Your soil changes over time, so you should have it tested every 3 to 5 years. Visit the Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden website to receive testing materials.





The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined that 2 to 3 days of droppings from just 100 dogs in a small lake or bay watershed can contribute enough bacteria to temporarily close the area to swimming.



Quick Fact

No matter where you live in Maryland, the Department of Natural Resources Wild Acres Program can help you learn how to create a healthy habitat for wildlife in your own backyard. Call 410-260-8555 for more information.



• A gas-powered lawn mower can produce as much pollution in one hour as driving a car for 10 hours. In addition to contaminating the air, the pollutants can settle onto land and waterways, eventually ending up in streams and the Chesapeake Bay.

• Grass clippings compose 20 percent of the waste entering landfills (up to 50 percent during growing season) where nutrients perform no valuable function and can filter down into groundwater supplies. Leave the clippings -- they nourish your lawn.

In the yard

When most people think about the sources of water pollution, they identify industry and agriculture as the primary culprits. They rarely consider that actions they take or practices they follow in their own yards can have a huge impact on the quality of the water they drink, cook with, swim in or sail on. The fact is, however, that our yards can be a major source of water pollution. So the next time you're out admiring your home landscape, think about the things that you can do to protect Maryland's water quality.


Bay-friendly lawn care

Whether living in single-family homes, townhouses, condominiums or apartments, many Marylanders like to see lush, green, weed-free lawns as a major element of their residential landscape. Unfortunately, this desire for great grassy expanses has led to an excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides. Nutrients in fertilizers and toxic chemicals in pesticides end up polluting our streams, rivers, lakes and the Chesapeake Bay, as well as groundwater in underground sources and drinking water reservoirs. You can help prevent such pollution if you:

  • Choose grasses suited to Maryland conditions. Turf-type tall fescue and zoysia grass are two lawn grasses that generally resist damage from insects and diseases and can be maintained with lower amounts of fertilizer.
  • Apply the correct amount of fertilizer -- as determined by a soil test -- at the proper time of year. When applied at the wrong time of the year or in improper amounts, fertilizers leach into groundwater or run off the soil into surface water. They can also harm lawns by causing rapid, lush growth that is more susceptible to disease and more attractive to pests. Applying fertilizer in the early fall helps reduce runoff and leaching because rainfall patterns, temperature and plant growth rates tend to maximize nitrogen uptake.
  • Mow your grass to the proper height. Most people don't mow their lawns often enough, and when they do, they mow it too short. This weakens and kills the grass, allowing for bare soil areas that increase runoff and weed encroachment. Most grasses shouldn't be mowed to heights shorter than 3 inches.
  • Leave grass clippings on the lawn. These clippings release nitrogen into the soil, reducing the amount of fertilizer needed. Another good alternative is to compost the grass clippings with brush, dried leaves and other garden materials.


Build a sustainable landscape

Areas of your yard not devoted to grass can also have an impact on water quality. Water and fertilizer are wasted when they are allowed to run over the surface of the ground and into storm drains. Soil erosion occurs when soil is washed by rain from bare areas of land into storm drains or ditches -- and eventually into streams, rivers, drinking water reservoirs or groundwater supplies -- carrying nutrients and chemicals with it. Most non-native plants require more water, fertilizer and pesticides. You can reduce runoff, erosion and excessive water use in your gardens if you:

  • Improve your soil by adding organic matter. This creates a better environment for plant roots to grow, which in turn holds the soil in place.
  • Plant trees, shrubs and flowers native to Maryland. These plants are adapted to this region and require much less water, fertilizer and pesticides to stay healthy than do exotic or non-native plants.
  • Use hand tools, reel mowers or electric lawn tools. Unlike gas-powered equipment, they produce no emissions that can pollute both the air and water.
  • Minimize impervious paved surfaces, such as sidewalks and driveways. Use wood chips, gravel, stepping stones or bricks laid in sand as an alternative to reduce surface runoff into storm drains, streams and ditches.


Dealing with seasonal changes

Water is sometimes in short supply, especially during periods of summer drought. People waste enormous amounts of water trying to keep lawns green in hot, dry summer months, when grass naturally goes dormant. Many don't realize that lawns will automatically "re-green" when the weather cools and rainfall returns. To conserve water during periods of drought -- or at any other time:

  • Let nature take its course. Some grasses turn brown during summer drought, but will become green again in the fall even without supplemental water.
  • If you do water the lawn, water deeply and slowly --about 1 inch per week. Light, infrequent watering can actually do more harm than good.
  • Collect rainwater in a covered barrel or cistern for watering landscape plants.
  • Irrigate with soaker hoses or drip irrigation. The initial cost for the hose may be higher, but it saves both water and money over time.


Addressing pet waste issues

Pet waste left to decay on the sidewalk or on grass near the street may be washed into storm drains by rain or melting snow. Storm drains do not go to a sewage treatment plant, but drain directly into our waterways, carrying pollutants along with the water. In Maryland, most of this drainage eventually enters the Chesapeake Bay. To prevent pet waste from entering surface and ground water supplies, you can:

  • Flush waste down the toilet.
  • Bury waste in a hole about 5 inches deep, away from vegetable gardens, wells or bodies of water.
  • Wrap waste securely and put it in the trash.
What do you know about good lawn and

garden practices? Test your knowledge:

1. Is fertilizer a good deicing material to use on sidewalks?

2. When should lawns be fertilized?

3. Should pet wastes be composted in the backyard compost heap?
4. Should lime be applied to your lawn every spring?
5. Can lawn fertilizers and liming materials be as dangerous to the environment and your health as pesticides?
6. How can you easily maintain an attractive landscape without using a lot of water, fertilizers and pesticides?
7. How can you keep soil and nutrients from running off steep slopes?
8. What is IPM, and how does it affect the environment?
9. Should you kill all the insects you see in your landscape?
Click here for the answers!

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