'Grow, Don't Mow' saves dough

June 14, 1993

Maryland roadsides are abloom as never before.

State workers and countless volunteers are planting wildflowers in grassy areas along highways that have been mowed in the past. Red poppies, black-eyed Susans, blue cornflowers are adding color to roadsides -- all this in the name of saving money.

Since 1992, the State Highway Administration -- one of Maryland's largest landowners -- has reduced the number of acres it mows by 3,145, to 16,872 acres. "Mowed five times a year, that means a lot of time and money saved," SHA administrator Hal Kassoff says.

How much? Nearly $400,000, according to officials.

The state's "Grow Don't Mow" program intends to reduce the acreage that is mowed even further. To that end, SHA maintenance crews continue their efforts to determine which areas along state roads require mowing for improved driver visibility and which can be replanted or allowed to return to a natural forest state.

"We have reduced mowing wherever it can be done," says SHA's Charles Adams. Wildflowers now bloom along many median strips in the metropolitan area, including the Northwest Expressway north of the Owings Mills Metro station and portions of Interstate 95 north of the city.

"It's a very economical way to liven up the landscape," said Tom Ford, an agricultural adviser at the Cooperative Extension Service.

The statewide goal is to plant 220 acres of wildflowers this year and next from the Eastern Shore to Western Maryland.

"Mainly it's done for aesthetics and to improve relations with the public. We get a lot of favorable comments from the public," said Bruce Knott, the highway administration's landscape specialist.

Other state agencies are joining in. Gov. William Donald Schaefer and more than 200 volunteers recently planted 28,000 perennials and 1,890 trees at nine sites near Baltimore-Washington International Airport. That planting was coordinated by the "Tree-mendous" program of the Department of Natural Resources.

The state estimates it saves about $150 per acre each year on mowing costs.

This clearly is the way to go as long as such considerations as visibility and forest fire precautions are not sacrificed. Perennials and ornamental grasses can make highways more attractive -- and save taxpayers money.

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