the house to avoid wet basement and foundation problems.  Credit: 1 inch.”

“Provide, and properly maintain, a water source, such as a birdbath or small pond, for wildlife.  (Change birdbath water every other day to provide a fresh, clean drink and discourage mosquitoes.)  Credit: 1 inch.”

“Mow cool season grasses high (3-4 inches) to encourage 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.  Credit: 2 inches.”

“Fertilize cool season grasses (fescues, bluegrass and ryegrass) only in the Fall (September through early November).  Warm season grasses such as Zoysia and Bermudagrass should only be fertilized from mid May to early June.  Credit: 1 inch.” 

How many inches have you added with those four simple Actions?  Many of the recommended Actions won’t cost you a penny more than what you’re spending now.  Some may even save you a dollar or two.

Does the Yardstick work if you don’t live in Maryland?  Environmentally sound landscaping practices are important in every state, so print out the Yardstick and imagine that you’re helping your local steam or river instead of the Chesapeake Bay.
Meadow Glenn is Bay-Wise
Yes, I practice what I write about.  In 2006 I “measured” landscape practices here at Meadow Glenn.  Three members of the Bay-Wise Committee of the Howard County Master Gardeners then visited to check my calculations and certified that Meadow Glenn is a “Bay Wise Demonstration Landscape.”

Aren’t you curious to see if your landscape already is a “36”—or what you can do to help make it “measure up”?  To link to the “Bay-Wise Maryland Yardstick” so you can print out a copy and begin measuring your landscape, CLICK HERE

Look for occasional future postings about how gardeners integrate Bay-Wise principles into their landscapes and gardens.


  1. Looks like another great series Bob.

  2. Don’t forget to always clean the pipes so that you may keep the drainage system clear of debris, which may cause clogging. It would also help to place a barrel or container under your disconnected downspouts to collect rooftop runoff. The collected water can then be used later for car washing or garden watering.

    Monica Barnes

  3. Great blog, this could be the best blog I ever visited thi month. Never stop to write something useful dude!.
    Landscaping Virginia